Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Top Environmental Stories of 2008

While the economy captured the lion’s share of news headlines in 2008, there were some significant Canadian environmental stories as well. For the record, here’s my pick of the best and worst of 2008.

In April, Prince Edward Island put an end to the province’s 24-year ban on non-refillable pop containers. PEI had the distinction of being the only jurisdiction in all of North America where pop and beer could only be sold in refillable bottles. The lifting of the “can ban” marked a complete about-face for PEI, which was once touted as Canada’s greenest province.

PEI has lost more than its unique deposit-return system. By bowing to public pressure, PEI has put convenience over environmental stewardship and Canada has lost an environmental icon. PEI’s courageous stand against the mighty soft drink industry was the impetus for the industry’s decision to fund Ontario’s blue box program.

April brought some good news, too. On April 22nd – Earth Day – the Ontario government followed the province of Quebec and introduced legislation to ban the cosmetic use of pesticides. Learning from the lessons learned in Quebec, the Ontario bill extended the list of targeted chemicals, making it one of the toughest pieces of legislation in North America. And unlike municipal by-laws, which can only limit the use of pesticides, Bill 64 will also restrict their sale. The move will replace a variety of by-laws already in communities across Ontario where the cosmetic use of pesticides is banned.

In December, Toronto City Council joined other Canadian cities such as Vancouver and London by banning the sale and distribution of bottled water at City Hall. Arenas and other city-owned facilities won’t have to follow suit until the end of 2011.

What makes this story so significant is that Toronto went through with the ban despite heavy lobbying from the bottled water industry, desperate to preserve the myth that bottled water is a necessary commodity.

The bottling and selling of water is arguably the marketing success story of the century. Specifically, bottled water sales now top $ 100 billion annually, making water the world's fastest growing beverage industry. Small wonder why the bottled water lobbyists worked so hard to prevent a ban by Canada’s largest city.

Perhaps the worst news story for 2008 – the catastrophic downturn in the global economy – might just be the best news story for the environment. For decades environmental leaders have been trying to get the message out that “business as usual” is not sustainable. Stripping the planet of non-renewable resources, creating mountains of toxic waste in the process, and pumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere like there is no tomorrow is about an unsustainable as sub-prime mortgages. Sooner or later the system had to collapse.

Change causes upset and there will be a period of adjustment. The good news is that a shift towards more sustainable production and consumption will bring an unprecedented level of economic growth. Green will replace blue as the collar color of choice. Workers will experience greater health and safety on the job, and their families will benefit from a new economy that promises long-term stability and environmental sustainability.

Here’s the key: The economy is a wholly owned subsidy of the environment. Our common wealth isn’t in stocks and bonds; it’s in our environmental resources. If we can master the concept of sustainable production, everyone benefits.

The same can be said for the auto industry, which in the dying days of 2008 threatened to topple the North American economy with its arrogant unwillingness to change. The bailouts offered by both the U.S. and Canadian governments are at the very best short-term band-aids.

The good news is that people still need to get from Point A to Point B. Cars, trucks and other transportation devices will be built and sold. The companies that will both survive – and thrive – in 2009 and beyond, will be those that break the current paradigm and combine alternative fuel innovation, energy efficient design and production.

Last, and definitely not least, is the election of U.S. president Barack Obama. Even if he comes through on a fraction of his election promises, Obama will become the first truly green leader of the new world economy.


For more on the idea of building a sustainable economy, visit www.mysustainablecanada.org.

For more on Bill 64 and Ontario’s ban on cosmetic pesticides, visit www.ontla.on.ca.


Post a Comment

<< Home