Last week, Justin Trudeau promised that if Canadians reelected the Liberals, the government would plant two billion trees over the next decade to counter the climate crisis.
This comes in the wake of a study published this summer in Science suggesting that atmospheric carbon pool could be reduced by 25 percent if more than 500 billion trees were planted around the world.
The researchers concluded that it's possible to add 0.9 billion hectares to the global tree canopy without affecting agricultural or urban areas.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia has pledged to plant four billion trees by October.
Nobody's going to oppose planting more trees—and if they're put in the right places, they'll be less susceptible to wildfires.
But in a 2017 study, researchers at the Potsdam Institute and the University of Exeter advised that planting more trees will not be a panacea to keep the average global temperature rise below 2 C since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
The creation of enough biomass would be "unable to counteract 'business-as-usual' emissions without eliminating virtually all natural ecosystems".
"Although we find that this strategy of sequestering carbon is not a viable alternative to aggressive emission reductions, it could still support mitigation efforts if sustainably managed," they concluded.
But here's the problem for Canadian voters: neither the federal Conservatives nor the federal Liberals appear interested in curtailing the production of fossil fuels for export to other countries.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer drew wild applause in Alberta this weekend when he promised to create an "energy corridor" to transport fossil fuels.
We'll see how that works out when the first premier or Indigenous leader decides that they don't want a pipeline in a certain area.
The federal Liberals have promised net-zero emissions by 2050 while scrupulously avoiding any discussion about reductions in oilsands production.
And Trudeau and his candidates are going to great lengths to convince voters that they're on the right track.
The slickly produced video below, which is on Vancouver Quadra Liberal incumbent Joyce Murray's Twitter feed, is just one of many examples.
Planting trees and extracting more oil
This year, the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers forecast an increase of 1.27 million barrels per day of oil production in Canada by 2035.
As long as this oil is exported, the downstream emissions are not counted in Canada's overall greenhouse gas emissions.
This is the game that's being played by the Liberals: make lavish promises to scrub Canada's record with tax incentives to encourage companies to lower their emissions within Canada. But allow them to continue ramping up shipments of dirty fossil fuels abroad, which will only exacerbate the climate crisis.
And then have the public pay to plant a couple of billion trees to show on the world stage how we're doing our part to fight climate change.
Of course, planting trees is far better than doing nothing. And planting two billion trees would be spectacular.
But until the two politicians with the best chance of becoming prime minister recognize the reality of the production problem, future generations are probably doomed to living on a hellfire of a planet.
The world will invariably see increasing losses of human life due to heat waves and extreme weather events.
Greens address production problem
But one party—the Greens—is offering the most explicit promise when it comes to the production of fossil fuels.
"Since producing and burning fossil fuels is the largest source of emissions, we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, and retool society to run on non-polluting, renewable energy sources," the Greens say in their platform. "This is entirely possible, according to studies by the Stanford University researchers and the Deep Decarbonization Pathways Project."
The Greens would cancel the Trans Mountain expansion project, which would triple diluted bitumen shipments from Alberta to the Lower Mainland.
"No new pipelines, or coal, oil or gas drilling or mining, including offshore wells, will be approved," the platform states. "Existing oil and gas operations will continue on a declining basis, with bitumen production phased out between 2030 and 2035. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) operations will be banned outright due to impacts on groundwater quality, methane release and seismic activity".
All of this would cause howls of outrage in the business community, oilpatch, and among provincial finance ministers who depend on fossil-fuel revenues to fund government services.
But Green Leader Elizabeth May recognizes that the status quo of depending on oil money to fuel the economy is only going to wreck the world's economy and lead to more annihilation of animal and plant species that support delicate ecosystems.
NDP promises aggressive action
The NDP has promised a Green New Deal that will rely on "ambitious, science-based greenhouse gas reductions that will help stabilize the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius".
There is a pledge to provide a just transition for workers who make their living in carbon-intensive industries but who have to find other areas of employment. And like the Greens, the New Democrats oppose the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which will have annual downstream carbion dioxide equivalent emissions in excess of all the emissions every year from B.C.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has also promised to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies on his first day in office in the unlikely event that he becomes Canada's next prime minister.
If there's a minority government, however, he could make this a price for his party's support of whoever becomes prime minister.
But at the end of the day, the New Democrats have not been nearly as explicit as the Greens in addressing the production of fossil fuels that are exported. That includes liquefied natural gas.
Only the Greens are using the phrase "we need to keep fossil fuels in the ground."
Liberals support oilsands projects
Trudeau, on the other hand, had the diametric opposite message for U.S. oil executives when he attended a conference in Houston, Texas, in 2017.
"No country would find 173 billion barrels of oil in the ground and leave them there," the prime minister declared to the applause of people in the room. "The resource will be developed. Our job is to ensure this is done responsibly, safely, and sustainably."
There's a lot of talk during election campaigns about the so-called "ballot question".
It's what people think about when they go into the voting booth on Election Day.
The Liberals want the ballot question to be "choose forward" rather than going backward to Stephen Harper–style rule in Canada.
The Conservatives want Canadians to think that Trudeau can't be trusted with power in the wake of the SNC-Lavalin affair.
Each of them is promising financial goodies to buy the votes of Canadians.
The NDP's Singh got into the act this weekend by offering larger federal subsidies to B.C. Ferries, presumably to show that he's interested in lowering fares for those living on the west coast of Canada.
But for many of those who are freaked out about rising greenhouse gas emissions, the ballot box question just might be: "Should we keep fossil fuels in the ground?"
These types of voters are more worried about Climate Armageddon than whether their home heating bills will go down or if they'll get a slightly larger Canada Child Benefit.
If there are enough of them out there—and "should we keep fossil fuels in the ground?" becomes the ballot box question—it could cause a political earthquake in Canada on October 21.