It is foolhardy to consider climate change as a single dimensional issue ~ Nancy Osborne



The environment, climate change, greenhouse gas, carbon emissions, climate emergency… We are bombarded by all these words every day but have most of us taken the time to look beyond the face of the words and the various proposed solutions?

I am not an expert, but I do believe the experts. We are facing a climate emergency and we must act now. But most of the discussions I hear seem to look at our climate emergency as a one-dimensional problem with straight forward solutions. “Cut out the carbon and fix the problem.”

But a look below the surface and logical thinking exposes critical factors missing from these discussions. Climate change is not one-dimensional,. It is complex and multifaceted and if we deal with it as a one-dimensional crisis, the solutions we put in place will fail and fail badly.

When we talk about fixing climate change, we often think in terms of high-level policies and the price being managed by our governments through taxation and/or savings from cuts to other programs. Green technology is expensive to implement, otherwise large corporations would already be green. Those long-term cost will have to be paid for by the consumer. We tend to forget about the ultimate monetary price to all of us, especially those living in or near poverty.

Think of it as a pyramid with the Climate Emergency at the top and all our other social issues below, forming the structural base. If we do not set that top stone in place with consideration for the base, the base will collapse along with all our valiant efforts to fix climate change.  The climate emergency we face today cannot be fixed by looking at it in isolation of other issues in our local and global society.

We hear, “Climate change’s adverse effects mostly impact low-income communities around the globe” but we rarely hear about how the solutions to climate change also affect those people at a disproportionate rate. If we don’t have some holistic thinking, our efforts to alleviate the impacts of climate change will backfire.

If we focus only on things like incentives to large corporations to improve technology, it is a short-term solution. The incentives might help temporarily displace some of the cost to the company and encourage them to change but ultimately the long-term cost increase will be passed down to the consumer. Who will that affect the most? The poor and impoverished. How much pressure can we put on people who are already struggling to survive before crime rates go up, riots take place and chaos ensues?

Remember this is an emergency and we will soon feel the effects exponentially. If you think I am exaggerating, think again. Everyone has their limit before they will do anything to feed their children.  Look at some of the countries with the highest rates of poverty. Often the price of the basics, such as the price of bread, are controlled by the government. When the government raises these prices, it is not uncommon for riots to ensue. When people live penny to penny, they have nothing left to lose. There really is a point when people cannot take any more.

Other plans, like electrifying transportation, are also expensive and ultimately the cost will be borne by the people.  Again, this will hit hardest the poorest among us who are just eking by now. And even a price on carbon, which proportionally puts more money back in the pockets of lower incomes, will still affect poverty rates in the long term if we don’t also look at lifting people out of poverty.

All these “solutions” have the potential to push those families on the edge into poverty and push those in poverty to desperation.

That does not mean we shouldn’t act urgently and aggressively to attack climate change. It means it would be foolhardy to consider climate change as a single dimensional issue. Poverty is intrinsically linked to climate change just as other social issues are. So, to tackle climate change we must also tackle poverty and in doing so, by default we must look at education, the economy, housing and so much more.  And when we speak of those things, we must think of our seniors, veterans, homeless, unemployed etc.  We must look behind the mask and realize that lifting people out of poverty is a critical aspect of climate change action.

Many of us could do or pay more to save the planet but for those who can’t, these changes can have a massive negative impact on their lives. It would only be a matter of time before the system collapses. Lifting people out of poverty must be a part of any plan for climate change or it will ultimately fail.

And what about gender programming? There are reports written by UN and other experts explaining why empowering women is critical to reversing our climate emergency.  Perhaps living the privileged life, that many of us do in Canada, makes this difficult to initially understand. However, when we remember that Canada is only responsible for 1.6 per cent of the global carbon emissions, we can better see how this applies globally and at home.  To save Canadians we must think beyond our own borders. The German group Climate Justice writes:

  • “Women are affected by climate change differently due to their social and economic inequality. Just as all marginalized groups are affected differently according to their inequality – including indigenous people, people of colour and the global poor.
  • Women can be incredibly powerful solutions to climate change for a number of reasons, but they’re consistently excluded from solution-making positions, from local government to international politics.”

