Canadian Institute for Business and the Environment
Fisherville, Ontario, Canada
Tel. 416 410-0432, Fax: 416 362-5231
Vol. 12, No. 10, October 12, 2007
Honoured Reader Edition


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Environmental education is not being done as well as it might be in many Canadian schools. GL's assessment is that schools in general are good at instilling environmental values but not nearly as good at teaching environmental science, environmental economics, or environmental policy. The result is that fairly simple things, like recycling, are taught well but more complex challenges, like reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, remain something of a mystery for most families and most young Canadians. In this issue we look at some of the recent developments in school-based environmental education that hold promise of a greener education system, and hence a greener society, in the future. In a future issue we will review environmental education at the post-secondary level.

In our environmental education feature, a recent report by Dr. Roberta Bondar and others is particularly relevant. Congratulations to the group for telling it like it is. We have a total of ten articles about environmental education, many of which connect with our mandate of emphasizing the link between business and the environment.
Our editorial reviews the recent Ontario election and finds that environment was not just pushed off the agenda by the religious school funding issue or by a biased media. There is something wrong with the way activists address the environment issue - we make some 'helpful' suggestions.

Also in this issue, our 30-second summary section includes news of the CCME Extended Producer Responsibility Task Group and progress in Nova Scotia, a fascinating presentation on human behaviour ('More food makes more people.'), and a reaction to our editorial on Extended Producer Responsibility for nuclear fuel. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE) recently published its latest commentary on climate change - we dissect it and dismember it! Even so, it is not all bad. We should also note for readers who first turn to the end of each issue for our regular 'funny' that a second 'funny' for this issue is embedded in our commentary on the CCCE report. Happy Motoring!

While speaking of CCCE, it is one of the major Canadian proponents of market 'certainty' when it comes to government environmental initiatives. A court in Germany has recently ruled that the German government has no obligation to provide certainty. If only such a court decision would be enough to end the corporate whining!

CCCE is not the centre of the universe, though it might aspire to that lofty goal, so this issue continues with a report from the OECD Round Table on Sustainable Development which concludes that biofuels may have not only fewer benefits than expected but may also be the future cause of major inflation and world hunger.

While this is not a climate change issue of GL, one of our three book reviews is also about climate change. We challenge the new Jeffrey Simpson - Mark Jaccard book with the same vigour as in our review of the CCCE climate change report. Our second book review will serve to calm your troubled nerves - it is of a book about the 1000 year old trees of the Niagara Escarpment. The book is truly inspirational and could be an excellent corporate holiday gift for environment-minded companies. Our third book review, Rick Mercer Report: The Book is nothing if not lightsome, but illustrates how environment is, at least for now, becoming entrenched in some pretty unusual places, including the world of Canadian political satire.

We end this issue with an important guest column from Charles Caccia, a Bookshelf item from Dr. Laura Westra, and an excellent idea for renewable power from Bark magazine.

In the next issue we plan an update on Great Lakes and other Canadian water quality and water quantity issues. Meanwhile, enjoy this issue and keep those Letters to the Editor coming. We welcome all perspectives, whether we agree or not, and particularly solicit input from those who disagree with our content.


Prior to this week's Ontario election a number of environment and labour groups announced that they were joining forces to ensure that environment and workplace issues would be the top issue in the campaign. Not only did they fail to achieve this lofty goal but environment hardly registered as an issue, though we must not forget that the Green Party increased its share of the vote from 2% to 8%, based in part on results in a few constituencies where the Green vote was particularly strong but still not enough to win a seat.

The Leader of the New Democratic Party blamed the lack of interest in the environment and other issues on media failure to follow these issues. Others are blaming lack of coverage of the environment on the faith-based schools funding issue that was introduced into the campaign by the Conservative Party and which became the dominant issue.

Gallon Environment Letter has a somewhat different perspective. Environment has never been a major issue in any Canadian election campaign, federal or provincial, and we suspect it will be many more campaigns before it is.

Reviewing the environment platforms of the three major parties in this Ontario election, it is difficult to discern any major differences. Certainly there are slight differences of tone and of the perspectives on the relative roles of the private sector and public sector in such areas as voluntary initiatives versus tough regulation and how many new nuclear power plants to build but these are more nuance than major policy difference.

Perhaps even more significantly, the leaders of the major parties clearly do not want to talk about the environment during an election campaign. We suggest this is because they do not know enough about it to answer any questions but see it as a quagmire in which dramatic condemnation from environmentalists will follow any minor mis-step.

Environmental groups are also generally weak when it comes to political participation. Criticism of past performance is easy but development of a comprehensive forward looking strategy against which political platforms can be measured has been elusive. Few groups actually engage in the campaign, either because they do not wish to offend their supporters who come with all kinds of political views or because they understandably fear loss of their charitable status if they become politically partisan.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell once said that election campaigns are not the time to discuss complex issues. GL is inclined to think that she was right. We'll go so far as to suggest that, despite polls showing that Canadians see it as a major issue, climate change and the environment will not be a major issue in the next federal campaign, whenever it comes.

Canadians have recognized that environment will get short shrift in the agenda of a government from any party likely to form a government in Canada. In light of what we see as that reality, it is GL's view that it is time for environmentalists to adopt new strategies. Trying to make environment an election issue is unproductive. Instead we need detailed strategies that are so compelling and that have such broad based support that a government of any party will adopt them as its own. Even better would be strategies that can be implemented with a minimum of government involvement. Toxic-free consumer products could be introduced and promoted through one or more private eco-labelling schemes. Energy efficient vehicle owners and those who transport themselves without owning a car could have their names placed on an honour roll of environmentally responsible Canadians. Annual awards for corporate environmental responsibility, with accompanying free publicity, would achieve at least as much as lobbying for new environmental regulations. A environment and economy roundtable of the automobile industry, labour, car buyers, and environmentalists might be more successful in finding ways to attract energy efficient vehicle research, development and manufacturing to Canada than anything that government has done or is likely to do. A Green Plan for Canada designed by industry, environmentalists, labour, and community representatives of all political stripes is likely to achieve much more than a federal government Green Plan developed with little consultation and containing little more than a plan for where to throw money.

For years the environmental and business communities have been saying that a successful environment and Sustainable Development strategy must have carrots and sticks. The Ontario election has shown that cajoling political leaders produces nothing akin to the social, political and economic sea change that maintenance of an environment conducive to today's massive human populations requires. GL suggests that it is time for political carrots, positive environmental strategies that provide solutions compatible with the visions that Canadian families have for their own future. Unless we find those and present them in such a compelling manner that they are adopted as mainstream, environment will once again disappear from the political agenda and the earth's human population will soon be facing imminent collapse.
ENVIRONMENTAL EDUCATION                                                                                              


In June, Dr. Roberta Bondar, Chair of the Working Group on Environmental Education of the Curriculum Council, Ontario Ministry of Education presented a report called Shaping Our Schools, Shaping Our Future. The Group also had six expert educators, Dr. Eleanor Dudar, Dr. Allan Foster, Dr. Michael Fox, Catherine Mahler, Pamela Schwartzberg, and Marlène Walsh. The mandate was to review policies, programs and practices in Ontario, across Canada and internationally on an environmental education policy for Ontario schools and to make recommendations which Bondar suggests will "ensure that our students are equipped with the skills, knowledge, and perspectives they need to become engaged and environmentally responsible citizens.

