By Rick Smith
Op. Ed. for the Hill Times
A year ago today, I was fighting my way through crowded European airports, homeward bound from the Copenhagen climate change meeting. My feet were soggy from a winter storm that had swept in from the Baltic. My suitcase bulged with paper (and Danish-made Christmas tree ornaments.) And my ears were ringing with predictable howls of Neanderthal naysayers who, from the moment that event ended, have been prophesying the demise of environmental concern as we know it.
According to cranky Terence Corcoran/Margaret Wente/Rex Murphy-ites, 2010 was to be the year that the public turned its back on “green”.
So, in the spirit of the holiday season, it’s time to take stock. Here is my list of the Top 10 Canadian green accomplishments for 2010:
1. Canada led the world in putting the final nail in the coffin of bisphenol A (BPA), a nasty, hormone-disrupting chemical common in many plastic items. Following the summer’s federal government study that found BPA in the urine of 91% of Canadians, the feds moved to formally list the chemical as “toxic” under Canada’s national pollution law. Shortly thereafter, Europe banned it outright in baby bottles, citing early Canadian leadership as the inspiration. Ahhh…Canadian leadership. Feels pretty good, eh?
2. The kiboshing of the Prosperity Mine was the perfect way for former Environment Minister Jim Prentice to ride off into the sunset. Concluding that the federal environmental review was too “scathing” to allow the BC mine to be built and the nearby lake to be drained for a toxic waste pit, Prentice pulled the plug on the whole darn thing. A welcome and appropriate assertion of federal authority.
3. The leaders of Canada’s major environmental organizations gave Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger an award for doing the right thing, choosing to build Manitoba’s new transmission corridor down the west side of Lake Winnipeg, rather than through a precious, intact wilderness on its eastern side. An even happier ending to this west side story? The province is moving to secure UNESCO world heritage status for the area.
4. Already a glowing Canadian wind energy leader, Ontario is on a fast-track to becoming the first jurisdiction in the world to completely shutdown it’s coal-fired, smog and asthma-causing generating stations, to be replaced with clean green power. That’s equivalent to taking 7 million cars off the road, four years earlier than previously announced. The air smells sweeter already.
5. Not to be outdone by Ontario, the Nova Scotia government announced a similarly ambitious renewable energy revolution this year. By 2020, 40% of Nova Scotia’s energy mix will be from renewable electricity, enough to power every residential customer in the province. Nova Scotia-Ontario: the new Canadian green energy nexus?
6. From the new marine conservation areas in Gwaii Haanas and Lancaster Sound, and the creation of Eastern Canada’s largest national park reserve in Labrador’s Mealy Mountains, to the Prince Edward Island-sized provincial parks announced in Manitoba, it’s been another banner year for protected parks and marine areas. Canada’s wilderness advocates are on a tear.
7. As the end of 2010 draws near, green energy is kickstarting Ontario’s manufacturing recovery with about 4,000 jobs created or announced. And when Samsung’s full operations begin, that will rise to about 20,000, not counting spin-off jobs for parts suppliers, installers, and the like. As Ontario’s Green Energy Act really kicks into gear, even more workers will benefit from green generating green.
8. It only took half a century, but Canada has modernized its consumer product safety system with the new Product Safety Act, giving the federal government power to protect Canadians from poisonous chemicals in kids’ toys and toxic cadmium in paint. Why does this qualify as an environmental victory, you ask? Because your average Canadian spends over 90% of their lives indoors, in another environment that needs protecting.
9. On December 7th, the House of Commons narrowly adopted an NDP motion calling for a ban on crude oil tankers off B.C.’s North Coast. The ban, which was matched by another Liberal private member’s bill to entrench it into law, would put a crimp in the plans for the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline project to connect Alberta’s tar sands to Kitimat’s marine terminal. Looks like the tar sands industry’s plans to become dirty oil peddler to China has run aground.
10. In another blow against the multi-gazillion dollar tar sands industry, the US Environmental Protection Agency found that the US State Department’s assessment of the proposed Keystone pipeline, which would stretch 3,200 km from Alberta to Texas, was “inadequate”. Nothing like a little tar and feathers to send this sticky project back to the drawing board.
So, were environmental concerns pushed off the public agenda this year? Not a chance. The environmental movement accomplished all of the foregoing and much more. And we did it with the financial resources approaching what a single tar sands company spends on their supply of toner cartridges. Where do I think things are headed next year? That’s the subject of my next column. Happy Holidays! Go easy on that organic eggnog, and see you in 2011.
Dr. Rick Smith is Executive Director of Environmental Defence (www.EnvironmentalDefence.ca) and co-author of the bestselling book “Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health.” The views expressed here are his own.
Top 10 Canadian green accomplishments for 2010
By Rick Smith