Special Report: Climate Change

16 Ways to Spend Your Carbon Tax Dividend

You're getting climate cash. Here are 16 ways you could invest it to reduce your emissions and save more money.

By Jen Dawson
Published May 01, 2019

Canada Revenue Agency's April 30 deadline just passed, and every Ontario individual and family is getting a new payment from the federal government on their 2018 taxes.

It's called the climate action incentive, and it represents a return of 90 percent of the money the federal government is collecting from fossil fuel distributors in Ontario under the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act. The other ten percent is going to schools, hospitals, non-profits, Indigenous communities and more to help them reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

The federal program was imposed on Ontario after the province cancelled its own carbon cap-and-trade strategy late last year.

You'll see your climate action incentive payment amount on page 4 of your tax return (line 449, to be exact). If you have tax owing, you won't actually get that money as a cheque or direct deposit, since it will be used to reduce your payable. If you're getting a refund, it will be buried in that amount.

But rest assured, most individuals living in an urban area in Ontario will receive $154. A family of four, on average, will receive $307. If you live in a rural area, your payment will be even higher.

To me, the phrase "climate action incentive" sounds a bit like government bafflegab. Whose action? Incentive to do what?

But I'm trying to be a bit more glass-half-full these days, so I've decided to look at this payment as an opportunity to do something positive about climate change - something that requires my newfound cash.

Of course, I firmly believe that it will take more than individual behaviour change to stave off climate disaster.

To keep warming to 1.5° Celsius, according to the authors of October 2018's IPCC special report, we must reduce global emissions of greenhouse gases to net zero by mid-century. It's going to take real leadership from governments around the world to accomplish this task.

Seen in that context, my $154 payment, invested in climate-friendly purchases, doesn't have a hope in hot hell of making a measurable difference.

Unless.

(Reference to The Lorax intended.)

Unless a whole lot of us decide to invest our climate action incentive payment into something that will help reduce our personal carbon emissions. If I do it, and you do it, and the Once-ler does it, well, anthropologist Margaret Mead would say together we have the power to change the world.

So without further ado, here are 16 ways to use your climate action incentive payment for what its name implies-taking action on climate change.

1. Get a new set of wheels. If the quality of your ride has been holding you back from cycle commuting, you could invest your payment in a new two-wheeler. (Be sure to donate your old wheels to a good cause, such as OPIRG's Recycle Cycles [link to http://www.opirg.org/mcmaster/rc.html] or New Hope Community Bikes [link to https://newhopecommunitybikes2018.businesscatalyst.com/].)

*2. Buy an electric-assist bike. This one was suggested by Dianne Saxe, Ontario's Environmental Commissioner from 2015 to 2019, when I asked her what she'd recommend we do with the money. Driving makes up the majority of the average Ontarian's carbon footprint, but we don't all live within reasonable biking distance of the places we'd like to go. Commutes that are daunting by traditional bike, Dianne says, become possible when you can electrify your pedal power. At prices that start around $2K, consider this one an investment of several years' worth of climate action incentive payments.

3. Pimp your ride. How about a pair of roomy waterproof pannier bags for biking to the store or work? Better quality lights or reflective clothing so you feel more comfortable cycling at night? A high-quality lock? Think of the times when you say, "I'd better not ride." Are there ways you could invest your climate action incentive payment to help overcome those barriers?

4. Become a monthly SoBi member. If you live in the lower city, you don't have to own your own bike. Join the sharing economy with a monthly Hamilton Bike Share membership - at $15 per month it's just a little more than the $154 individual climate action incentive payment.

5. Join a carshare. Hamiltonians can get a Value Plus membership in VRTUCAR for $15 per month (trip costs are extra). Perks include access to cars in other cities. If your carshare experiment proves you can ditch your second vehicle, you'll probably end up saving more money, since CAA estimates it costs $3,300 a year to own and operate the average compact gas-powered car.

6. Check for leaks. According to the Reducing my Footprint report, home heating is the second largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for the average Ontarian (transportation is the largest). Find out what retrofits will reduce your emissions (and your costs) with a home energy audit, paid for, in part, with your climate action incentive.

Green Venture, a local non-profit, has been performing these audits since 1995. A registered energy advisor performs a test to measure air leakage and checks the efficiency of your heating and air conditioning units. The result is a number, out of 100, that represents the energy efficiency of your home. (Mine, a leaky 1912 Edwardian, earned an abysmal 21/100 on its first test.) You also get a handy report to help focus your efforts. Get a follow-up evaluation after you've made improvements-trust me, it'll make you feel better.

7. Seal and insulate. Caulk is cheap, so you'll be able to seal a lot of windows, doors and baseboards with your climate action incentive cash. Blown-in or spray foam insulation is more expensive, but the potential savings are greater, too. If Environment Hamilton's climate campaign successfully influences Hamilton City Council, municipal money to support your energy efficient retrofits may be on its way. If you like that idea, email your councillor.