While some of the Ontario curriculum includes environment, there is no comprehensive approach to environmental education in elementary and secondary Ontario schools. During the 1990s, a number of optional courses on environmental science were eliminated. Few faculties of education offer environmental studies for future teachers. Environmental education through non-profit associations such as the Council for Outdoor Education in Ontario (COEO) and the Ontario Society for Environmental Education (OSEE) has declined dramatically. Only recently a new Program Enhancement Grant has been set up which can be used for outdoor education. Because of little available teacher environmental training, the ability of teachers to even deliver what is in the curriculum on environment is limited. The report is intended to be one of several subjects to be reviewed to contribute to revising the curriculum to meet changing needs.

Environmental Education Elsewhere

The report highlights some of the practices of other jurisdictions which could be adapted for Ontario including:
Alberta: Has a science curriculum with a multidisciplinary approach to environmental education involving outdoor ecological investigation from Grade 2.
British Columbia: Has an interdisciplinary guide for teachers with a conceptual framework for cross-subject environmental learning in all classrooms and guidance on perspectives for creating lessons.
Quebec: Has targeted environmental awareness, consumer rights and responsibilities as one of five top priorities of learning.
California: Legislation mandates environmental education through the Education and Environment Initiative. Curriculum plan is being developed in consultation with scientists and technical experts.
Minnesota: As part of a collaboration with 11 other states has set benchmarks for learning experiences for environmental education at all grade levels.
12-State Education and Environment Roundtable: Has a framework using environment integrated into all subjects with focus on problem solving and learning through real-world projects.
Australia: Has a national action plan supported by a national Environmental Education Council and a Working Group for policy development and enhancing educational resources. In 2005, Australia introduced a national standard for environmental education.
Finland: Based on a pilot phase 2002-2005, the Finish strategy for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development is proposed to be implemented not only in schools but in general, liberal, adult, vocational, polytechnic and university education as well as research and postgraduate programmes. Promotion of ESD is said to be taken into account in the core funding of the different education sectors and also considered one element of the performance management of the Ministry of Education.
Ireland: Has a framework of social, environmental and science education integrated with the history, geography and science curriculum. Active engagement of the students is a key element.
Israel: Has developed a formal curriculum through cooperation between the ministries of education and environment. In elementary school, environmental education is interdisciplinary while at the secondary level, classroom study and field research is conducted with special teachers trained in environmental issues. All educational institutions must have formal and measurable sustainable development plans.
New Zealand: Has key principles and guidelines for environmental education.
Sweden: Education on the environment and for sustainable development is included in 9 out of 18 compulsory subjects. Emphasis is on action and outside the classroom education.
UK: Has a national sustainable schools framework with community involvement and real world learning.


Among the recommendations are:
The report has many other recommendations on collaboration with environmental experts to develop teaching guide, professional development for teachers, facilitating access to environmental education resources, and so on.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


Some groups such as FoodShare in Toronto are emphasizing the need for food education to connect people with the land and the farmers who produce food. Supermarkets can play a role. An ad GL hasn't seen before by IGA shows a little kid quizzing Dad about the vegetables. Dad gets stumped at a leafy green and a pop-up provides the answer, "Swiss Chard."

Not all educational programs do as well. One of our colleagues commented that his 20 month-old granddaughter knows how to say Dora but not Nana or Grandma. When GL watched the television cartoon show Dora The Explorer, we found the counting and the repetition might be educational but the food concepts were misleading, even after we allowed for some artistic license such as a trail leading by the goody-bearing trees instead of the plantations they usually grow in. Kids really shouldn't be given the idea that you walk around and pick food for eating off trees you just happen to encounter. The bananas were growing in exactly the size of bunches as sold in the grocery store whereas real bananas grow in big stacks. And Dora's chocolate tree provides pieces of chocolates ready to eat instead of cacao beans. GL wonders if any psychologists have studied what children take away from these half-realistic half-anything-goes shows; for sure the watchers of this show learned the wrong things about the plants supplying the ingredients in the banana-nut-chocolate cake Dora was going to make for her mother. As Patrick Carson stated, we need a widely available, accurate, and equally attractive environmental television show for the very young

One superb source of food information for residents and visitors to the City is provided by the Montreal Botanical Garden which features garden exhibitions of cereal crops such as winter wheat, sorghum, and barley, a large fruit and vegetable garden including jicama which grows like a morning glory, carrots, and Swiss chard as well as an ornamental edible garden with herbs, coloured greens, tomato vine as tall as a person and apple trees. The Garden uses no pesticides on lawns and integrated pest management for the other areas. For the month of October up to Halloween, a contest with prizes for decorating pumpkins (not cut like jack-o-lanterns but painted and glued with additions to make faces, houses or coaches for princesses) draws kids and parents. As well as the exhibit of these artistic-expression pumpkins in the greenhouses, there is a display with a human interpreter of all different kinds of pumpkins, zucchini and squashes along with recipes to promote food in cooperation with Union des producteurs agricoles (Union of Agricultural Producers) in Quebec.


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The magazine Green Teacher contains ideas for education with the environment, ready to use activities for teachers and resources for books, kits, games and other green information. One of the articles in the summer issue #81 has activities and games on trade, human rights and the environment and how consumer choices affect human rights. We recommend it.

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Most of Nepal's rural population has no access to education and basic services. A Nepalese NGO, Partnership for Sustainable Development, sees youth development, especially environmental awareness, as key so youth can use their abilities to influence and protect the environment. PSD-Nepal seeks to alleviate poverty, promote sustainable development and empower the underprivileged, especially women, children, youth groups and disabled persons. Among other programs, PSD invites volunteers from all over the world to work in communities in Nepal on construction, teaching, health care, and nature conservation measures. Regular programs run in summer for 6 weeks, Easter for 4 weeks, and long term for 3-5 months although PSD is willing to make appropriate arrangements for other programs. This kind of tourism with a purpose seems to be an increasing trend as students and people in general want to make a meaningful contribution while working together with people of other countries and gaining first-hand experience. PSD has developed handbooks for their three program areas: rural community development, education and environment/nature conservation. Among the projects are:
Small-scale projects are identified by local villages and then PSD works with a partner organization called JustAid, a UK web-based donate site, to fundraise for equipment. PSD believes that the local community must be involved in order for projects to succeed.

