By: Emma Power

We’re smoking twenty packs a day, eating exclusively junk food, and never rising from the couch. It’s fine – the free healthcare system will manage our diabetes, heart disease, and lung cancer later, right?

We know our habits are damaging us – science has known for decades despite tobacco and processed food corporations attempts to stifle messaging. We know we could feel better if we make a few changes, invest in ourselves. Broader system change would help even more given that not everyone can afford a healthy diet right now. But… meh. It’s too much work. Too much money. We’ll deal with things as they come.

In the meantime, our blood pressure keeps rising, each breath becomes a little shallower. The corporations don’t mind. We don’t mind. But then we have a stroke. 

And a heart attack.

And then COVID comes along and we’re more susceptible than we want to be. All of us, everywhere. There are no more hospital beds.

This is what we’re doing when it comes to climate change. We continue to drink oil like it’s Pepsi and treat our atmosphere like an ashtray even though we are seeing negative impacts everywhere. We continue to let mega corporations and marketers tell us what is good for us instead of doctors and scientists. We continue to let societal inequities persist that prevent people from being able to improve and protect themselves. And we continue to rely on symptom management rather than address root causes. 

Climate action is preventative healthcare, both figuratively and literally. If we want to live full, healthy lives and use our public resources most effectively, we have to put in the time – and the cash – right now.

For too long, the conversation has been centered around how much it will cost to address climate change and not how much it will cost not to. The Canadian Climate Institute’s 2022 report Damage Control ties everything together – the Forward summarizes:

“As climate change impacts intensify, life will become even less affordable as economic growth slows, governments will be forced to raise taxes or cut services to pay for climate disasters, job losses will be measured in the millions, and goods will become more costly as supply chains are disrupted.”

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) highlights that in 2023, severe weather caused over $3 billion in insured damage in Canada for the second year in a row (primarily due to the wildfires in British Columbia and flooding in Nova Scotia). 2016 was the most expensive year on record due to the fires in Fort McMurray, Alberta (almost $6 billion). Of the top 10 years with the highest insured losses due to severe weather, 9 of them have been since 2011 and 8 of them have topped $2 billion. To put these figures in perspective, from 1983 to 2009, the average annual insurable payouts for severe weather was $400 Million – $2 billion is 5 times that, $6 billion is 15 times that.

These figures do not include losses that were not insured or were uninsurable, and do not include government disaster response spending. IBC estimates that for every dollar of insured losses, $3-4 additional dollars are borne by governments, households and businesses – so the events of 2023 likely actually cost us $9-12 billion collectively.

The Government of Canada has a Disaster Mitigation and Adaptation Fund to respond to such things, but we have been burning (no pun intended) through those funds quick – even the International Institute for Sustainable Development has flagged this as a concern. Corporate Knights, a sustainable-economy media and research organization, highlights the increasing use of the Canadian Armed Forces to make up for the lack of provincial and local capacity to deal with extreme weather events:

“Many governments apparently prefer responding with humanitarian aid after disasters, rather than supporting development activities that would reduce disaster impacts. That’s problematic…


…If the frequency of such disasters increases while the army’s capacity to respond is already strained, then these communities will continue to experience humanitarian responses that do little to protect their communities in advance and fail to support reconstruction or strengthen community resilience for the future.”

We need to move beyond our band-aid approach.

The Damage Control report estimates that Canada will experience $25 billion in annual losses across the economy relative to a stable-climate scenario by 2025. Depending on whether or not we get our emissions act together, we could be looking at $78-$101 billion annually by 2050 and $391-$865 billion by 2100. Plus all the human costs that we can’t put a price on – physical health, emotional trauma, loss of homes, communities, loved ones.

The Canadian Climate Institute goes on to say:

“This is not, however, our inevitable future. Damage Control demonstrates that if we invest in adaptation now, we can cut many of the costs of climate change in half. And, if adaptation is paired with Canadian and global success in reducing emissions in line with international commitments, these costs can be cut by three-quarters, helping to secure a more stable, affordable, and prosperous future for Canadians.”

The results of the analysis indicate that every dollar spent on effective adaptation and mitigation measures for Canada can save $13 to $15 in the long-term when you consider all the cascading economic impacts. Other organizations have done similar analyses and have come to similar conclusions – investment in climate action always pays back

Yet, global public and private investment in climate action is still much, much less than it needs to be. The Government of Canada is currently spending about $10 billion per year on emission reduction efforts, or around 0.5% of GDP. It might sound like a lot at first, but remember what we’re spending on climate disasters already and how those costs are expected to grow if we surpass 2, 3 or even 4 degrees Celsius of warming (none of which are out of the question based on our current trajectory – we just recorded our first straight 12-month period with an average global temperature 1.5 degrees C above the pre-industrial average). On top of this, governments all over the world are subsidizing the fossil fuel industry more than ever before – the International Monetary Fund states that we hit a record in 2022, which Canada contributed to. We are picking at a salad while continuing to smoke twenty packs a day – it’s not nothing, but we aren’t reducing our risk by any meaningful amount.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) and Climate Action Network Canada (CAN-Rac) have proposed a solution in Spending What it Takes – $287 billion in funding over the next 5 years or $57 billion per year. Again, this sounds like a lot, but it’s only 2% of our GDP. The Federal Government spent $57 billion in COVID-19 support in just 11 weeks. Analogies between climate action and pandemic response are plenty (think curve flattening, protecting the most vulnerable), but the magnitude of loss and disruption we’re talking about here is considerably greater than what we were facing in 2020, it’s just less immediate and more uncertain. The end goal is the same – to save lives and keep our systems intact. If we could do it once, we certainly can do it again.

Spending What it Takes breaks down how this money could equitably be spent across the economy. To align with the latest climate science from the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), we must cut our greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030 and reach net-zero by 2050. The sooner we eliminate emissions, the sooner temperatures will peak and begin coming down again. Where that peak happens will determine if we lose $391 billion or $865 billion to disasters every year by the end of the century – spending $287 billion once doesn’t sound so bad now, eh?

The breakdown of Federal climate investments proposed by CCPA and CAN-Rac can act as a framework for Provincial Governments as well, including Manitoba. Building a clean electricity grid, making homes and buildings more energy efficient, accelerating zero-carbon mobility, and growing food more sustainably are three recommended categories of investment that align with what the Manitoba Climate Action Team has been advocating for through the Road to Resilience series. If Manitoba committed 2% of our GDP to these actions, we would reduce the cost of living for everyone, reduce our emissions (thereby reducing collective climate risk), and increase our ability to manage any disruptions that come our way. 2% GDP is the sale price – limited time only. The longer we wait, the more it is going to cost to achieve the same goals and the more climate disasters are going to try to disrupt our progress. Spend now, save later. 

It often takes a good scare to get our butts into gear. A heart attack, stroke, cancer diagnosis. An unexpected loss that makes you wish you had taken more care, prioritized differently. If the fires and floods and heat waves of the last few years have not struck this cord for us, what will it take?

The doctor’s orders have always been clear. They aren’t always easy to follow and we don’t always see results immediately, but they really are the simplest way to become and stay well – put out the (fossil fuel) smokes, increase intake of healthy (renewable) energy sources, and build strength and stamina (resilience).


Emma Power is an Engineer with a background in carbon accounting. She’s a Climate Action Team Alum and Consultant at Fundamental Inc.