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Dear PM: Destruction of our atmosphere undermines Canada's security

March 2, 2015

In this era of heightened concerns about national security, we invite you to read the following open letter to Prime Minister Harper that makes a simple point: Our global atmosphere is “critical infrastructure” and disruption of it “undermines the security of Canada.” If you agree, join us in calling on the Prime Minister to declare the global atmosphere to be critical infrastructure, necessary for Canada’s security. 

Dear Prime Minister Harper,

The efforts of your government to protect “critical infrastructure” have been getting a lot of attention recently.  Most recently your proposed Bill C-51 defines “interference with critical infrastructure” as one type of activity which may “undermine the security of Canada.” The broad reach of this definition has many concerned about possible abuses, such as the possibility of government agencies actively monitoring the critics of oil sands infrastructure

Back in 2010 your National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure set out general policy related to critical infrastructure, including defining the term:

Critical infrastructure refers to processes, systems, facilities, technologies, networks, assets and services essential to the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Canadians and the effective functioning of government. Critical infrastructure can be stand-alone or interconnected and interdependent within and across provinces, territories and national borders. Disruptions of critical infrastructure could result in catastrophic loss of life, adverse economic effects, and significant harm to public confidence.

Although your National Strategy identifies “10 critical infrastructure sectors,” it fails to mention the global atmosphere and the impact of greenhouse gases on Canada’s security (climate change is mentioned briefly in the associated Action Plan for Critical Infrastructure as a factor which might impact critical infrastructure). This is a shocking omission, because the atmosphere meets every one of the components of your definition of “critical infrastructure”:

  • The atmosphere offers processes, systems and services that allow life on the planet (including in Canada) and which moderate the temperature of the globe;
  • Those processes, systems and services are essential to the health, safety, security and economic well-being of Canadians (and, indeed, all life on Earth);
  • The atmosphere is interconnected and interdependent across provincial, territorial and national borders; and
  • Disruption of the atmosphere is already resulting in loss of life, adverse economic impacts and significant harm to public confidence, but the future impacts climate change, particularly if this security threat is not addressed, are expected to be truly catastrophic. 


Recognition of atmospheric disruption as a security concern

In 2007 you yourself noted the importance of the global atmosphere to the security of Canadians when you described climate change (which is another word for the disruption of the atmosphere) as “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today.” You are not the only world leader to make this link.  U.S. President Barack Obama, in his recent State of the Union Address, said:

The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. We should act like it.

As the President indicates, the Pentagon has been clear about the link between the health of the atmosphere and national security. The Pentagon also refers to climate change as a “threat multiplier,” because of the way in which it can have effects on other existing risks and critical infrastructure. 

Here in Canada, we are already seeing the economic impacts associated with the disruption of this critical infrastructure. 

Natural Resources Canada has documented extensive economic and human health impacts associated with climate change:

[C]hanging climate is affecting many of Canada’s economic sectors as well as human health. This includes impacts on sectors with obvious climate sensitivities such as forestry, agriculture, fisheries, hydroelectricity, transportation, tourism and insurance. […] Health impacts include lengthening of the ragweed season ¬¬- between 1995 and 2009, the season increased by more than 25 days in Saskatoon and Winnipeg and spreading of Lyme disease vectors (ticks), which has resulted in the annual number of Canadian cases increasing from 30 to more than 250 in recent years.

The dollar value to Canada’s economy of these types of impacts, and from the damage of extreme weather events, floods and other impacts, has been estimated at $2.5 billion/year in 2010 (DARA) or $5 billion/year by 2020 (NRTEE), rising to as much as ¼ of Canada’s GDP (NRTEE) if we are not successful in halting the current assault on our atmosphere. 

As recognized by President Obama, climate change already causes more deaths than terrorism globally. (A DARA report estimates 400,000 climate or fossil fuel related related deaths in 2010)

Canada’s failure to address our atmospheric security

Given your concern about protecting critical infrastructure, it is surprising that your government is not taking the atmospheric threat to our national security more seriously. Your rejection of climate action that has a perceived economic cost stands in sharp contrast to your aggressive statements and action against other perceived security threats.

One might wonder whether you have considered the available intelligence (meaning the available scientific evidence) on the nature and magnitude of the threat. Security experts have taken note of the Canadian government’s failure to address the security implications of climate change in contrast to the governments of other countries.  A 2009 paper from the Institute for Policy Studies, Climate Change and Security: Planning for the Future, explains:

Canadian security organisations have not examined reliable scientific projections through a Canadian security lens. They have not produced a Canada-centric, security-centric, risk assessment of expected trends and conditions; nor have they examined the mandates, priorities, and capabilities of Canadian entities with security responsibilities…

While there have been a few ad hoc initiatives to reduce greenhouse gases, including significant actions by some of the provinces, there has been little in the way of a plan to protect the security of our atmosphere.  Indeed, since 2009 your government has:


Time for action

Taking you at your word that Canada’s security is important to you and to the Canadian government, we know that you will wish to correct this gaping hole in Canada’s National Strategy for Critical Infrastructure, and in Canada’s security planning. 

Our recommendation is that Canada immediately amend the Strategy to recognize the global atmosphere as the critical infrastructure and recognize that interference with the global atmosphere is, to use the words of Bill C-51, an “activity that undermines the security of Canada.” On that basis, we also call on you to initiate aggressive action to protect Canadians from this threat to our collective security.

None of the above endorses Bill C-51 or the sometimes ugly, and silencing, rhetoric that has been introduced into discussions about security in recent months and years. We also encourage you to pursue national security in ways that build, rather than harm, the social capital of Canada. 

Although it is possible that taking action to protect our atmospheric infrastructure will bring with it some modest economic impacts, most projections indicate that the cost to the Canadian economy, to Canadian communities and to our national security of failing to act will be much greater. 


Andrew Gage

Staff Counsel,
West Coast Environmental Law Association


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