Volunteer programme director Bishnu Bhatta presented a paper at the World Forum on Early Care and Education conference in its 8th year, held in Malaysia in May on connecting children with nature. He is one of the two leaders from Asia on the Nature Action Collaborative for Children which arose from the 2005 World Forum. Attendees at the WF in Montreal in 2005 heard Wil Maheia from Belize, Monique Sweeting from the Bahamas, and John and WorldNancy Rosenow from the United States give a presentation called "Helping Children Learn to Love the Earth Before We Ask them to Save It." The interest eventually led to the formation of the NACC which has goals to connect children with the natural world through nature education while at the same time protecting them from the too much exposure to serious environmental issues such as acid rain, whale hunting, ozone depletion and rainforest destruction until they are developmentally ready. While middle school children most often have the cognitive ability and understanding to deal with such issues, younger children do not and may develop biophobia, a fear of the natural world and ecological problems.
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A number of companies such as BC Hydro, Enbridge (BC), Scotiabank, Hydro One, Bullfrog Power and TransCanada, as well as governments such as BC Ministry of Environment, Environment Canada, and the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, are supporting GreenLearning, a web site providing curriculum resources provided by the Pembina Institute. Curriculum units have been developed for Alberta, British Columbia and Ontario. For example, a new unit called EnerAction for Grade 4-6 in BC and Ontario encourages students to take action on energy issues, find out how energy conservation affects climate change and compare their school's efforts with others. It was pilot tested by teachers in April with launch in September.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


Funded by the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, Green Street promotes environmental stewardship among young people across Canada. The Canadian Teachers' Federation and the Centrale des syndicats du Québec act as English/French secretariats for the Green Street program. Programs must meet Benchmarks for Excellence in regard to the themes, goals and objectives of Environmental Learning and Sustainability as well as teaching standards. The programs are delivered by Green Street-approved providers. Providers include:
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GL notes with interest that the Bondar report (see separate article) recommends environmental education be a whole-system responsibility in the sense that the leadership has to value it and make it seen to be important. Sometimes education leaders see the importance of the environment but the system presents hurdles which seem insurmountable. A volunteer group of citizens in Haldimand County, from where Gallon Environment Letter emanates, were so concerned that local students were no longer receiving outdoor environmental education due to the closure of a Nature Centre in a conservation area run by the Grand River Conservation Authority that they determined to reopen it. They negotiated with the GRCA, a highly bureaucratic organization, and fund-raised for building materials and native plants for landscaping around the building. The Ontario Power Generation facility at Nanticoke has been a consistent financial supporter. The volunteers also provided sweat labour to restore the Centre and worked with the GRCA for teachers with the needed skills. They worked with the teachers to provide such necessities for indoor study such as specimens, for example hawks found as road-kill and stuffed by a taxidermist, nests, rocks, snake skins and so on. In small-population but large area rural communities, distances can be quite large and although school boards were willing to pay the per student rate for the lessons, lack of funding for buses turned out to be almost a deal breaker. In the end three different school boards from a number of counties were able to send the children for learning. It is doubtful that any educator could have devoted the amount of time and effort that these volunteers contributed to making their dream happen.

An interesting aside: one of the 'legacies' of the Ontario Mike Harris Conservative government was the requirement that students put in 40 hours of volunteer work in order to graduate from high school. GL has always thought that mandating volunteer work is contrary to the basic concept: to volunteer is to act on one's own free will. Also for many small groups, organizing kids who don't want to be there is a draining waste of time and effort. However, for the outdoor education project, the Harris mandate turned out to be an exceptionally good idea: some of the students who came worked very hard, were much more agile than the mostly older volunteers and were self-motivated at solving problems such as how to put up the ceiling tiles or plant a heavy tree in a pot. Those oldsters who were used to speaking generically about the "younger generation" in a faintly disdainful way spoke in superlatives about this young group.

From time to time GL's parent company provides labour and financial support to this successful local initiative.


The Nova Scotia Resource Recovery Fund Board Inc., a non-profit corporation with a board of directors from both the private sector and government, develops and administers industry stewardship programs, assists in development of industries for processing materials diverted from waste and provides incentives to residents to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost. Public education and awareness is one of its five mandates designed to help Nova Scotians achieve a maximum of 300 kg. of waste per person by 2015 compared to the current 488 kg.

In fiscal 2007, RRFB generated $13 million in net revenue and of that contributed $8.3 million or 63% of net revenues to Nova Scotia's 55 municipalities for diversion credits and funding for local recycling, composting and other programs. Funding is available not only for waste diversion programs but for municipal initiatives to raise awareness and provide education. About $1.4 million was spent on education and promoting waste reduction. The industry stewards also participate in education, for example, for newspaper recycling, the industry contributes $200,000 each year in advertising space each year to educate the public about environmental issues.

Resources are available for a range of stakeholders and events:
As part of its 3-year strategy plan, in 2008, the RRFB intends to complete a first phase of evaluating its education and awareness programs. In addition it intends to work with the Nova Scotia Department of Education to develop and implement a waste reduction curriculum in NS schools with a pilot curriculum in select NS schools by 2010.

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Educating consumers about health and environmental risks is key to changing behaviours of both consumers and the companies which supply products and technology. However scientists often give explanations too difficult for non-specialists to understand. For this reason, the European Union's Public Health division provides summaries of scientific opinion in more easily understood language for three non-food Scientific Committees: Consumer Products, Health and Environmental Risks, and Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks. The summaries can be accessed as various levels through a questions and answers approach: 1. an overall summary which also provides a context for example, what is nanotechnology? 2. detail based on various questions 3. more detail from the source as well as links to the original source and other references. The three level summary is copyrighted by Greenfacts which is contracted to produces the consumer risk assessment. Unlike this site, Canadian government summaries for lay people sometimes do not make the original scientific document available online. The Greenfact template ensures all the pieces are made available but seems somewhat complicated in there being many links to click for "more" information.

Among the summary sheets 2006-2007 are:
UV radiation and sunbeds: Sunbeds have some positive benefits because UVB exposure may increase vitamin D levels. Although some people say they feel better, there is no evidence in biochemistry for this. Risks include sunburn, inflammation of the eye, cataracts, melanoma of the eye and different kinds of skin cancer. UV radiation is thought to reduce the functioning of the immune system which may lead to cancer and infectious diseases. Risk factors for malignant melanoma are age, gender, skin type, moles, freckles and family history. Sunburning intermittently especially when young is also a factor. Annual dose limits are given as guides although there is no level at which skin cancer risk is reduced. Use of sunbeds is likely to increase the risk of malignant melanoma of the skin, and possibly skin cancer. Those under the age of 18 should not use sunbeds as exposure while young increases risk. Eye protection should be worn while on a sunbed.

Tooth Whitening: With up to 0.1% hydrogen peroxide, use of tooth whiteners are safe. Under supervision of a dentist with proper use, they are considered safe from between 0.1% to 6% hydrogen peroxide but not if sold as over-the-counter. Self-diagnosis is a risk. Conditions such as gingivitis, other periodontal disease, defective restorations, dental tissue injury, use of tobacco and alcohol may increase the toxic effects of hydrogen peroxide. Tooth whiteners are not recommended for those under 18. Tooth whiteners can cause harm though tooth sensitivity, irritation, erosion of enamel, increasing exposure to mercury due to changes in amalgam, and interacting with the resin of composite tooth restorations.

