Apropos of Anna’s fascinating post yesterday, I decided to do a little digging to find out if Canada’s superior record of concern for the environment is translating into a better record for the planet.

So far, it’s not. At least not when it comes to climate change, which I’d argue is the biggest environmental (and economic and social justice) challenge facing the world.

On the one hand, the US failed to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, while Canada agreed to a 6 percent emissions cut under the treaty. Today, however, Canada is a whopping 33 percent above the target. (Though it’s also miles off, the US actually appears be closer to its non-agreed-to Kyoto targets than Canada. Ouch.)

And while it’s true that the United States is by far the world’s largest single source of greenhouse gas emissions, that’s partly because there are roughly 10 times as many Americans as Canadians. When it comes to our individual contributions to warming the planet, however, we’re really not so different after all.

Per capita, Canadians emit about 10 percent less emissions from energy consumption as Americans. But if you were to factor in the substantial greenhouse gas emissions from logging and cattle-raising (both big business in Canada for which I don’t have data), Canadians would probably be nearly neck and neck with American emissions, on a per person basis.

It gets worse.

  • Canada’s economy is actually even more greenhouse gas-dependent than the US economy. And that’s saying something. Depending on how you crunch the numbers, Canada needs somewhere between 6 and 30 percent more emissions from energy to produce one dollar of wealth. And again, if one could factor in the climate emissions from non-energy sources like logging and cattle, the balance would probably be even worse for Canada.

    With one or two notable exceptions, such as Australia, Canada and the United States are among the most emissions-dependent economies of wealthy nations. We’re far more greenhouse gas intensive than almost all of our primary trading partners and allies.

    I suppose there are lots of ways you could parse this data. The wrong way, I think, would be to blame Canada for some sort of hypocrisy (sorry about the title of this post; I just couldn’t help myself). The right way, I’d argue, is to take heart.

    As Anna points out, Canadians are experiencing a blossoming of environmental consciousness that appears to be exceeding anything happening in the US. Sure, it may take a while for Canadians’ values to translate into real-world environmental improvements. But the shifting of values is how actual change begins. And if Canadians—with a lifestyle and economy as climate-unfriendly as Americans’–can make the switch, there’s every reason to think Americans can too.

    All emissions figures in this post are calculated from the spreadsheets here.