Canadians Need a Transportation Revolution to Reduce Greenhouse GasesLisa Boushy November 1, 2006
When it comes to combating global warming on the world stage, Canada appears to have a strong case of performance anxiety. Last year, in a study conducted by researchers at Simon Fraser University and released by the David Suzuki Foundation, Canada was rated one of the worst environmental performers in the world.
Out of 30 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada ranks 28th. More specifically, Canada ranks 28th in energy consumption and 26th in greenhouse gas emissions — to name just 2 of 29 key environmental indicators. The report also indicates that compared to other industrialized countries, Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions are two times higher and major smog-causing air pollutants are two-to-three times higher than the average. Sadly, Canada has remained 28th out of 30 since 1992.
So for a country that created Greenpeace and is home to one of the most famous environmentalists of our day — David Suzuki — where and how did we go so wrong?
Many say that the damage to our planet is already done and can not be repaired in even a decade or two. In fact, it would take more than 200 million years to repair the damage, which is the amount of time it took for earth to produce all the oil beneath its surface — and in just 200 years, we have consumed half of it. If current rates of consumption continue, the world’s oil resources could be depleted within 40 years.
Of all this oil that we consume, two-thirds goes to transportation, with half of that going to passenger cars and small trucks. All this burning gasoline releases pollutants which cause smog and global warming. Canada’s greenhouse gases have grown by 27 percent above 1990 levels — a far cry from the proposed six percent reduction as per our commitment to the Kyoto protocol. According to the David Suzuki Foundation, for the average Canadian, transportation accounts for almost half of toxic air pollution, more than a third of greenhouse emissions, and almost 20 percent of toxic water pollution
Environmentalists feel that one solution is to model our emissions standards after California’s tough laws – the toughest vehicle emission standards in North America. “With roughly identical population sizes and similar car markets, California and Canada face the same urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” says Pierre Sadik, senior policy advisor with the David Suzuki Foundation.
It is common knowledge that automakers in Canada, and the auto industry in general, have been suffering a severe slump in sales and profits in recent years; evident by the number of layoffs and bankruptcies that have befallen the industry. Auto officials predict that California-type regulations would boost the cost of new vehicles, forcing Canadians to drive older vehicles which emit more pollution. In a recent interview with CBC, Buzz Hargrove, president of the Canadian Auto Workers Union, suggested that owners of older vehicles should be offered incentives to buy newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles, since the older vehicles are what account for most of the pollution.
But according to Sadik, if we were to regulate the auto industry, “Canadians would save between $3,500 and $5,000 in fuel costs over the lifetime of a vehicle, which would easily offset the $400 – $1,200 that would be added to the price of a new vehicle.” Sadik feels that if a new generation of cars were built to the California standard, the Canadian auto parts manufacturers could benefit from the production of new and unique parts. “The California emission standard will save drivers money, help reduce smog in Canadian cities, and will get us on the road to meeting our Kyoto commitment.”
THE CLEAN AIR ACT A LAME DUCK
Many say that our energy-producing country needs stronger leadership to effectively combat global warming. This past October, the Harper Government introduced The Clean Air Act to set standards in reducing air pollution and greenhouse gases; however, the plan makes no reference to the Kyoto protocol and contains no short-term targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The bill seeks to cut emissions by 45 to 65 percent, but only by 2050. In the meantime, the government plans to embark on lengthy consultations with industry before setting greenhouse gas reduction targets. So industrial polluters will have until at least 2010 before they would even face regulations and the government is giving itself until 2020 to set emissions-cutting targets for smog pollutants.
These so-called “intensity targets” would obligate industry to reduce the amount of energy used per unit of production, without implementing a set restriction on emissions. The government will seek to harmonize vehicle emissions standards with those of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – but the plan makes no mention of matching the strict California emissions standards.
All three of the opposition parties were very critical of the bill, and as a result will likely vote against it.. Opposition and environmental leaders all agree on two things; the plan appears vague and the Harper government seems to be employing delay tactics. Federal Environment Minister, Rona Ambrose, defended the law, saying it would give the government “new and stronger powers to do the things we need to do to protect the health of Canadians and our environment.”
So while the debate continues, not only is our planet suffering, but also our health.
DRIVING BAD FOR OUR HEALTH
Any Torontonian will tell you that the number of “smog alerts” and “heat waves” is increasing each and every summer. Our winters are not as cold as when we were younger; even our elders tell us stories of the harsh Canadian winters when snow banks were as high as their rooftops! These are the outward effects of global warming but what about the health effects?
Air pollution contributes to a wide range of health problems, from shortness of breath and wheezing to full-blown asthma attacks and premature death. Tens of thousands of Canadians suffer from respiratory ailments like asthma and these numbers are increasing — especially among children who now suffer from asthma at alarming, record-breaking levels. Furthermore, a recent federal government study estimated that within eight major cities, there were 5,900 premature deaths annually caused by air pollution.
We cannot afford to wait for the government to pass laws — we need to be proactive as individuals and make a difference one day at a time.
HERE ARE A FEW SIMPLE STRATEGIES TO HELP YOU GET STARTED:
• Buy a fuel efficient, low-polluting car, or if you want to be really hip, invest your money in an electric or hybrid car. Put SUVs into the same category as dinosaurs — big, scary and almost extinct, unless they are the new hybrid versions.
• Consider saying “no” to all of those extra upgrades when buying a car because many of them add weight or draw extra power from the engine which increases fuel consumption.
• Consider buying a manual car, rather than an automatic, to save costs on fuel.
• Don’t idle. If it’s longer than 10 seconds, turn the car off (obviously not in traffic though).
• Now that winter is around the corner, use a block heater to warm your engine before you start your car because cold engines burn more fuel and emit more exhaust.
• Walk, bike, or take the transit to work, school, or anywhere else you go on a regular basis. If this is a foreign concept, try it one day each week to start and work your way up.
• Educate yourself and get informed on what is happening in the environment.
- David Suzuki Foundation, www.davidsuzuki.org (you can download the report, The Maple Leaf in the OECD: Comparing progress toward sustainability on this site)
- Greenpeace International, www.greenpeace.org
- Friends of the Earth, www.foecanada.org
- Sierra Club of Canada, www.sierraclub.ca
- Green Ontario, www.greenontario.org
- Ontario Drive Clean Program, www.driveclean.com
- Canada.com, (for Canadian Press Files, go to www.cp.org)
- Hybrid Cars, http://www.hybridcars.com, www.eartheasy.com