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.
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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.
Yes it’s true that Canada has fallen behind in meeting Kyoto, however there is also a massive interest amongst voters to correct our deficiency. There is high awareness and a widespread desire to make it right. I think there will be broadly based new initiatives soon and ramped up federal action. Most of us in North America could take a few lessons from other cultures about how to live in a more energy frugal manner. So much of Canada is cold in the winter, that this will be a particular challenge – but there is also agreement by most Canadians that we have to buckle down and make up for lost time.Respectfully, Eric
The big story in Canada is going to be tar sands development. How big? Powered by natural gas, coal, nukes or tar sands residues?Since we are the main customers in the US, we can’t blame Canada entirely.
Eric de Place
Eric & sf,Yes. And yes. Despite my pugnacious headline for this post, I take Canada to be an enormously encouraging case study. Canadians are as greenhouse gas-addicted as Americans; and yet—as Anna noted yesterday—Canadians have a strong emerging interest in fixing the problem. That’s how real change begins. My hope is that the values-change in Canada is a harbinger of values-change down south here.
We also must look to how we reacted to Canada’s beetle problem, an ecosystem problem if there ever was one: we claimed economic harm and Canada dumping softwood lumber that wasn’t fair. Well, Canada had to cut a lot of trees to try to control bark beetles. That creates a supply glut. Whaddya gonna do with all that wood, eat it (hint: we’ll find out for ourselves in 3-5 years)? Our reaction is telling. We can’t recognize environmental issues and work cooperatively. How well does this bode for the future, when more Kyoto-like treaties will be needed?D
This is the type of article that has no sway in the real world. It is incomplete on its and its inclusions, why does shit (excuse my French) get published? Who is the biggest importer of Canadian lumber? The answer is, you guessed it, the U.S. Canada is certainly hurting for how to come up with ways to provide renewable power, but they are trying to at least ratify the Kyoto. Granted, I think our reasoning is sound in not signing the Protocol, but nonetheless we should participate. We didn’t participate because countries such as China and India were held to no accountable standards and we object. Canada is also the world’s second biggest country with a terrible transportation grid. The Atlantic States and Ontario are closely connected and acount for roughly 3/4 of Canada’s population, but I am sure energy needs are excruciatingly high when transporting to the interior and west coast. I think a lot of ignorance is placed on how much American companies are dictating environmental policy in Canada. The oil sands is led by a big U.S. backing yet we all want to sit around and criticize.
I apologize somewhat, my broken grammar and passion on this subject has not quite led to the most clear think or well written response, lol. ThnkxJ