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Canadian Chamber of Commerce solidly backs carbon pricing

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The Canadian Chamber of Commerce says the business community in Canada is solidly backing carbon pricing as the way for it to “play its part in the fight against climate change” — and it wants governments to stop playing politics and waffling about it.

The group, which bills itself as “the voice of Canadian business” and represents 200,000 companies across the country, released a report this past week, as international climate talks were wrapping up in Katowice, Poland, arguing strongly in favour of carbon pricing such as carbon taxes and cap-and-trade systems. It sees this as the most cost-effective way to transition Canada to a low-carbon economy and proposes how it would like to see carbon pricing implemented.

Canadian businesses of all sizes are prepared to accept carbon pricing as a cost of doing business.– Canadian Chamber of Commerce report

Business wants to play its part in the fight against climate change, but our public policy has to balance our climate objectives with the need to ensure Canada remains attractive to start or grow a business, and to invest,” said Perrin Beatty, the group’s president and CEO and a former Conservative MP, in a statement.

Aaron Henry, the group’s director of natural resources and environmental policy, and the author of the new report, said the group’s members believe “carbon pricing is probably the most effective mechanism of emissions reduction.”

Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government, led by Premier Doug Ford, recently scrapped its cap-and-trade carbon pricing system. The new report says businesses need stable carbon pricing legislation that survives changes of government. (Liam Richards/Canadian Press)

In a statement accompanying the release of the report, he added, “Canadian businesses of all sizes are prepared to accept carbon pricing as a cost of doing business, but remain very concerned that governments will continue to use it as a political bargaining chip instead of delivering a pricing policy that is simple and works well.”

The report cites “conclusive” evidence from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development about the high cost of climate change, including impacts like more intense floods, fires and storms, and for the need to reduce emissions.

‘Stable, predictable, straightforward’

Our need to transition to a low carbon economy is clear, but it is equally clear that businesses must have assurances that the regulatory regime guiding this transition will be stable, predictable, and straightforward,” the report said.

Ontario’s new Progressive Conservative government, led by Premier Doug Ford, recently scrapped its cap-and-trade carbon pricing system and replaced it with regulations that include a fund for specific emissions-reduction projects that companies can apply to.

Henry warned that such “U-turns” could be damaging.

He noted that there’s lots of evidence that “the predictability of policies, their durability from one government to the next, is actually a huge indicator for the ability of companies to make emissions reductions.”

The report says carbon pricing should be accompanied by a reduction in other regulations targeting emissions, such as the federal government’s proposed phase-out of coal-fired electricity generation and clean fuel standards. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

He added that when the federal government, which backs carbon pricing, and provinces each go a different way, that leads to “fragmented islands” of climate policy across Canada. Earlier this year, the Chamber of Commerce released another report criticizing the burden of complex, inconsistent and overlapping rules from different levels of government.

Currently, Saskatchewan and Ontario are challenging the federal government’s right to impose a carbon tax on provinces that don’t comply with its climate change plan.

In a statement, the Chamber of Commerce appears to back the federal government: “Ottawa must continue working with provinces to implement carbon pricing as the main measure to reduce GHG emissions across Canada.”

The new report also suggests:

  • Carbon pricing should be accompanied by a reduction in other regulations targeting emissions, such as the federal government’s proposed phase-out of coal-fired electricity generation and clean fuels standard.

  • Carbon pricing should be revenue neutral, with any revenues collected going into investments in clean technologies, energy efficiency, and helping businesses, especially smaller businesses, survive the transition while reducing their emissions.

  • Governments should help businesses develop an export strategy for clean technologies and commodities to ensure they can reach global markets.

‘Consistent line’ from business

Canadian researchers who study climate policy and carbon pricing say the report is a good sign.

It’s pretty much the consistent line that the private sector is taking now on climate change across Canada,” said Jason Thistlewaite, an assistant professor at the University of Waterloo’s School of Environment, Enterprise and Development.

Businesses want to do their part to manage climate change risk and reduce greenhouse gas emissions but they want to be left alone to figure it out on their own how to do that.”

Businesses want to do their part to manage climate change risk and reduce greenhouse gas emissions but they want to be left alone to figure it out on their own how to do that.– Jason Thistlewaite, University of Waterloo

Jennifer Winter, scientific director of the Energy and Environmental Policy research division at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, said the report sends a strong signal to the governments of Saskatchewan and Ontario that are fighting the federal carbon pricing policy.

It’s something we’re seeing increasingly in businesses in Canada. It’s fine to have these pricing policies, they just want certainty about what the business environment looks like and that means governments essentially getting on with it and deciding what they’re going to implement,” Winter said. 

Jatin Nathwani, Ontario Research Chair in Public Policy for Sustainable Energy and executive director of the Waterloo Institute for Sustainable Energy (WISE), called the report “a welcome development.”

Nathwani supported some of its recommendations, such as re-investing carbon tax funds in low-carbon technologies and businesses solutions.

