The Social Cost of Carbon

SCC DIAGRAMThe cost of carbon taxes is often lamented in the media, however what we should actually be talking about is the rapidly escalating costs that are being imposed on us as a result of human fossil fuel consumption. The cost of fossil fuel itself does not account for the costs borne by society as a result of emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. While certain costs of the climate crisis are difficult or impossible to nail down (for example, what is the cost to society of a person dying of air pollution or the extinction of species?), many other costs can and have been quantified. The concept of social cost of carbon aims to quantify these costs to better understand the full cost of burning fossil fuels. So what are these costs?

Public Health

The climate crisis is a major threat to public health (as I discussed in a previous blog) and is imposing many costs to our healthcare system. You can reference that blog for further details, but the main drivers of healthcare impacts are: increase in labour hours lost, increased frequency of disasters leading to acute loss of life/injuries as well as longer term mental health costs, increased cardiovascular disease associated with pollution and wildfire smoke, expanding range of disease spreading insects, malnutrition associated with reduced crop yields/higher food costs. The Lancet has recently published their latest report on the health impacts of the climate crisis.

All of these impacts stress our healthcare system and increase the cost to deliver health care to society. These public health costs are borne by society as a whole and are mere externalities for the entities that are generating the CO2 emissions.


Fossil Fuel Vehicles Cause Climate Pollution and Cardiovascular Disease. Photo Credit: Floydian [CC BY-SA 3.0 (


Ticks that spread Lyme Disease are expanding their range within Canada. Photo by Scott Bauer.

Property Damage/Loss

It is projected that the climate crisis is leading to higher incidence of flood risk in North America. We have seen some evidence of this in New Brunswick, Toronto, and Canada overall. Flood damage is often not covered by insurance and damage cost may be borne by individuals, companies, or taxpayers in the case that governments compensate people for damages or pay to relocate communities.

Rising sea levels associated with the climate crisis are also expected to lead to loss of real estate value. Some estimates project the cost to the global economy of up to $14 trillion by the year 2100.

Unless a social cost of carbon is applied, these social costs are not borne by those burning the fossil fuels and emitting the CO2, but rather by society overall.


Exile on Ontario St from Montreal, Canada [CC BY-SA 2.0 (

Agricultural Productivity Loss

The climate crisis is causing an average reduction of the food production capacity of the Earth. Reduction in supply leads to increased costs of food for individuals, businesses and governments. Once again, the costs of burning fossil fuels are being imposed on society rather than on the entity doing the burning.

Ecosystem Services

The natural environment supports human civilization in many ways: provisioning food and water, regulating climate and disease, supporting nutrient cycles and oxygen production, and providing recreational benefits. Some examples of ecosystem services include pollination of crops by bees, filtration of water through natural watersheds, natural predators reducing numbers of prey animals, carbon sequestration in plants, etc. Many of these ecosystem benefits are often taken for granted in economic analysis. In a heating world, some of these benefits are becoming more and more strained. A social cost of carbon analysis accounts for the decline in these ecosystem services.

Social Cost of Carbon

So what do all of these costs add up to? What cost are we imposing on society for every ton of CO2 we emit? There have been several studies that attempted to quantify the cost, but I found the most detailed to be the US Government Interagency Working Group on Social Cost of Greenhouse Gases. You can read the full methodology in their technical document, but the key result is shown in the table ES-1 of the executive summary. I converted the results to 2019 Canadian dollars and used a 3% discount rate which is typical for government agencies and I removed years that have already elapsed to yield the table below:

Social Cost of Carbon CAD_2

As you can see, the social cost of carbon in 2020 under the “average” impact scenario is already significantly higher than the highest level of carbon tax scheduled to be imposed in Canada, which will reach $50 per ton by 2022. The scenarios are based on three different peer reviewed climate impact models explained in the technical document. The “average” scenario assumes no extreme tipping points are reached. Generally, projections have been too conservative and have underestimated the impacts of the climate crisis. Therefore, it may be wiser to consider the high impact scenario, which assumes the 95th percentile for the cost of climate heating. Although these models were produced by the US Government, the Canadian Government has used the same models to estimate the social cost of carbon so I believe the analysis is relevant to Canada.

With impacts as severe as those shown, it starts to make sense when organizations such as the Ecofiscal Commission say that we will need a carbon tax of $210 to reach our 2030 Paris climate targets. Interestingly, documents are now being uncovered that show Canadian oil company Imperial Oil has known for decades that carbon pricing of this magnitude would be necessary to combat the effects of climate change. Their 1991 recommendation of a carbon price of $88.50/ton (converted to 2019 dollars) to “stabilize CO2 emissions” is shockingly close to the social cost of carbon identified in the average impact scenario in the table above. Unfortunately, oil companies typically buried their own climate research and chose to promote denialism instead.

