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March 15, 2001 Ban the internal combustion engine, says SCPA panelist






Elizabeth May, Jean Charest, Frank Müller

Jean Charest discusses greenhouse gas emissions with panelists Elizabeth May, of the Sierra Club, and Professor Frank Müller.

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj


by Sylvain Comeau

As winter winds howled outside one day earlier this term, speakers on a School of Community and Public Affairs panel reminded a Concordia audience that global warming is still a threat to every country on earth.

“Of all industrialized countries, we have the most at stake in the issue of climate change,” said Liberal Party leader and former federal environment minister Jean Charest. “That is because our economy depends heavily on natural resources.”

Panelists warned that Canada is failing utterly to meet its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol, an international agreement on greenhouse gas emissions in which we pledged to reduce our emissions by 6 per cent below 1990 levels by the years 2008 to 2012.

“In the real world of politics,” Charest said, “it becomes very difficult for political leaders and ministers of the environment to actually get things done if there isn’t a public environment of broad support and pressure to do the right thing. Unfortunately, global warming has not always been at the top of the agenda.”

Concordia Environmental Economics professor Frank Müller suggested that simply meeting the letter of our agreement is just the beginning.

“The last century was a time of more knowledge, less wisdom and no ethics,” he said. “The real question to ask is not whether we can meet our Kyoto obligations — which are inadequate to stop global warming — but can this protocol change our behaviour?”

“One thing holding us back are the myths about the environment,” Charest said. “One of those myths is that implementing environmental initiatives like Kyoto is expensive. We have to convince people that the environment and economic initiatives are compatible.”

But despite the obvious economic benefits to have a healthy environment and stable climate, Canada’s politicians have fiddled while greenhouse gases accumulate at an alarming rate, said Elizabeth May, executive director of the Sierra Club, an environmental group.
May, who called Charest “the last good environment minister we’ve had,” says that the weight of accumulated evidence about global warming since 1988 should convince anyone that the world is headed for a disaster.

“The first conference on climate change was in 1988,” she said. “At the time, we declared that humanity is conducting an experiment with an end result second only to global nuclear war. Since then, the scientific evidence to prove our point has been overwhelming.”

May charged that our compliance with Kyoto protocols “has been pathetic; emissions have actually gone up by 14 per cent since we signed the agreement,” while some European countries complied within six months. Worse yet, the Kyoto protocol represents only 10 per cent of the reduction the world really needs.

“Even if every country met the Kyoto protocol, we only delay a doubling of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere by 10 years. We actually need to reduce emissions by 60 per cent.”

She added that a doubling of greenhouse gases, which scientists fear would cause more severe weather disruptions like the vicious hurricanes of recent years, may only be the beginning.

“People accuse environmentalists of harping on worst-case scenarios, but a doubling of greenhouse gases is not the worst case. Everything we know about climate change indicates that a doubling could easily lead to a tripling or quadrupling. The real requirement must be that we end our economic reliance on greenhouse gases.”

In order to accomplish that, she suggests that the government set aggressive targets and give industry tax incentives to meet them.

“The government can demand that we stop burning coal to create electricity, and that we replace the internal combustion engine. If you set targets, industry will meet them — and find a way to make money in the process.”