Nanotechnology: These are technologies which are tiny measured by a nanometre (millionths of a millimetre). The summary provides a link to a list of 580 consumer products such as home furnishings, computer hardware, cleaners, sporting goods, cosmetics, wound dressings, coatings, pet products, table ware, etc. The technology is being used to make scratchproof eyeglasses, crack-resistant paint, anti-graffiti coatings, stain-repellent fabrics, self-cleaning windows and in health care to deliver drugs and gene therapy and conduct microsurgery. Nanoparticles are so small they can get inside the human, for example through the skin through use of cosmetics with nanoparticles, even inside cells and molecules persisting over a long time. They can be inhaled and move around into the brain, the fetus and may become toxic or cause lung or heart disease. There is so little information about the effects that scientists cannot draw generalized conclusions but require specific studies for the various uses, getting increasingly widespread. How to measure exposure is still unknown. At a small scale, chemicals may interact with living organisms differently than larger forms of the same chemical so separate studies are needed for nano-scale chemicals. Very little is known about how living beings or the environment respond to nanoparticles. Diesel fumes also contain nanoparticles. The scientists do not know if the current methods for assessing hazards are sufficient when applied to nanotechnology and need to modify or develop new methods. The risk is highest with free nanoparticles rather than those which are part of larger (although still very small) nano-structures.

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Last year California voters supported a ballot initiative (referendum) to allocate $100 million to more energy and resource efficient "green" classrooms in public schools. As a result, Governor Schwarzenegger signed an Executive Order to implement the State's Green Building Initiative that provides funding for schools built with State funds to be resource- and energy-efficient.

The High Performance Incentive Grant program will promote the use of high performance materials and features in new construction and modernization of projects for K-12 schools. These include designs and materials that promote energy and water efficiency, maximize the use of natural lighting, improve indoor air quality, use recycled materials and materials that emit a minimum of toxic substances, and feature acoustics that help the teaching and learning process.

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Algonquin College partners with Environment Canada to provide nine-week Basic Enforcement Training for Environment Canada officers. Environment Minister John Baird congratulated fifteen graduates in July who returned to Environment Canada better informed. The program covers requirements and offences under potential offences under a number of Acts and Regulations including the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, 1999; the Species at Risk Act (SARA); the pollution provisions of Canada's Fisheries Act; the Migratory Birds Act and Regulation; and the Wild Animal and Plant Protection and Regulation of International and Interprovincial Trade Act (WAPPRIITA). Some of the officers who are attending also evaluate the content of BET is areas in which they specialize, for example two Wildlife Enforcement Division staff Ian Amirault-Langlais and Hugh O'Neill from Atlantic Canada evaluated the course as it applies to the Wildlife Enforcement Division.

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Volkswagen works with the environmental group German Society for Nature Conservation NABU to promote climate and the environment. The company and the NGO organize fuel saving training sessions for free throughout Germany to help drivers save up to 25% of fuel by driving differently. For the first time, Volkswagen invited NABU to join the company's exhibit at the international auto show in Frankfurt Germany in September. One auto industry commentator on the trade show observed that fuel efficiency and climate change replaced, at least temporarily, industry buzzwords such as horsepower and torque.

Volkswagen is also encouraging youth to think about transport for the future. "Judend denkt Zukunft" (Young People Think of the Future) is a industry-school partnership for students age 9-12 who play innovation games simulating a process which Volkswagen conducts in its facilities identifying social megatrends, and trends for the automobile sector. The ideas of products and services of the students for mobility and driver-assisted systems are subjected to practical checks such as technical feasibility, how to market and potential acceptance in the marketplace, and viability of financing. UNESCO has declared the program an official project of the United Nations Decade of Education for Sustainable Development.

Volkswagen has released its 2nd Group Sustainability Report. Driver. The Group offers 54 vehicles with CO2 emissions less than 140 g per kilometre and eleven of these have CO2 emissions of less that 120 g per kilometre. The company says that therefore many of its models already meet the voluntary 140 g per kilometre agreed to between the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association and the EU. Unlike what most companies would do, under a section called Highlights and Lowlights, Volkswagen identifies a campaign against it by BUND (Friends of the Earth, Germany) in November 2006 which accused the company of auto models which harm the climate.

Paid subscribers see links to original documents and references here.


Bob Kenney, Solid Waste-Resource Analyst of the Nova Scotia Department of Labour and Environment is Nova Scotia's representative on the Extended Producer Responsibility Task Group of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment CCME. In June 2007, CCME endorsed the Canada-wide principles for extended producer responsibility with packaging as a first priority. Nova Scotia is leading in Canada in terms of recycling, he told GL, as documented by Statistics Canada due to a diverse approach including industry stewardship, education, legislation, research and development, innovation and incentives (see separate article on RRFP). Asphalt roof shingles are processed by separating the flake paper which is sent to LaFarge cement for fuel while the asphalt is reused for pavement. Mattresses are taken apart. and the elements which can be are recycled. Probably the biggest innovation is that funding serves as an incentive to municipalities to recycle: those which divert more get more leaving less for those not diverting as much.

Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment. Extended Producer Responsibility Task Group.

Babooram, Avani and Jennie Wang. Recycling in Canada. EnviroStats Summer 2007. p3-

Dr Russ Hopfenburg of Duke University writes, "A narrated version of a special seminar that I delivered at Cornell University, entitled "World Food & Human Population Growth," has been posted online. This presentation is pertinent to the goals of the Gallon Environment Letter. I invite you to view the 33 minute presentation at I hope you will be inclined to share this show with your readership." Hopfenburg suggests that humans tend to believe that we behave the way we do because we are humans. In fact we are motivated by the same forces as other species. The carrying capacity for humans depends on the availability of food just as it does for other species. Agriculture has enabled humans to make more food. Total food production increased 1.5 times while the number of people doubled from 3 billion to 6 billion. More food makes more people.

Russell Hopfenberg, Ph.D. is Consulting Associate in Medical Psychology Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Duke University.