Carbon Pricing in the $80-200/ton range would look like a good deal if it enables us to avoid the worst climate impacts per the table above. So next time the topic of carbon pricing comes up, try not to recoil in terror at the added cost to gasoline and instead think about the significantly larger costs we are trying to avoid.

The societal costs of CO2 emissions are starting to become more and more apparent to governments around the world. Much higher carbon pricing will most likely be coming. Organizations that have a high carbon footprint, including hospitals, need to plan to curtail their fossil fuel consumption to mitigate this oncoming risk.

Through our energy management program, UHN reduced our fossil fuel emissions by almost 20% between 2010 and 2018 despite adding over 600,000 square feet of floor space. We plan to do everything in our power to reach our 2030 targets of a 45% reduction from 2010 levels. This target is based on reductions recommended by the IPCC SR1.5 report.

Land, Needs To Be Planned

The earth is running out of arable land to grow our crops. According to The GuardianPic20191122_1, over the last 40 years, “the world has lost a third of its arable land”. Arable land is the land available to grow crops. The land must have a balance of nutrients essential to plant growth. We’re losing arable land to unsustainable farming practices and urbanization.


Some farmers use unsustainable farming practices. The practices will decrease the quality of the soil and eventually destroy the soil Pic20191122_2completely. The most common practices are the use of monocropping and the use of excessive amounts of chemicals. Every plant requires different conditions to grow. For example, potatoes require a lot of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to grow properly. If a farmer plants only potatoes for many years in a row, the quantity in these nutrients decreases significantly. The land will no longer be capable of growing crops anymore. It is now wasted. Furthermore, unsustainable farming practices include using an excessive amount of fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides.

As the benefits of living in urban areas increase, more and more people will move towards urban areas. If an urban area cannot safely contain that many people, it will increase the urban area into rural areas. This is urban sprawl and it can take over arable land and use it for residential, commercial, and/or industrial purposes.


We’re in the darkest hour. What can we do about this? Farmers should consider the use of crop rotation. Different crops will be planted every year. The first year could host a crop that leaves high amounts of pH in the soil. The second-year hosts a crop that thrives in soils with high pH. This “mutualistic” relationship can benefit crop quality and crop yield. Consumers should create gardens, such as aeroponic gardens. These gardens have plants growing in the air, instead of in soil or water. Aeroponics can iPic20191122_5ncrease the intake of oxygen for the roots and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. Aeroponics decrease bugs in the plant, decrease the possibility of diseases being transferred, and decrease the consumption of water to up to 90%!

We can slowly fight the arable land crisis. One garden, one farm at a time use the new technologies and techniques.

Tis’ the Season for Change

After a couple months here, I am finally introducing myself. My name is Angela Alderson and I am a 3rd year Chemistry and Business student from the University of Waterloo. I took over the role of Sustainability Coordinator on August 28th. Ah yes, you may ask, “You aren’t an environmental studies student?” Well like many people, it’s come to my attention that climate change is the elephant in the room that everyone talks about, but does nothing about. The wisest thing I was ever told was to, “Leave things better than I found them”. This includes our planet and this opportunity allowed me to do just that.

Figure 1: Source – (

Alright, enough about me. Let’s talk about some of the cool things that are happening in my world. Upon starting this position, I was told that the main part of my role was Shut the Sash. Shut the Sash is an energy-saving initiative, where we perform random walk-through inspections in PMCRT and KDT to ensure that fume hoods are closed when not in use. If a fume hood is found open, and nobody is using it they get a red stamp and if it is closed or someone is using it they get a green stamp. We encourage this behavior by performing these audits multiple times a week. When a lab gets a compliance of 100% for that month, a pizza party is done via a random draw. Over the years, this method has worked extremely well with compliance over 90% for each site per month since 2016.

Figure 2: A picture of the Shut the Sash app interface that compiles all the data for each month.

In March of 2018, we started to track exterior lab doors, and freezer corridor doors. By tracking these doors we were able to make the labs safer, as well as, save energy by controlling temperatures in the freezer corridors. Currently, we do not include this in our decision for who gets the pizza lunches. Due to this, people sometimes leave the freezer doors open out of convenience.

In addition, I manage the ice pack recycling program, Research Green Team Members, and Visual Waste Audits, which I have noticed have poor compliance rates. Noticing these themes, the question now became how we further engage people. Recently, we had an exciting develop and have started to work with the IT team to further develop the Shut the Sash app. The Shut the Sash data is an application used to input data to saves time and human error. The plan is to include Shut the Sash, Shut the Door, ice pack recycling program, Research Green Team Members, and Visual Waste Audits into a weighted score for our pizza party. The score will be composed of 50% Shut the Sash, 20% Shut the Door, 10% Research Green Team, 10% Visual Waste Audits, and 10% Ice Pack Recycling. By doing this, we plan to see an increase in engagement and compliance. This is an exciting and new opportunity that we hope to have up and running by the New Year!