8. Bullfrog Power your home. For as little as $11.25 each month, Bullfrog Power makes sure that green electricity or green natural gas (or both) are added to the fuel mix on your behalf. Your contribution not only reduces your personal carbon footprint, it supports community-based green energy projects across the country.

9. Pay it forward. Forego buying more stuff and instead pass your climate action incentive payment along to a deserving local, national or international organization working toward net zero by 2050.

10. Get growing. Producing your own food is a feel-good way to reduce your carbon footprint. Use your payment to purchase the materials you need to start a garden in your yard, on your balcony or at a nearby community garden (just make sure you aren't driving to it!).

11. Offset your flight. Flying is one of our most carbon-intensive activities. If you have to take to the skies, cancel out your emissions by buying carbon offsets with your climate action incentive payment. A CBC article offers advice on how to choose a reputable offset source.

12. Get smart. Smart thermostats save energy. They "learn" your habits, adjust the temperature when you're away from home and track your usage. Some offer recommendations for saving energy and reward you when you use less. One, in particular, looks darn sexy, too. At around $300, you could invest your family's entire payment in this purchase.

13. Put it on Presto. You could use your climate action incentive to load up a Presto card, which will allow you to "tap on" to ride ten transit systems in the GTAH, including the HSR. Erinn Todd, operations manager at Green Venture, suggests loading up a Presto card for your kids (if they're old enough, of course) so you don't have to ferry them around by car. Another idea? Use your Presto card to take the family on a low-carbon day-trip to Toronto or Niagara Falls (GO Transit goes to both places).

14. Try a solar experiment. I got a 40W Coleman folding solar panel and deep cycle marine battery for my birthday last year (in case you were wondering, I was ecstatic). Without an inverter to turn the DC power to AC power, we use it for DC appliances like a pump for an outdoor shower and a fan for a composting toilet at an off-grid cabin. If you buy an inverter, you can use the battery power to juice up electronics (go for a true sine wave inverter if you're going to power computer equipment), recharge batteries for electric tools and more.

15. Take a vegetarian cooking class. Livestock accounts for almost 15 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, and eating beef is the fourth biggest source of emissions for the average Ontarian. If you need some expert help or inspiration to switch to a plant-based diet, why not use your climate action incentive to pay for a vegetarian or vegan cooking class? Google will gladly serve up several classes for you in Hamilton.

16. Stake a vampire. Vampire energy, aka phantom load, is power that's being used by devices that aren't actually on. It's hard to determine which appliances are the biggest culprits without using a detection device. If you're a gadget geek, you could use your climate cash to buy one, and still have money left over for something else. A PC Mag article offers recommendations.

If you're thinking, "Jen, tell me something I don't know," I get it. All of these ideas have been talked about somewhere before. But the point of this piece is to get us past talking. I have a bad habit of reciting facts, feeling bad and then doing nothing. This is my chance to put my money where my mouth is, so to speak.

I've decided to use my $154 to buy another solar panel.

Where are you going to invest yours?

The Once-ler and Margaret Mead and I, we can't wait to find out.

Jen Dawson is a local community activist and freelance writer. She is a volunteer with the Hamilton 350 Committee.

4 Comments

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By kevinlove (registered) | Posted May 01, 2019 at 12:52:54

Jen wrote about SoBi: "...at $15 per month it's just a little more than the $154 individual climate action incentive payment."

I presume that she is referring to a year of SoBi if bought one month at a time. But the good news is that a yearly membership is only $149. Which is now a little less than the the $154 individual climate action incentive payment. On the SoBi site, right after their "Gifts," select the option for "$149 1-year prepay" and you are all set for the next year!

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted May 01, 2019 at 13:29:39

Jen wrote about electric assist: "At prices that start around $2K..."

Kevin's comment: For those on a budget, it can be a lot cheaper to convert your existing bike with a conversion kit. The excellent Canadian start up "Grin Technologies" offers their basic kit at only $388. See:

https://www.ebikes.ca/shop/electric-bicy...

The advantage of buying a kit is that you can get exactly the bike you want, and then electrify it. If you are currently riding exactly the bike you want, then this works out well.

You will also need a battery. Here is an example of a good one for beginners:

https://www.pingbattery.com/servlet/the-...

Ping Li has an excellent reputation for quality and for customer support for beginners. That battery will give about 20-40 km of range, depending upon use. Specifically, how many of those km are going up the mountain.

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By jdawson@interlynx.net (registered) - website | Posted May 01, 2019 at 17:06:39 in reply to Comment 126455

Hey Kevin! Thanks so much for your helpful comments (all two of them)! This is exactly the stuff I was hoping to get in response to the article...clarification and more cool ways to spend our climate cash. Keep 'em coming!

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By AP (registered) | Posted May 03, 2019 at 20:18:00

Love it, Jen!

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