World Food and Human Population Growth narrated by Russ & Edie Hopfenburg

In regard to the GL V12 No.9 editorial on Extended Responsibility for Spent Nuclear Fuel, Jamie Kneen writes, "Question: If the fuel rods are produced in the US from Canadian uranium and Brazilian steel, whose responsibility are they? My point: I've never heard of EPR starting from raw commodities until you mentioned it. But intriguing. What of all the asbestos, lead, nickel etc. we produce and where it ends up?"
Jamie Kneen Communications & Outreach Coordinator (613) 569-3439 MiningWatch Canada 250 City Centre Ave., Suite 508 Ottawa, Ontario K1R 6K7
MiningWatch runs an email-based news service


The Canadian Council of Chief Executives, formerly known as the Business Council on National Issues, recently issued a press release based on a task force report about climate change. The news story says CEOs call for "aggressive action on climate change." To GL this is eco-rhetoric roughly equivalent to the 'aspirational targets' of the recent APEC meeting. Thomas d'Aquino, CEO of CCCE, an organization which includes members from big oil and the oil sands, has from time to time presented his organization as pro-environment but not always. When Russia ratified the Kyoto Protocol, d'Aquino was recommending reduced targets, longer time periods and more from developing countries, or as Hugh Windsor, a Globe and Mail columnist said, "tightening the screws on the Third World." (See Celebrating Coming Into Force of the Kyoto Protocol Feb. 10, 2005 GL10N3). In other circumstances D'Aquino has spoken in favour of environmental and social responsibility, for example. rejecting the idea that CEOs should care only about profit as claptrap, rather responsible business is good business. (Corporation - The Movie April 7, 2004 GLV9N7). The Council's Vice-President, John Dillon, has for many years been one of Canada's leaders in understanding of Sustainable Development and policy tools for climate change.

However, the current document seems more like support for Prime Minister Stephen Harper's abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol rather than a forward-looking commitment to climate change action from Canada's major corporations. The "aggressive action" promoted by CCCE is mostly the same old negative agenda: ditch the Kyoto Protocol, level the playing field, wait until "we" all agree, don't pick on business, action will cost way too much, can't be done in Canada until the whole world does it, it's not fair, give us money to do it, business is doing their part - it's the government messing up, and so on. When industry wants to delay, consensus gets put on the agenda even though consensus tends not to feature large in classical capitalism. The Kyoto Protocol may be the closest we get to consensus on action for climate change. If this report is a call for action, it is not for the business community but for everybody else.

On the more positive side, the CCCE report is a worthwhile to read for its perspective on the business view of the most powerful companies in Canada. The good news, if there is any, is that CCCE is today not as negative as some of its members have been in the past.

Five Key Elements

Five key elements of the CCCE 'action plan' are:
Among the points which CCCE makes are:

GL agrees the lack of a climate change plan which government actually implements has set back effective emission reductions: a number of forward looking companies were ready to make such reductions but didn't follow through because of lack of rules. Many of the companies contributing to this report have been key to lobbying to make sure that the governments do not implement such plans. Some level of certainty over the long term is also desirable but difficult to guarantee (see story on Biofuels). Also important is good design of programs to achieve greenhouse gas reductions rather than tie companies up in costly bureaucracy. Competitiveness is important but evidence is growing that economic well-being may depend on how well greenhouse gas emissions are controlled.

Members of Task Force on Environmental Leadership

M. Elyse Allan President and Chief Executive Officer General Electric Canada
Jean Bernier President Ultramar Ltd.
Ron A. Brenneman President and Chief Executive Officer Petro-Canada
Marcel R. Coutu President and Chief Executive Officer Canadian Oil Sands Limited
Dominic D'Alessandroo President and Chief Executive Officer Manulife Financial
Thomas d'Aquino Chief Executive and President Canadian Council of Chief Executives
Arthur A. DeFehr President and Chief Executive Officer Palliser Furniture Ltd.
Paul Desmarais, Jr. Chairman and Co-Chief Executive Officer Power Corporation of Canada
N. Murray Edwards President Edco Financial Holdings Ltd.
Richard B. Evans President and Chief Executive Officer Alcan Inc.
Kenneth E. Field Chairman and Chief Executive Officer GreenField Ethanol Inc.
Dan J. Fortin President IBM Canada Ltd.
Richard L. George President and Chief Executive Officer Suncor Energy Inc.
Fred Green President and Chief Executive Officer Canadian Pacific Railway Company
Linda S. Hasenfratz Chief Executive Officer Linamar Corporation
Duncan Hawthorne President and Chief Executive Officer Bruce Power
Tim J. Hearn Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Imperial Oil Limited
J. Jeff Johnston President Dow Chemical Canada Inc.
Deryk I. King Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Direct Energy
Jim Kinnear President and Chief Executive Officer Pengrowth Management Limited
Jacques Lamarreo President and Chief Executive Officer SNC-Lavalin Group Inc.
Donald R. Lindsay President and Chief Executive Officer Teck Cominco Limited
Jeffrey M. Lipton President and Chief Executive Officer NOVA Chemicals
Ronald N. Mannix Chairman Coril Holdings Ltd.
Gordon M. Nixono President and Chief Executive Officer Royal Bank of Canada
David J. Paterson Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Bowater Incorporated
Hartley T. Richardsono President and Chief Executive Officer James Richardson & Sons, Limited
Joseph L. Rotman Chairman Amaranth Resources Limited
Stephen G. Snyder President and Chief Executive Officer TransAlta Corporation
Guy J. Turcotte President and Chief Executive Officer Stone Creek Properties Inc.
Annette Verschureno President The Home Depot Canada
William B. White President E.I. du Pont Canada Company
Michael M. Wilson President and Chief Executive Officer Agrium Inc.

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As discussed in the article in this GL about the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, business routinely argues that it seeks certainty. Generally GL would agree that governments should set a longer term of planning to get better results; however, there are no guarantees. In Germany, 29 companies sought to hold the German government to continue its tax exemption for biofuels. Germany amended its Mineral Oil Tax Law and other laws in 2002 to benefit alternate energy including biofuels which were exempted from the oil tax from January 2004 until the end of 2009. Instead, Germany eliminated the tax exemption for biofuels and implemented a tax escalating to 2012. As of January 1, 2007, a quota requires a certain mix of diesel-biodiesel blends with taxes required. The legislators believe that the blend requirements are sufficient market incentives for a growing biofuel market to offset the potential negative effects of taxes. The industry says that it is insufficient and have closed a number of biofuel plants.

The plaintiffs argued that the taxes threatened their livelihood; that the promise of long term tax exemptions led them to invest and that the new tax law is a breach of trust. The court ruled that today's tax exemption has no constitutional requirement to be continued into the future, compensation for higher taxes should not be expected and the constitution gives no rights to success in the marketplace or right to profit-making opportunities.

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The OECD Round Table on Sustainable Development released a report on biofuels which conclude that biofuels may have fewer benefits than expected. Canadian Jack Sadler, Dean of the Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia, was among those who provided comment on the draft paper. Even in Brazil, "the most cost effective ethanol producer in the world", selling the sugar is more profitable than selling the ethanol made from sugar. Biofuels will increase the price of oil for the agricultural market, increasing both production costs for agriculture and for biofuels and will increase the price of food between 20%-50% over the next ten years. Consequences of conversion of land look modest e.g. best case scenario of the World Energy Outlook projects 3.8% of arable land in the world used for biofuels. At a regional level effects could be dramatic as land is drawn away from crops for food, animal feed and fibre. While vehicle emissions are lower than for fossil fuels, environmental impacts from agricultural production are seen as very high "in terms of soil acidification and excessive fertilizer use, biodiversity loss, air pollution caused by slash-and-burn and the toxicity of pesticides."