Figure 3: One of our Research Green Team members, Maria Kulikova, posing with the ice pack recycling she started on October 2019 in the Coburn Lab at PMCRT.
Figure 4: A pie chart on how to win a pizza party.

If you are interested in joining, or want anymore information on these initiatives, please email

Poppies, Rations & Remembrance Revisited

In honor of Remembrance Day, we’re remembering this from the archives…

poppiesAs the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month approaches, much of the world takes a moment to remember and respect. Many of us wear poppies to symbolize the Continue reading

And the Royal Goblet of Reusable Cups goes to…


With 2,556 Waste Warriors from 7 healthcare & research organizations repping 23 sites across Ontario, Waste Reduction Week 2019 was hands-down our biggest EVER! We had 4 first-timers, so a massive shout-out to newbies: Norfolk General Hospital, Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare, Michael Garron Hospital / Toronto East Health Network, and Unity Health Toronto. Welcome!

We also went from 3-R’s to 5 (or 6-R’s if you count reuse/repair as 2). The bigger the slice of upside-down pyramid, the better, though all are good.


We all win just by playing the game and thinking about how to get wasteless. Don’t worry if your personal score was less than stellar. The fixes were right there in the challenge so we know what to do next time. Not to sound cheesy, but that’s the point … to try and be better every day and every year, not just for special events.

Yada, yada, you want to know who won, don’t you 😉? To level the playing field, the winning organization has the greatest participation rate (#participants divided by #staff). This lets small fries to play fair with, um, big potatoes (is that a thing?).


Waste Reduction Week Inter-Hospital Challenge: 2019 results – Congrats HDGH!

Congratulations to Hôtel-Dieu Grace Healthcare!!! First time out of the gate and already top spot. Kudos to Norfolk General Hospital, soooooooo close, just 1% from #1! A special mention for SickKids …they had the strongest final push, going from 6th place to 4th in the last few days. And, not that I’m biased, never … but a giant shout-out to University Health Network for having the greatest number of participants over all!


Now we know how the organizations did, but how did YOU do? (ya, not that all Talkin’ Trash readers played, some can’t, but you are pretty awesome so it’s a fair assumption). You scored a solid 75% on average, and 1/5 scored over 90%!


Most were pretty good about Recycling, with an average score of 93%! Yay you! Where we need a little help is on knowing when to stop … e.g. don’t wishcycle trash into the blue bin or you’ll spoil the bunch. Here, you hovered at 65%, which means a third of us are accidentally contaminating the blue bin with stuff that should go to Landfill. Yikes! To be fair, the recycling rules in the challenge are not universal. They are correct for most of the participating hospitals, but may be different than your city or town.

Our homework (arrrgh homework, blech) is to look up our recycling rules at work and local waste wizards at home. See what needs to go in the trash and put ‘er there next time. Even better, make a wasteless change like lug-a-mug and brew instead of single-use coffee cups and pods.

For our new R … Refuse … you did great! 76% of you say no to the straw. 73% say no to single-use cutlery when ordering take-out or delivery (cuz you packed your own, or you have real cutlery in your kitchen). And a whopping 434 of you made your own suggestions. Too many to list, obvi, but here’s a smattering…

  • bring my own take out containers (tupperware) when dining at a restaurant

  • Now work from original emails while changing payroll schedules instead of printing.

  • I don’t buy food if it comes in Styrofoam. I’ll buy something else.

  • Don’t dispose clothes I no longer use, I donate them.

  • Return all packaging to the store that sold it. It belongs to them not me.

  • Use my shirt instead of napkins

Lots of great ideas (maybe not the last one 😂).

In the Reduce zone, 85% of you choose fewer but better-made things that last longer. 67% of you borrow/rent/share those occasionally-used things like tools or decorations. This sharing economy grows by the day.

You Reused a lot! 94% of you love your reusable food containers. 93% reuse water bottles and bags. For mugs and cutlery, each scored 87%, a solid answer.

Thanks so much to the 2,556 who played this year. It was a lot of fun, but also a really helpful way to get everyone, even your grumpiest colleagues, to do the right thing. Thanks for getting wasteless with us!


P.S. UHNers: if you missed the challenge, you can still test your recycling rules knowledge here: 


UHN Energy and Environment Delivers Improved Lighting to TGH Loading Dock

Sometimes a lighting project is about more than just improving energy efficiency. The loading dock at TGH is a busy place with lots of activity and many vehicles coming and going at all hours. The previous lighting was old and inefficient and the light levels were starting to become a safety issue. Staff were recommended to not walk on the floor level and to always wear reflective vests as safety precautions. Continue reading

Turning A Cave Into Parking Garage

In the past during Halloween season, if you ask me where to find the scariest place at TWH, my personal preference was possibly the Fell Pavilion underground parking garage.  It was large, with very few people and most importantly, very, very dark.  It was so dark that there were constant complaints from users, our own hospital staff. Continue reading