For the past 20 years we have adopted a green approach to the environment and an evaluation of this approach is long overdue.
The aim of the Kyoto Accord was to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 6%.
However, in Canada, the emissions have increased by 25%, so in this regard, green measures have failed. Worse still, the focus on ineffective measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions has resulted in the neglect of urban air quality and Canadian cities are becoming increasingly unhealthy places in which to live.
Wait a minute! The World Health Organization recently rated Canadian cities as having some of the cleanest air in the world. However these findings are based on Canada’s Air Quality Health Index which is not an effective indicator of the health impact of polluted air. But that is another issue.
Last year the United Nations, Environmental Committee identified ways to address both the issues of global warming and deteriorating air quality in North American cities. Carbon dioxide is still the main concern in relation to global warming but it remains in the air for 80 years and for any significant change we need to look to ‘short term’ greenhouse factors.
Black carbon (soot) is of interest because it is quickly removed from the air and is a particular concern as it is not only a factor in relation to global warming but is coating the Arctic snow pack; absorbing the sun’s rays, and speeding the melting of the sea ice and glaciers.
A major source of soot in North America is wood burning and they ask that the developed world, in general, stop burning wood. This will be a difficult sell in Alberta as this is a green society and wood burning is widely regarded as being greenhouse neutral.
Eliminating wood burning would also dramatically reduce the incidence of pollution-related diseases as soot along with the toxic and carcinogenic chemicals released when wood is burned make this an unusually dangerous pollutant. There do not seem to be any Canadian studies but in the San Francisco Bay area, with wood being burned, to some degree, in only 10% of the homes, the cost of treating smoke-related diseases is estimated at over a billion dollars annually.
The soot from diesel trucks is another concern, again both in relation to the global climate and health implications. Filters on diesel exhausts would address both concerns.
Methane is another ‘short term’ greenhouse gas and its presence in wood-fire emissions is a further reason to end burning wood. In addition, the committee suggests destroying the methane from landfills by utilizing the gas. This again would make Red Deer a healthier place in which to live as there are some other, and troubling chemicals mixed in with landfill methane.
The green movement is a failure in terms of today’s two most important environmental issues —- a healthy planet and healthy cities and a fresh approach is needed. The suggestions of the United Nations, Environmental Committee 2011 would serve as a starting point for re-writing Red Deer’s green Environmental Master Plan and Alberta’s green school curriculum.
It is encouraging that the federal government has signed on the idea of reducing ‘short term’ greenhouse factors but so far this has not translated into any concrete action. Hopefully this will change in the near future.
Canadian Clean Air Alliance