Subsidies for Environmental Improvements

Governments have provided subsidies for both production of biofuels and reduced taxes for biofuel sales. Generally subsidies for biofuels tend not to adjust support based on improved environmental benefits. In fact, in the US, the biodiesel excise tax credit is twice as high if the biodiesel is produced from virgin vegetable oils and tallow than if made from used cooking oil. And in Brazil, subsidies favour local producers in economically disadvantaged regions which may result in higher negative environmental impact. Some subsidies are justified on the premise that biofuels help contribute to domestic energy security but that depends on how much petroleum it takes to produce each litre of biofuel. Subsidies for biofuels go not to experimental pilot projects but to mature first-generation manufacturing plants. The cost of reducing a unit of CO2 through these plants through subsidy, for example in the US, is over $500 per tonne of CO2 equivalent; it would be far more effective to purchase CO2 offsets at market price.

Some governments are changing their preferential tax treatments of biofuels. The Swiss have a new Mineral Fuel Tax to be in effect in 2008 with tax benefits based on criteria and proof. Switzerland will allow beneficial taxes if the biofuel has not only a positive greenhouse gas balance but achieves a certain environmental score when compared to its fossil fuel alternative such as gasoline. Most biofuels have an overall environmental performance worse than gasoline. When biodiesel is made from waste materials such as recycled cooking oils, its score is better than gasoline. Most biofuels made from woody biomass rated better than gasoline. In The Netherlands there is a proposal for a new subsidy scheme with one proposed criteria banning biomass production with high risk of significant carbon losses. The EU is planning for minimum sustainablity standards for biofuels. In the UK beginning in 2008, biofuel companies must submit reports on net greenhouse gas savings and sustainability of the biofuels supplied. Some of these new rules may be subject to contest under the World Trade Organization.

The Trouble with Certainty

The report recommends that governments stop issuing new mandates for biofuels and find ways to phase out the old mandates. The mandates provide certainty to the investors but transfers risk to other sectors and financial investors. Mandates mean that fuel which cannot be made in a sustainable way will still be produced. Subsidies also reduce the price of fuel sending the wrong signal to drivers about the real cost of fuel consumption. Taxing fuels for the externalities they create would be best. Governments are providing millions of dollars to an industry about which they know very little. Subsidies encourage expensive investment in inefficient production capacity.


Other recommendations include:
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Written by well-known policy commentator Jeffrey Simpson, well-known Simon Fraser University resource economist Mark Jaccard, and writer and engineer Nic Rivers, the book Hot Air: Meeting Canada's Climate Change Challenge can only be described as a very odd commentary. On one level it seems to be calling for strong Canadian government action on climate change but on another it criticizes targets, the Kyoto protocol, and trying to get closer to meeting Canada's Kyoto targets in the near term. We're not too late, we are too late. Education is no good but education is necessary. Targets are no good but targets are necessary. Get started now, tougher measures not now but down the road. It is almost as if the book was written by a committee, albeit a rather interesting committee.

Coming from the right side of the political spectrum, the book vehemently and, GL thinks, ironically, calls for stern government involvement through regulation and market-based economic instruments. Jeffrey Simpson, a journalist of much renown with an Order of Canada has been national affairs columnist at the Globe and Mail, a major national newspaper with a generally pro-business view, since 1984. Despite writing for the past two decades, Simpson doesn't have many (GL couldn't find any but is open to evidence) columns supporting Kyoto so it seems inappropriate for him to harp quite so much on it being too late for meeting our Kyoto commitments. The Globe and Mail has been one of the media which has consistently published the views of climate sceptics to "balance' the stories of the science of climate change. The media gets off very lightly in this book although the national papers have played a significant role in confusing the public and politicians. Business also gets only a slight slap for funding climate change skeptics.

Mark Jaccard previously authored a book on sustainable use of fossil fuels for which he won an award from the right-leaning Donner Foundation (GL V11 No. 13, November 13, 2006). Possibly because of this, the Conservative government appointed him to the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, an advisory group to the government which has recently been described in media stories as a watchdog (not its original mandate). However, through this new book Jaccard has clearly bitten the hand of those who appointed him to NRTEE.

On one level, the book seems to be pro-environment by taking a strip off every politician since the 1980s about their "green plans" and lack of implementation to deal with climate change. Brian Mulroney is given least blame, apparently not because of any outstanding green performance but because he was prime minister during the 1980s at the very beginning of climate change policy development. The authors use a model to produce evidence that most of the plans wouldn't have succeeded anyway but without peer-review information, the reader is left wondering about the conclusions as number crunching is done off-stage in a black box. The authors criticize loopholes in the large final emitters legislation, advocate market instruments such as carbon taxes, carbon management standards, an upstream cap and trade system, emissions cap and trade system for large emissions, taxes for small emitters and households among other options. On this level, the call for action is very encouraging and good to hear.

On the other level, the authors seem to believe that somehow, despite its poor climate change performance, Canada can still lead by abandoning its international commitment under Kyoto. The authors are so keen to abandon Kyoto that they continually attack setting targets calling the desire of politicians to set targets as 'targetitis'. They themselves suggest what are essentially targets but so vague as to be unmeasurable e.g. on page 248, "We need to reduce our GHG emissions by half, or more, starting now and heading into the next decade, and continuing for many decades thereafter." GL asks by half from what?, by when? Another national affairs columnist, James Travers, writing for the Torstar newspapers takes a more considered view saying that targets are essential, "Consultants, CEOs and yes, Conservatives, insist that you can't manage what you don't measure. But when it comes to climate change, Stephen Harper doesn't want to measure what he doesn't want to manage."

Smell Test of a Checklist

In the book is an eight-item checklist which should have been edited out. It is supposed to act as a smell test to distinguish between"serious talk" and "false promises". Among these are:
If politicians propose targets but do not detail how these are to be achieved, this is failure.
GL: Not necessarily so. In many ways, it is better if government doesn't get too much involved in the detail of how to achieve targets e.g. one of the complaints by business is that governments micromanage by specifying certain types of technology when other types are more efficient and less costly. Targets do need to have plans about what happens if the targets aren't met.
If politicians insist that behavioural change by individuals alone will solve the climate change problem, assume failure.
GL: This is a strawman which the authors are kicking at. There is general agreement that all parts of society need to participate.
If politicians complain about jurisdictional constraints, assume failure
GL: Federal-provincial and municipal relations do provide constraints and politicians do blame other jurisdictions for lack of action or for taking certain types of actions. That's a reality but when there is political will, these jurisdictions in Canada often are able to negotiate agreements that succeed despite the initial or ongoing complaints.
If politicians crisscross the country or their province handing out subsidies and offering photo opportunities of themselves in front of wind tunnels, research laboratories or corn fields, assume failure.
GL: This is a rant which combines a couple of themes which aren't necessarily connected. Although GL agrees that subsidies are often environmentally harmful, some subsidies are useful to develop domestic capacity for environmental improvement. Photo ops are not entirely bad as they send a signal that the government is aware of and supports environmentally preferable development. One of the problems GL has had with corporations and government is that often they fail to communicate about steps they are taking in the right environmental direction.
If politicians insist that Canada can meet its Kyoto commitment, offer the benefit of the doubt that they are not lying just being disingenuous.
GL thinks effort and getting somewhat closer will stand Canada in good stead to reducing the penalties which Canada can expect to have assigned to it for breaching its legal contract under international law. In principle, GL agrees with the concept suggested which is toughen up requirements in the future but can't understand the point of no interim, short-term and long-term targets. It is like some diet book which might promise to help you lose 50 pounds without ever losing 10 pounds. It just cannot be done: instead by trying to meet our Kyoto targets we will set the stage for those future emission reductions.