We must work on global social issues as well as our own. We are a small carbon contributor in the big picture, so it is imperative that we be a significant influencer on the international stage. And since social issues like poverty and gender are interwoven with the success of any action to address climate change, it is not as simple as cut our international spending and focus the funds on our national “climate” programs exclusively.

So, how do we fight climate change?

  • Pollution or Carbon Pricing and other programs to directly and urgently address climate change;
  • Set an international example;
  • Have a strong International presence and voice;
  • Simultaneously focus on social issues in our society and in our global society that are intrinsically linked to the success of climate change action.

Are there more social issues linked to fighting climate change? Of course.  I am touching on just a few of the many facets of climate change in order to make the point that our climate emergency is not one-dimensional, and we need to elect representatives who not only see but understand the multifaceted aspects of fighting climate change.  We need politicians who can identify and address the bigger picture and a one-track solution just won’t cut it.

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Nancy Osborne has seen some terrible things throughout her military career and during her time with the United Nations as a security specialist. Serving in the Security Branch of the Canadian military, Osborne enlisted as a Private and retired as a Major 21 years later. She was honoured with a CD (the post-nominal letters for the Canadian Forces Decoration) and is recipient of the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Canadian Confederation in recognition of a significant contribution to Canada as well as a Commander’s Commendation. Following retirement, Nancy was recruited in 2002 by the United Nations as one of the first women ever deployed as a security risk adviser in the support of UN humanitarian operations in high threat environments. In 2010, Nancy was appointed as a security manager at UNICEF Headquarters in New York. From there she managed global emergencies affecting UNICEF staff and provided extended surge support in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan, Haiti and South Sudan. When Nancy retired she thought that it would be a shame not to use all of that training so she launched a not-for-profit called I Got This as a platform for workshops called Unlocking Your Instincts for women.


  1. John Rivière-Anderson on

    Thanks, Nancy, for highlighting vitally important ecosocial / environmental justice considerations, without which any political platform is too shallow to bring about successful change.

  2. Thanks for this comprehensive overview Nancy. The immediate actions I feel are needed are yes-carbon taxation-but also we can immediately start to phase out oil production as fast a possible, while diverting workforces to renewable energy. Also, make it affordable for individual households and neighbourhoods to install solar and wind power for our homes, (Obviousy our Hydro corporations need to come to the table on this one). We need a government that will provide significant subsidies for us to buy hybrid and electric vehicles. They must stop corporations like Nestle from accessing our water sources for sale back to us. And- No More Forest Clear Cutting. These actions are all possible immediately, and will help lower income people to be part of the solution.

  3. I still have no idea just why everyone is up in the air about climate change It’s been going on for a lot of years and nothing we can do will stop it So why are we fighting a battle we know we are not going to win. Now if you were to say you want to stop pollution then I’m with you 100% and one of the first things we could do is stop spraying chemicals all over our selves with body spray and air fresheners in our cars and our homes its no wonder the cancer rate keeps going up. Then there is all the chemical fertilizer used to grow our food and spayed all over the crops for one or another reason so almost everything we eat is full of chemicals of some kind. Now if there was a way to stop all commercial air travel that would sure help clear the air up but the powers that be just want to go to Electric cars and trucks but I can’t see that happening for a lot of years down the road.

  4. Thank you Nancy for your well-crafted thoughts. You are bang-on. And the longer we wait to act, the more expensive the remedy will be. Prevention is always better and cheaper than cure.

  5. Nancy, it’s been a pleasure to meet you at several of the women’s protest activities. Now I realize what an honour it was as well. Thank you very much for your service to Canada and internationally.
    I very much like your pyramid analogy; and perhaps, my contrarian nature would turn it upside-down, and try to balance it on its point. With that image in mind, not only do the climate change “solutions” take precedence; the social initiatives must also be evaluated very carefully to maintain an extremely precarious balance.
    internationally, I feel that we have been on the side of the angels (more than commensurate with the size of either our emissions or our population). Nationally, we have an election being contested largely on the climate crisis battlefield. My only wish would be for the aboriginal community (the true owners of our country); and our youth (who with their children are inheritors of our unsustainable practices) to be involved with our women as a “think tank” resource.

