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We All Can Enlist in the War on Climate Change

by Stephen Hume Saturday, Mar. 03, 2007 at 2:50 PM

There are common-sense ways to deal with many of the environmental problems we have created. Help from O Canada to counter our helplessness and hopelessness


GLOBAL WARMING – There are common-sense ways to deal with many of the environmental problems we have created. Let’s get with it

By Stephen Hume

[This article was published in: The Vancouver Sun, February 17, 2007.]

Sixteen years ago, after an international conference in Toronto concluded that global warming posed a threat to humanity exceeded only by thermonuclear war, eight parliamentary standing committees met jointly in an urgent climate change forum.

“We are the first generation in the history of the human race that looking down on coming decades can clearly see that if we do not change we shall not survive, at least as we survive today,” warned John Fraser, Speaker of the House of Commons.

By 2000, Canada’s greenhouse emissions would be pushed back to where they were in 1990, the Conservative government’s then-environment minister announced in 1990.

In 2007, emissions are at record levels and rising.

Just a reminder – as Premier Gordon Campbell promises to cut British Columbia’s greenhouse emissions 33 percent by 2020 – that politicians have played the green card before. Yet here we are having done little to confront climate change beyond talk.

Our best tools, Fraser said in 1990, were information, human adaptability and strong leadership. Instead, we’ve frittered away a decade on disinformation, denial and an absence of leadership.

Clearly, if real changes are to occur, it’s up to citizens to lead from behind. Here’s how, and some objectives:

1. Be engaged citizens: This is a democracy. Let your MP or your MLA or your municipal councilor know that empty rhetoric won’t be tolerated. Tell them to behave as they would if we were at war. Be relentless. Write letters, send e-mails, phone constituency offices, beard them at luncheons and cocktail parties. Raise their discomfort level. Tell they to get with your agenda or get dumped regardless of party.

2. Think globally, act locally: We can’t force China or the United States to act. We can do the right thing instead of the expedient thing. That’s leadership. Nor must we gut the economy to begin. Let’s start curbing emissions incrementally by immediately shifting taxes to provide incentives for good behavior while discouraging bad behavior.

3. Get educated: Don’t take the word of politicians, pundits, ideologically motivated think-tanks or the campaigns of front groups for industrial special interests. Use the Internet to research what national science academies and organizations say. Read the technical reports upon which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change bases its conclusions. Read books. For starters, Jonathan Weiner’s The Next One Hundred Years, Pulitzer prize winner Ross Gelbspan’s The Heat is On, George Monbiot’s Heat, David Helvarg’s The War Against the Greens, and Wayne Grady’s The Quiet Limit of the World.

4. Apply common sense: There are plenty of things we could be doing immediately, but are not. For example, let’s insist politicians make serious investments in public transit. Alternatives to the car must be pleasant, efficient, inexpensive and, above all, convenient. Public transit can be all of those things. Demand that it be made so. Think big. The flat prairie landscape is ideal for high-speed trains. Why don’t we have a network linking Edmonton, Calgary, Regina and Winnipeg? Why don’t we provide incentives for moving truck trailers across Canada by rail? Why aren’t we investigating sail-assisted carriers for bulk trans-oceanic cargo?

5. Hold ourselves accountable: The laws of physics mean heavier vehicles must burn more fossil fuel and thus release more greenhouse gases while causing more wear on road infrastructure. Okay, the heavier the car, the more of environmental and infrastructure costs we should recover in sales taxes and licensing fees; the smaller the car, the less we need to recover. Perhaps it makes sense to subsidize people to drive the very lightest, most fuel-efficient cars.

6. Insist on small: Bigger cars occupy more space. In a city, space is money. So make all downtown parking spaces the size of a smart car. Then, charge for parking according to space occupied. If your car occupies two or three or four spaces you must pay two or three or four times the hourly fee. Treat those free parking spaces at malls and workplaces as taxable benefits. Mandate park-and-ride shuttles – they work fine at airports. What would be the economic impact of a buy-back on fuel-efficient old cars and providing the poor, who rely disproportionately on old vehicles, with interest-free loans to acquire new, small, fuel-efficient vehicles?

7. Attack urban sprawl: Provide tax incentives to develop underused urban space. For example, encourage universities to build residential condos above their classroom, laboratory and office complexes. With their rich intellectual and cultural life, university campuses provide attractive communities for urban dwellers. Let universities use the revenues to enhance applied research activities, Tax property owners at higher rates for undeveloped property and, in inverse proportion, at lower rates for high-density developments.

8. Re-green the world: Plant trees everywhere. A tree represents a ton or more of sequestered carbon. One big tree can sequester it for hundreds of years and releases it slowly when it finally rots. So why are we still cutting the biggest trees? Protect old growth everywhere.

9. Re-think work: Too many managers cling to 19th century models. Information workers needn’t be tied to schedules devised for factories. Reward telecommuters. For those who must attend a worksite, make public transit a benefit.

Harvest forests on 300-year cycles to maximize carbon sequestration instead of 30-year cycles. Require everyone who removes a tree to replace it with three. Mandate recycling of wood and paper products

10. Invest in our genius: Let Ottawa set aside billion to fund a center in each province for applied and theoretical research to develop the technology that can mitigate global warming. Each province could tackle a different aspect: Wind power, tidal, solar, geothermal, desalinization technologies, more efficient air, land and sea transportation. Does billion sound expensive? It is less than half the projected spending on the 2008 Olympics. It’s the cost of two pipelines proposed for Arctic gas fields. However, if global warming is indeed a threat to our way of life exceeded only by nuclear war, billion for such a climate change Manhattan Project is a pittance.

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