Over the next couple of weeks world leaders, scientists, academics, businessmen and environmentalists will gather in Copenhagen to plan the world’s response to global warming. Most agree the earth is warming faster than any other time in history, but others say that the earth is actually cooling.
Some say humans are responsible for global warming through the emission of carbon dioxide while others say it is simply the sun. Those that believe global warming is real and that we can have a positive impact on the future are asking leaders to commit to tough environmental standards over the next 10 to 50 years.
In the other camp are business leaders and others who fear doing any more than what is already being done will be too costly and will slow down the global economy. There is relentless lobbying on both sides, each claiming the other is misleading the public on this important issue. The bottom line is Canadians consumption and pollution are among the highest in the world.
In Canada, between 1990 and 2005 as global warming was beginning to enter our vernacular, GHG emissions increased 24% . Instead of doing more to decrease pollution, our per capita emissions grew by 1.3 tonnes to 22.7 tonnes per person. In comparison, Japan’s output has remained steady at about 10.5 tonnes per person and the United States at roughly 25 tonnes.
In contrast to Canada‘s experience, many wealthy nations in the European Union including the UK, France, Sweden, the Czech Republic and Denmark had been able to bring down their emissions over the same fifteen years. This information is available from the government, but it is not clearly communicated in an honest manner. It is part of a publication entitled “Canada’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Understanding the Trends - 1990-2006”. The report is filled with statistics that arguably mean nothing to most Canadians and provides excuses for our poor international record.
Many nations are pressuring Canada to, at the very least, reduce emissions by 20% of her 1990 levels by 2020. In 2005 we produced 734 million tonnes of GHG emissions. By 2020 the world wants us to only produce 474 million tonnes- almost 35% less in only 10 years. This will be a bitter pill to swallow for many Canadians who have grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle. Canadians will have to reduce their average GHG emissions from 22.7 tonnes to 12.9 tonnes. My God! If we did that we’d have to live under conditions slightly better than those of France, Sweden, Denmark , Norway or Germany!
Canada has pledged to follow the lead of the United States, the second worst polluter, by matching their commitment to fight global warming, the logic being that we cannot compete if we try to do more. It will be tough for Barack Obama to convince Americans to tackle the problem of climate change in a meaningful way. The time for Canada to lead once more on moral issues such as pollution and foreign aid is here. We must lead by example and do our part. What is sadder is to listen to scores of people on radio shows deny we even have a problem. Most argue that Canada should not do anything that might raise their taxes or infringe on their ability to consume and pollute.
For me, the issue is not about carbon dioxide’s role in global warming or about our ability to slow down the rate of global temperature increases. The ice will melt and the ocean levels will rise. My concern is my children’s future. There are other toxic pollutants coming out our tailpipe and smokestacks and littering our landfills.
Most of the people I know are reluctant to drink the water coming out of the tap. We choose to waste it keeping our lawns and flowerbeds lush and green. We spend more money than we make on dining out, electronic gadgets and entertainment. Everything we buy and eventually dispose of has a pollution cost attached to it. Usually, these costs to the environment are not factored into the price as regulation is lax.
According to the Certified General Accountants Association of Canada, household debt in Canada has increased substantially over the last 10 years. This year it stands at 1.4 trillion dollars, with 30% of borrowed money being used for daily living expenses. BC residents are the biggest borrowers in the country. Imagine how much less we would pollute if we only spent money we actually earned and had to pay for the pollution we create.
The map of the world will need to be redrawn. Many low-lying areas will be lost to the sea or engineered at great expense to be protected. Inevitably, we will have to use cleaner energy, pay more taxes and probably travel less. I’m okay with that. The sooner we begin the better off our children will be. To do half-measures or nothing at all is short-sighted and probably costlier in the long run.
(December 13, 2009)
(Includes all 2002 to date Weekly Features with descriptions)