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The Last Stand is about the old growth forest growing on the Niagara Escarpment written by Doug Larson with photos and more by Peter Kelly with a foreword by singer Sarah Harmer (GL V10 No. 22 December 15, 2005). The Escarpment, a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, stretches 735 kilometres in Ontario from Niagara to Tobermory. On the cliff face is a forest, an ancient forest of stunted eastern white cedars with a 2,767 year chronology and the age distribution of old growth forest with many more youngsters and only a few very old trees. It is connected to an ecological system which includes lichens, liverworts, mosses and ferns. But unlike the majestic sequoias or other big trees, these old trees are gnarled, twisted and some look like they are barely alive. They can't be described as tall because the seed usually lands on a shaded crack in the rocks and then the tree grows downwards due to the pull of gravity and around towards the light. In fact, the photos are often accidently printed upside down. The trees are rarely as much as seven metres in length, most of them could fit into a the height of a living room. Ironically a biological study of the Bruce Peninsula in 1963 concluded that "there is nothing botanically outstanding about the forest cover of the Bruce, at least the trees themselves." A 1985 biological study of the Mount Nemo area near Burlington made no mention of the trees.

Although Doug Larson of the University of Guelph in the mid-1980s had become a world expert on lichens growing on cliffs, funders told him that lichen research was not a priority. So he brought together a small group, Uta Matthes and Ruth Bartlett both with doctorates in ecology along with graduate student Steve Spring and others to form the Cliff Research Group. One of the research topics they set out to explore was the effect of hiking on the ecology of the cliffs; it turns out that virtually no one had done any ecological research on the cliffs themselves and not much on the Niagara Escarpment either. They didn't expect to find what they did but began to compare sites where hiking took place (disturbed site) with a site without trails (undisturbed site). They assumed that the trees were second or third growth like all the other forests in Ontario. Larson used a borer to remove a pencil-shaped wood sample from a living tree and some tree debris from the rock fall (talus) at the cliff bottom. After overcoming the difficulty of reading the rings because the density of rings was so high, the count came to 400; one ring per year meant these trees were 400 years old. At first they thought only this location was old but a map included in the book shows other clusters all the way to Tobermory. A couple of dead trees in the talus were 1,032 years old and one was 1,890 years, the oldest ever documented in Canada. The oldest yellow cedar in British Columbia are about 1,300 years old. The work of researching and documenting this forest is challenging as it requires rock climbing, threats from bee hives, and the talus is often greasy slippery when wet. Kelly learned how to secure his camera but one expensive camera dropped to smash on the rocks below. As well as the photos of trees, a number of which are described individually, there are detailed pictures such as of tree cross-sections, and spectacular cliff views. The background grey sketches on some of the printed pages are very attractive: each one is a unique tree some of which are named such as Amputee which has various branches cut off.

There is still no protection for this forest and the authors express some rage at how vulnerable these trees are, "If we can't recognize the importance of one thousand year-old trees in the heart of an increasingly urbanized southern Ontario, what hope have we got for protecting anything else." Large scale development could be a future threat but an immediate threat is rock climbing. Rock climbers are the only ones which come in direct contact with the oldest trees on the cliff face and can cause considerable damage; a growing number of people are taking up climbing. Nobody has ever restricted climbers about where they can climb before on the Escarpment. The authors say that the Niagara Escarpment is "more than just an outdoor climbing gym. It is a living ecosystem that is vulnerable to human impact and it represents part of the 17% of the earth's surface that has not been converted to human uses."

In addition to the sense of urgency for protection, there is also an overall feeling of incredible respect for these ancient trees surviving hardship. It echos a First Nations story recorded by a missionary about a mythical figure Glooscap whose brother wanted to be forever in good health and live to a very old age, so Glooscap turned him into a gnarled cedar.

The production of this book seems to be very high for its price of $39.95. If companies or individuals are looking for gifts with an environmental theme, this book, which is not preachy yet inspirational, would be enjoyed by anybody who takes pleasure in the outdoors. It is a one-of-a-kind story told by people who know how to tell a good science story, a truly hopeful and marvellous story of discovery. And as a bonus any day when you feel like you are between a rock and a hard place, keep the book beside you to help you learn to emulate those ugly trees in their longevity in the face of adversity.

Kelly, Peter E. and Douglas W. Larson. The Last Stand. Toronto, ON: Natural Heritage Books, a Member of the Dundurn Group, 2007. $39.95

Dundurn Press Blog. Defining Canada. The Last Stand launches at the Bookshelf. September 2007.

Peter Kelly University of Guelph Cliff Ecology Research Group 519 824-4120, Ext. 52679 (work) and Prof. Doug Larson Department of Integrative Biology 519 824-4120, Ext. 52679


RMR: The Book mentions quite a few people in relation to environmental issues. Of course, Mercer himself has been an environmental celebrity. The Canadian Government hired him to be the key spokesperson on television commercials for the One-Tonne Challenge calling for personal action for climate change. Some Canadians were unsure about whether this meant global warning was a joke. Rick Mercer self-describes himself as an entertainer who tells jokes for a living.

His television show Rick Mercer Report is not so much a set of jokes as a humourous tour of Canadian life and politics in a unique mix reflecting other television shows: the hands-on of Dirty Jobs, the political satire of Jon Stewart's Daily Show and a fractured what's in the news as Bob Hunter used to do in a more serious vein. While seeming to tremble with fear and trepidation, Mercer participates in physically and otherwise challenging activities such as flying in formation on one of Canada's Snowbird jets or getting attacked by a trained police dog. For political satire, Mercer walks rapidly through a graffiti lined alley ranting about some issue: many of these rants have been collected in this book. He also manages to persuade the most powerful politicians such as the Prime Ministers to spend time with him so he can make fun of them: Mercer calls this a "mutually parasitic relationship: they need me, I need them...There is no price too high to pay for a few good minutes of TV." The New Prime Minister Stephen Harper allowed Mercer to sleep over at the PM's residence. Mercer also features The Front Page usually photos of political leaders to which he adds satiric commentary and photo amendments. He dives into frigid water with a reluctant environmentalist David Suzuki, and skinny dips with former Premier of Ontario Bob Rae. One celebrity shoot shows him and Elizabeth May with a chainsaw under the heading, Killing a Tree. Actually the tree is already dead but May wants to save it for the woodpeckers but down it comes and Mercer says, "This is fantastic. The leader of the Green Party cutting down a tree. It's like Stephen Harper performing a gay marriage."

