By Tooker Gomberg, Halifax, Nova Scotia.
West Coast Author David Boyd, in his book Unnatural Law, tackles the myth that Canada is a green nation.
David Boyd dropped by Halifax’s Ecology Action Centre (EAC) in October and, over pyrogies and coffee, spoke of Canada’s “terrible environmental record”. He told us how he suffered frontal lobe damage from banging his head against the wall for years as an environmental activist. Then he decided to step out of the fray and write his new book: “Unnatural Law, Rethinking Canadian Environmental Law and Policy”.
While Canadians share a myth of environmental superiority, we are actually close to the bottom of the standings in the western world. In his research comparing the environmental records of 29 western nations of the OECD, Canada was #28 out of 29. The findings garnered one day of media interest. “What if Canada came in 28 out of 29 in hockey?” Boyd coyly asked. Undoubtedly there would be an endless national debate and constant news analysis about it.
“Air pollution kills ten times more Canadians than homicides” said Boyd, though you wouldn’t know it from the nightly news. And while Canada’s air emissions increase annually, Sweden has stabilized greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels. The oil crises of the early 1970’s worried Japan, so they invested in energy efficiency. Over the past 30 years, they have seen a 90% growth in their economy, with no growth in the amount of energy consumed. And every 10th Japanese household has solar panels on the roof.
Many of Canada’s environmental laws do not contain requirements, but are only guidelines. Boyd referred to the R2000 program, developed by the federal government to promote the construction of energy efficient houses. In 2000, only 0.6% of the houses met the R2000 program’s grade, thanks to its voluntary nature.
Boyd explained how the federal government has repeatedly capitulated to industry intransigence. “What is the strongest environmental group in the country?” he asked. “The Canadian Council of Chief Executives”, he replied, explaining how they represent 150 CEO’s of the largest corporations, with 1.5 million employees and $2 trillion in assets. When they speak, the government listens.
But it’s not all bleak. The Conference Board of Canada concluded that there is no trade-off between environmental and economic health. The costs of environmental regulation have been $43 billion, but have brought $120 billion in benefits.
What country leads the pack and could inspire Canada? Sweden. They have a national sustainability plan for 2025, and they have targets and timelines. “They have already reduced pesticide use by 80%.” While Canada levies no GST on pesticides (but does on books), Sweden has a special tax on pesticides, directing funds raised towards supporting organic agriculture.
Speaking of pesticides, Boyd highlighted how the Supreme Court of Canada has recognized that cities and towns do have the power to ban pesticide use. This is an encouraging sign, he believes, as municipal governments are closer to the people, and may be more likely to take initiatives to protect the environment. He pointed to how the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD) has taken action to protect air quality and promote transit and bicycle use.
Boyd also suggested that new legal avenues might be pursued: could Halifax Regional Municipality City Councillors be held personally responsibility for violating the federal Fisheries act when they don’t commit to secondary sewage treatment, for example?
Boyd concludes that, ultimately, the root cause of environmental degradation is excessive consumption of resources. With that in mind, don’t buy his new book – share it with others at the local library.
For more info: Unnatural Law at UBC Press and Canada vs. the OECD,