But he said one shortcoming of the report, which lists energy giants Enbridge and TransCanada as its major sponsors, is the lack of recommendations on how the transition to a low-carbon economy can be achieved without a diminished role for the oil and gas sector over time.

Stewart Elgie, director of the University of Ottawa’s Institute of the Environment, said he thinks the report is right in saying that Canadian businesses need help from government to be world leaders in exporting clean technologies and products and should promote that.

He disagreed that other emissions-reducing regulations, like the coal-power ban and fuel standards, should be reduced once carbon pricing comes in. He estimated that carbon pricing will only get Canada a third of the way to its emissions targets, and said other regulations are still needed.

However, he said, “It encourages me that most business leaders now recognize that we need carbon pricing and we’ve got to prepare Canada to compete in the low-carbon world. We need to make sure that all of our political leaders catch up to them.”

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Trudeau Government Should Turn to Sustainable Floor Heating In Its New Deal

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A consortium has been chosen by Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to manage the $1.1-billion overhaul of five heating and cooling plants in the National Capital Region. However, this decision has been met with a lot of disapproval by the country’s largest federal public service union.

Early June, the department announced that Innovate Energy has been awarded the 30-year contract “to design, retrofit, maintain and operate the plants,”winning the bid over a rival group that included SNC-Lavalin.

Minister of Environment, Catherine McKenna, said the federal government was “leading by example” in its bid to drastically reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions across the country. McKenna noted that by supporting this project, they’re utilizing heating and cooling infrastructure to promote a more environmentally friendly option.

“We’re very proud that our government is working with partners like Innovate Energy to modernize this critical infrastructure,” she said during the announcement at one of the facilities that will be upgraded, the Cliff Heating and Cooling Plant in downtown Ottawa.

The plants would be known as the district energy system and would heat 80 buildings in the area with steam. It is also expected to cool 67 of these buildings with chilled water through more than 14 kilometres of underground pipes.

Under the Energy Services Acquisition Program, PSPC will be tasked with modernizing the outdated technology in the plants to lower emissions and supportgrowth in the eco-friendly technology sector.

During the first stage of the overhaul, the system would be converted from steam to low temperature hot water and then switched from steam to electric chillers—with the estimated completion date being 2025. PSPC notes that the project will reduce current emissions by 63 per cent, the equivalent of removing 14,000 non-eco-friendly cars off the road.

Afterwards, the natural gas powering the plant will then be replaced by carbon-neutral fuel sources, which according to estimated will reduce emissions by a further 28 per cent. The renovation project is bound to save the government an estimated fee of more than $750 million in heating and cooling costs in the next 40 years.

Furthermore, the implementation of radiant floor heating in Ottawa by the federal government would be an additional step in driving its agenda for a more eco-friendly state.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, radiant floor heating has a lot of benefits and advantages over alternate heat systems and can cut heating costs by 25 to 50 per cent.

“It is more efficient than baseboard heating and usually more efficient than forced-air heating because no energy is lost through ducts,” the website states.

Radiant floor heating provides an equal amount of heat throughout a building, including areas that are difficult to heat, such as rooms with vaulted ceilings, garages or bathrooms. Consideringit warms people and objects directly—controlling the direct heat loss of the occupant—radiant floor heating provides comfort at lower thermostat settings.

“Radiators and other forms of ‘point’ heating circulate heat inefficiently and hence need to run for longer periods to obtain comfort levels,” reports the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNet).

Radiant heating is a clean and healthy option—a perfect choice for those with severe allergies—as it doesn’t rely on circulating air, meaning there are no potentially irritating particles blowing around the room. Additionally, it is more energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing with wall radiators or floor registers and virtually noiseless when in operation.

“They draw cold air across the floor and send warm air up to the ceiling, where it then falls, heating the room from the top down, creating drafts and circulating dust and allergens.”

It is important for the leadership in Ottawa to equally drive the adoption of radiant floor heating as doing this would lead to increased usage in residential buildings—and even government-owned buildings.

However, in October, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a representative body of employees of the plants,began a campaign target at the government against their decision to use a public-private partnership (P3) for the retrofitting project, citing concerns about costs and safety.

According to the union, outside employees won’t be bound to the same health and safety standards of government workers and that typically P3 projects cost a lot more than traditional public financing deals.

The union demands that the government scraps the proposed project and meet PSAC members and experts to brainstorm on a new way forward that would ensure federal employees continue to operate and maintain the plants.

However, parliamentary secretary to public services and procurement minister, Steve MacKinnon said that the union officials have consulted him but that after conducting an analysis, the P3 option was still the best for the job.

“We didn’t have (to) sacrifice on safety or health — we didn’t have to sacrifice on job security,” he said.

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Steps to becoming a Data Scientist

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Data science has become one of the most in-demand career paths in this century, according to Business Insider. With the amount of information being circulated online, it has created a huge demand for storing, interpreting and implementing big data for different purposes—hence the need for a data scientist.

Today, there too much information flying around for regular people to process efficiently and use. Therefore, it has become the responsibility of data scientists to collect, organize and analyze this data. Doing this helps various people, organizations, enterprise businesses and governments to manage, store and interpret this data for different purposes.