Mercer rants about
GL found this is a very enjoyable book and a reminder of political shenanigans over the past few years lest we forget. Mercer is fairly even-handed about slinging the mud across all parties.
Mercer, Rick. Rick Mercer Report: The Book. Doubleday Canada. 2007. Hardcover.

CBC. Rick Mercer Report.

Summary of Speech Delivered to Young Environmental Professionals: September 18, 2007 by Charles Caccia

The day when sustainability, the environment, and the dwindling natural resources become the object of public opinion combined with strong public pressure, governments will change direction. It is your generation which will have to deal with the veritable mess you are inheriting from us.

Your inheritance is threatened as shown in forecasts such as: The population on this planet will go up from 6 to 9 billion people in the next forty years. Each day 4 000 children die from diarrhea and 1 400 women die needlessly in pregnancy or childbirth. By 2060, oil production would have to triple just to meet global population growth and maintain current standards of living. According to the IUCN, the 2007 red list, "one mammal out of four, one bird out of eight, one-third of all amphibians, and 70% of registered plants are in danger."

Twenty years after the publication of Our Common Future, the report by the World Commission on the Environment and Development, and after some remarkable initial progress towards sustainability, we are on a slippery slope. Digby McLaren (1919-2004), geologist, President of the Royal Society of Canada, one of the initiators in 1986 of the International Geosphere-Biosphere programme focussing on climate change, editor of two books on global change wrote a paper in 1989 asking, "Sustainable until when?" and "Sustainable for whom?" He questions the soundness of current economic thinking which he says is " is caught up in a system which assumes limitless resources and ignores the production of waste products." We know resources are finite and waste is no longer easy to dispose of. Growth economics fail to recognize the linkage to the ecosystem which has only finite capacity to provide inputs and receive outputs. With a quarter of the population using most of the resources and producing most of the waste, McLaren concludes the impossibility of applying Western standards to the other three-quarters of the world's population.

We, earthlings, have to deal with nuclear waste, still with unknown destination for final disposal or with urban sprawl, or with traffic congestions, or with air quality, or with tropical storms, or the consequences of climate change such as the pine beetle infestation in the West and so on. In Canada, current federal, and provincial tax laws encourage and even subsidize greater emissions of greenhouse gases. In Ontario, the provincial government announces proudly the construction of new nuclear plants, while the federal government creates the illusion that the waste issue is resolved. What an earth in shambles we are leaving you!

Where did we go wrong ? While it is difficult to find a complete answer, there are partial ones. Depending on your perspective, of course. For instance, some things go wrong because we tend to:
Let's also keep in mind we have had also some good news. We have made progress : with acid rain, with the ban on CFCs to protect the ozone; with the removal of lead from gasoline, with the ratification of certain international treaties. We also had some well-intended national legislation: CEPA, SARA, CEEA, subsequently watered down by business interests and weak governments, but still, I would argue, much better than nothing, which is what we had before. Many municipalities across the country have banned the use of cosmetic pesticides and are taking other environmental initiatives.

So, despite books like "Our Final Century?" by Martin Rees, "Collapse" by Jared Diamond," The Revenge of Gaia" by James Lovelock, "Fire" by Monbiot, Thomas Homer-Dixon's "The Upside of Down: catastrophe creativity and the renewal of civilization", "The Population Bomb" by Paul Ehrlich, etc., it is too soon to throw the sponge in and get ready for the end, as some are suggesting we should. There is still time but not much to turn things around.

The question then is, how can we reverse alarming trends? One thing seems to be clear, in a democracy such as ours, we have to exert pressure on the politicians. They understand the importance of the ballot box. They need to know which way public opinion wants them to go. When political pressure is applied at the right time, at the right place, on the right people, it can work wonders. At every election we have an opportunity to register a message with the future government of our country, province-territory and municipality. What seems impossible today can become reality tomorrow, with political will.

And where is the pressure to be applied? On mainstream political parties. It will take a long, long time before a green party can become a mainstream party. To effect change, the Liberal and the Conservative parties have to become green. It is your pressure, your involvement, your work with mainstream parties which will make the difference. As one great parliamentarian used to say, " When hunting elephants, don't get distracted by rabbits!"

In our democracy, we have the opportunity to enjoy and practice a beautiful legacy , indeed a gift we inherited from previous generations: the democratic system, and the opportunity of shaping policies; dialoguing with candidates, and, in between elections, with elected officials, public servants, the media, etc. This beautiful legacy is now in your hands. It could permit us to do something valuable for many generations: yours and beyond. Let's do so before it is too late.

Charles Caccia is a former Liberal Minister of the Environment for Canada and Senior Fellow at the Institute of the Environment at the University of Ottawa.


Do you have a favourite or inspirational environment book (fiction or non-fiction) or magazine or have you written a book, report or article you would like to draw attention to? It can be electronic or hard copy. Let us know what it is and in 50 words or less why it appeals to you from an environmental point of view and a few words on who you are. We'll select one for printing in each issue over time in the next year or so. Send email to with subject line: Fav Env Book.

This Bookshelf item written and recommended by:
Laura Westra, Ph.D.
Professor Emerita (Philosophy) University of Windsor
Ph.D. in Law, Osgoode Hall Law School
Post Doctoral Fellow 

More than 300 million people in 70 countries are part of the indigenous population. Indigenous peoples both in Canada and elsewhere, are indeed the "canaries" or "sentinels" as they are the first groups/communities affected by climate change and industrial pollution when they live traditionally of the land. That has been the topic of my latest book which uses examples of insufficient legal rights of these peoples in the face of governments and businesses which fail to consult with them or seek their consent on relocations, mining plans and other development which cause environmental and social harm.

At the same time, traditional lifestyles indicate the sort of relation to the land that is, or should be the goal of all communities, as much as possible, in order to minimize our footprint, and reverse the damaging trends inherent in globalization.

Westra, Laura. Environmental Justice and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. International and Domestic Legal Perspectives. Earthscan, 2007. £58.50. Pre-publication information.
or and search by keyword - indigenous, then submit, then find Westra and click for information about book

In an issue which also discusses enviro-hazards such as insecticides and cigarette smoke for canine pets, Kevin Skaggs writes in Bark magazine about green transport to reduce fuel consumption and air pollution because "It's a dog's world, too, after all." Bark is a "dog culture" magazine from (where else, Berkeley, California). One of the wheels is a foot-powered scooter converted to paw-power through a dog harness which can be used with up to three dogs. Apparently a decent-sized dog can provide power for 100 pounds more than the dog weighs so a 60 pound boxer can power a 160 pound person.

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