Climate change

Kevin O’Leary gets figures wrong on climate change

Kevin O'Leary makes worrying comments at the Conservative leadership debate

Leadership candidates Deepak Obhrai, Steven Blaney, Pierre Lemieux, Kevin O’Leary, Kellie Leitch, Rick Peterson and Andrew Scheer waiting beside the stage before the debate.   Kieran Leavitt

On Feb. 4, Kevin O’Leary and other candidates traded quips about carbon taxation and other hot button issues at the latest Conservative leadership debate in Halifax.

However, one comment from O’Leary’s in particular has given some people cause to worry about his understanding of climate change.

During the debate, O’Leary said:

“Many people don’t realize this — Canada has 1.2 billion acres of wetlands and forests. I’m an Environmental Studies student. What happens is these are carbon sinks. They absorb 2.1-2.6 tons of carbon a year. Canada actually absorbs more carbon than it emits. This is not our problem.”

As for absorption of carbon, Natural Resources Canada states that since the 1990s, “Canada’s forests have become carbon sources, releasing more carbon into the atmosphere than they are accumulating in any given year.”

They attribute this change to increases in wildlife fires, insect outbreaks and the lumber industry in recent decades.

What about wetlands?

Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions for 2014 were 732 megatonnes, according to Environment Canada. Research shows that Canadian wetlands store around 130 to 220 pounds of carbon per acre per year. O’Leary was a little off to say Canada absorbs more than it emits — Canadian wetlands absorb 0.00003 percent of Canada’s total emissions.

Karen Beazley, a professor who works at the School for Resource and Environmental Studies at Dalhousie University, spoke to The Signal about this error.

Regardless of the number of carbon sinks (areas that absorb emissions) the carbon in the atmosphere is still increasing, so clearly the sinks are not working,” she said. “Not only do we need initiatives to keep those forests and wetlands working, but we need other tools.”

The tool discussed in the Conservative debate was Trudeau’s planned carbon tax.

“We need some kind of financial consequence attached to emitting these levels of carbon, so that these individuals … use their profit to deal with the waste they creating,” said Beazley.

When asked if it was worth risking the Canadian economy to implement a carbon tax, Beazley told The Signal that “Canadians will be paying for it one way or another, whether with their pocketbook or with their quality of life. Efforts to increase the cost of emissions will vastly reduce the consequences they will pay for in the future.”

The Conservative leadership election will take place on May 27.