  6. Jim Logagianes on

    So Trudeau’s answer to the environment is to buy carbon offsets with taxpayers’ money to justify flying two jets around the country trying to buy your votes? So when only wealthy Canadians can afford to purchase carbon offsets where does that leave the rest of us? Soon they will make us buy carbon offsets to heat our homes and drive our cars to work. I think Canada is going to become a very expensive place to live in the near future.

    • You are so right, Jim. And if you want to look at the beneficiaries receiving the money that is extracted from us, look no further than the ones forcing this down our throats. By the way, it has been reported that Al Gore will receive approximately $1 billion from his investments in “green” corporations and startups (most are eligible for government grants) before all is said and done. Pardon my cynicism, but, it really does seem certain that the taxpayers are the patsies and the bigwigs are cleaning up.

      p.s. Look up the Solyndra (“green energy”) swindle of the U. S. taxpayers under Obama.

      • Erin, I would rather see Al Gore benefit from investments in companies doing good work to reduce emissions than see Trump make billions from swindling everyone he ever dealt with in casinos and condos.

        • Again .. Hugh ..people can make decisions to enjoy this and that! Your ‘colors’ of your HATE for the ‘current’ US administration are showing .. again. Your support and narrative for socialism and liberalism is showing ..again! Lets wait and see what ALL of Canada want on OCT 21 and … wait and see .. what ALL AMERICANS want in 2020 … and … HUGH .. respect the will of the people!

          • Will do Bob as I did when Trudeau was elected even though I opted for Harper. And I hope you will do the same.

    • If only carbon credits could be earned rather than purchased. My wife and I are child-free. As such, our “family” produces less trash and puts out less recyclables than most families in our neighbourhood. We use our vehicles less, too. We use less water and electricity and natural gas than most of our neighbours. We rarely fly anywhere. Our “share” in terms of the expected use of public services is also likely less, in terms of garbage collection, ambulance / fire / police services, sewer use and water treatment, road use and road damage repairs, etc. I think we deserve a “lifetime free pass” redeemable for unlimited environmental and carbon credits. Let us continue to toss our Keurig pods, and use plastic spoons and straws and grocery bags, and skip messy green bin composting, and drive our gas-powered cars, and run our natural gas appliances in peace. We will be dead soon enough, and not only does our child-free lifestyle means minimal environmental damage now, we will leave no legacy of it through offspring once we finally kick the bucket. Just sayin’.

  7. Tamsen Tillson on

    An excellent article, as always, Nancy. One point I want to add about Canada being a relatively small contributor to carbon emissions; We are responsible for generating a lot more carbon when you take globalization and the moving of much of our manufacturing offshore into consideration. If an item is made in China and then shipped to Canada to be sold and consumed, the carbon emissions go on China’s tab, not ours. Also, on a per-capita basis, Canada is one of the world’s largest carbon emitting nations. (To learn more about the interplay between climate change and economics, I recommend Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything.) The reason I point this out is, I don’t want us to think that we don’t have to act because it’s someone else’s fault.

  8. I Enjoyed following this series and thankyou for the work.
    Your assertion,  “Canada is only responsible for 1.6 per cent of the global carbon emissions” is from my view a white wash of the global situation.
    My formative years were in Huntsville where my memories go back to the lumber industry there. Our share is proportional to our needless consumption of goods that have little or no utility in our lives, not the national smoke stack emission.
    I remember the radio station CKAR  in Huntsville had commentary that criticized the wood processing industry for the heavy black smoke spewed into the Muskoka air when they burned the deposits from the smoke stack.
    CKAR was staffed with a group of university graduates in the sixties when questioning was a good trait. Their commentary forced burning the stack to occur at night. I think this sort of activity drove industry to countries who did not care, or were not yet aware of the damage being done to our planet.
    Regards Ken Bowd

  9. Nadya Tarasoff on

    Nancy, I so appreciate your wholistic analysis. We often forget how poverty can drive people to desperate means, a la Les Miserables and Jean Val Jean. That’s one of the reasons that I feel in this Election the Liberals have the most wholistic approach, from lifting families out of poverty to funding innovation.

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