Though data scientists come from different educational backgrounds, a majority of them need to have a technical educational background. To pursue a career in data science, computer-related majors, graduations and post graduations in maths and statistics are quite useful.

Therefore, the steps to becoming a data scientist are quite straightforward.  After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in an IT related field—such as computer science, maths or physics—you can also further your education by obtaining a master’s degree in a data science or any other related field of study. With the necessary educational background, you can now search for a job and obtain the required experience in whichever filed you choose to invest your acquired skills.

Here are the necessary steps to be taken to become a data scientist.

Step 1: Obtain the necessary educational requirements

As earlier noted, different educational paths can still lead to a career in data science. However, it is impossible to begin a career in data science without obtaining a collegiate degree—as a four-year bachelor’s degree is really important. However, according to a report by Business Insider, over 73% of data scientist in existence today have a graduate degree and about 38% of them hold a Ph.D. Therefore, to rise above the crowd and get a high-end position in the field of data science, it is important to have a Master’s degree or a Ph.D.—and with various online data science masters program, obtaining one is quite easy.

Some institutions provide data science programs with courses that will equip students to analyze complex sets of data. These courses also involve a host of technical information about computers, statistics, data analysis techniques and many more. Completing these programs equips you with the necessary skills to function adequately as a data scientist.

Additionally, there are some technical—and computer-based degrees—that can aid you begin a career in data science. Some of them include studies in, Computer Science, Statistics, Social Science, Physics, Economics, Mathematics and Applied Math. These degrees will imbibe some important skills related to data science in you—namely, coding, experimenting, managing large amounts of data, solving quantitative problems and many others.

Step 2: Choose an area of specialization

There rarely exists an organization, agency or business today that doesn’t require the expertise of a data scientist. Hence, it is important that after acquiring the necessary education to start a career as a data scientist, you need to choose an area of specialization in the field you wish to work in.

Some of the specializations that exist in data science today include automotive, marketing, business, defence, sales, negotiation, insurance and many others.

Step 3: Kick start your career as a data scientist

After acquiring the necessary skills to become a data scientist, it is important to get a job in the filed and company of your choice where you can acquire some experience.

Many organizations offer valuable training to their data scientists and these pieces of training are typically centred around the specific internal systems and programs of an organization. Partaking in this training allows you learn some high-level analytical skills that were not taught during your various school programs—especially since data science is a constantly evolving field.

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Artificial intelligence pioneers win tech’s ‘Nobel Prize’

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Computers have become so smart during the past 20 years that people don’t think twice about chatting with digital assistants like Alexa and Siri or seeing their friends automatically tagged in Facebook pictures.

But making those quantum leaps from science fiction to reality required hard work from computer scientists like Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun. The trio tapped into their own brainpower to make it possible for machines to learn like humans, a breakthrough now commonly known as “artificial intelligence,” or AI.

Their insights and persistence were rewarded Wednesday with the Turing Award, an honor that has become known as technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize. It comes with a $1 million prize funded by Google, a company where AI has become part of its DNA.

The award marks the latest recognition of the instrumental role that artificial intelligence will likely play in redefining the relationship between humanity and technology in the decades ahead.

Artificial intelligence is now one of the fastest-growing areas in all of science and one of the most talked-about topics in society,” said Cherri Pancake, president of the Association for Computing Machinery, the group behind the Turing Award.

Although they have known each other for than 30 years, Bengio, Hinton and LeCun have mostly worked separately on technology known as neural networks. These are the electronic engines that power tasks such as facial and speech recognition, areas where computers have made enormous strides over the past decade. Such neural networks also are a critical component of robotic systems that are automating a wide range of other human activity, including driving.

Their belief in the power of neural networks was once mocked by their peers, Hinton said. No more. He now works at Google as a vice president and senior fellow while LeCun is chief AI scientist at Facebook. Bengio remains immersed in academia as a University of Montreal professor in addition to serving as scientific director at the Artificial Intelligence Institute in Quebec.

“For a long time, people thought what the three of us were doing was nonsense,” Hinton said in an interview with The Associated Press. “They thought we were very misguided and what we were doing was a very surprising thing for apparently intelligent people to waste their time on. My message to young researchers is, don’t be put off if everyone tells you what are doing is silly.” Now, some people are worried that the results of the researchers’ efforts might spiral out of control.

While the AI revolution is raising hopes that computers will make most people’s lives more convenient and enjoyable, it’s also stoking fears that humanity eventually will be living at the mercy of machines.

Bengio, Hinton and LeCun share some of those concerns especially the doomsday scenarios that envision AI technology developed into weapons systems that wipe out humanity.

But they are far more optimistic about the other prospects of AI empowering computers to deliver more accurate warnings about floods and earthquakes, for instance, or detecting health risks, such as cancer and heart attacks, far earlier than human doctors.

“One thing is very clear, the techniques that we developed can be used for an enormous amount of good affecting hundreds of millions of people,” Hinton said.

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