BETWEEN DOOM & DENIAL: Facing Facts About Climate Change, Andrew Leach, Southerland House, Toronto, 2023

The climate change debate is frequently clouded by extreme claims, sometimes imbued with zealotry, intolerance and denial. Extreme positions, on both sides, can exceed the bounds of intelligent discussion of facts, confusing the real issues and impeding the challenge of identifying paths forward. Further, some claims that may have a superficial element of reasonableness or intuitive appeal that simply do not withstand closer scrutiny.

Andrew Leach’s BETWEEN DOOM & DENIAL: Facing Facts About Climate Change is a valuable contribution to keeping the climate change debate focused, particularly in a Canadian context. The work does not propose any particular path forward, as the primary title of BETWEEN DOOM & DENIAL might imply. Rather, its value is found in the sub-title: Facing Facts About Climate Change. In Leach’s own words, the book “tackles a series of…half-truths, lies by omission, and too-clever-by-half excuses that we, as Canadians, deploy when talking about climate change.”[1]

Leach’s qualifications and experience are eminently up to the task. With a Ph.D. in Economics and a B.Sc. in Environmental Sciences, he holds a joint appointment at the University of Alberta in the Department of Economics and in the Faculty of Law. In 2015, he was chair of Alberta’s Climate Leadership Panel, the recommendations of which formed the basis for the Climate Leadership Plan implemented in Alberta.

In the first chapters of BETWEEN DOOM & DENIAL, Leach addresses several widespread assertions about the implications of climate change for Canada that he demonstrates do not stand up to scrutiny. While he does not use the word “myths”, he makes a convincing case that that’s just what they are.

In Chapter 2, Leach addresses the view expressed by some that climate change will not be that bad and that society can adapt. He points out, however, that there are three choices for dealing with climate change – mitigation, adaptation and suffering – and adopts the obvious point made by the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Obama administration that “the more mitigation we do, the less adaptation will be required, and the less suffering there will be.”[2] Furthermore, while adaptation strategies may help in some cases (for example, potentially with the substitution of food crops), the worst of some adverse effects will only be avoided by mitigation.

In the following four chapters, Leach turns to questionable claims that are specific to Canada’s circumstances, the first being that, as a cold country, Canada may benefit from climate change, with new opportunities in agriculture and in oil, gas and mineral development in the Arctic, as well as “greater personal comfort of living in a more hospitable climate.”[3] Labelling the cold country trope as “insidious”, he points out that, while the cold may offer some protection from the worst effects of rising temperatures, climate change will also bring melting permafrost, rising sea levels, increased heat waves, and more fire weather.

Leach next addresses resistance to climate mitigation measures based on the fact that Canada accounts for less than 2 per cent of the world’s emissions. Leach’s rejection of the argument rests on both Canada’s “substantial, historical contribution to climate change” and the fact that, with per capita emissions about three times the global average, “Canada is making the climate change problem worse.”[4]

In the chapter devoted to discussing the future of the Canadian oil and gas industry in the context of action on climate change, Leach concludes that what will matter much more than how much oil and gas are used is how much the world is willing to pay for fossil fuels: “So long as the world continues to be willing to pay enough for oil and gas, Canadian production is potentially more resilient than you might think to domestic and global action on climate change.”[5] He finds the argument of a fellow economist at the University of Calgary to be convincing: “There is a reasonable argument that, if there is a last barrel of oil produced in North America, it will come from [the oil sands] unless government policy decides to actively forgo that economic opportunity.”[6]

On the role of renewables, especially solar energy, Leach observes that the challenge is not so much that the sun doesn’t shine at night as it is winter (as evidenced by Alberta’s recent brush with threatened blackouts). Solar panels will generate half as much energy in the depths of winter, when Canadian electricity demand is at its greatest, as they do over the summer months. Extensive new transmission infrastructure will be needed, yet transmission “may be the most important and least discussed component of a low-carbon electricity system.”[7]

Leach’s dissection of these “half-truths and clever excuses” is itself an important contribution to informing the climate change debate. The real value of BETWEEN DOOM & DENIAL, however, is to be found in its penultimate chapter addressing the challenges of planning a “just transition”. The focus is on the unprecedented uniqueness of those challenges:

Economic transition will be painful: there will be upheaval, there will be regional pain, and there will be people who never recover.


Promises of a just transition are going to run into two hard realities. First, the fossil fuel energy industry, and in particular the oil and gas sector, is far larger and more diverse than other industries to which Canadian governments have attempted to provide traditional support. Second, a policy-forced transition away from oil and gas is different from other economic transitions we have weathered in Canada because of the high wages earned by oil and gas workers, the significant government incomes that oil and gas extraction provides, and the very real potential for market signals to counteract government transition planning.[8]

Various Canadian and international experiences are frequently embraced as “precedents” that can guide Canada’s approach to meeting the challenge, including the Atlantic cod moratorium, the phase-out in Alberta and Ontario of reliance on coal for power generation and the phasing out of Denmark’s oil and gas sector. While these experiences might offer some guidance, Leach’s message is that their real value is in helping to identify the uniqueness of the challenge of a “just transition” in the Canadian context.

BETWEEN DOOM & DENIAL is a valuable, and refreshing, contribution to the process of meeting that challenge.


  1. Andrew Leah, “BETWEEN DOOM & DENIAL”, at 1.
  2. Ibid at 8.
  3. Ibid at 14, quoting former federal Finance and Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.
  4. Ibid at 27.
  5. Ibid at 55.
  6. Ibid at 47, quoting G. Kent Fellows, “Last Barrel Standing? Confronting the Myth of ‘High-Cost’ Canadian Oil Sands Production”, (20 December 2022) Commentary 635, online (pdf): C..D Howe Institute <>.
  7. Ibid at 65.
  8. Ibid at 72.

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