Monday, May 08, 2006

Environment Forum (More LPCO AGM Notes)

On Saturday, May 6 the LPCO AGM held a Forum on environmental issues. The panelists were Ellen Greenwood of Greenwood & Associates, Ken Ogilvie of Pollution Probe, and MP John Godfrey. Most of the 1200 delegates attended the forum and there was an outpouring of commitment to the issue and frustration with the lack of action by the previous Liberal governments. These are my notes of what was said...

Ellen Greenwood said that the Liberals have been great on policy but now it's time for action. She said the two main needs are to improve the energy efficiency of the economy and lower the carbon density of our energy production. She said it's a myth that this hurts the economy; in fact, it can help the economy. For example, Europe used market-driven incentives to promote efficient technologies. Germany had an industrial strategy (not environmental) to promote solar technology. Europe is ahead because they faced problems sooner because of their population density.

She said our problem is that we haven't learned how to grow properly. Sustainability is about good planning - a balance of economy, environment, and health.

Ken Ogilvie, Executive Director of Pollution Probe, spoke next. He said that the current Ontario government is showing environmental leadership but there isn't much other environmental leadership in Canada.

Ogilvie said that Pollution Probe was formed in 1969. He said that back then, they focused on "end of the pipe" pollution: pollutants coming out of a pipe and mostly into water. He said the next period dealt with the "pollution prevention principle" - getting people to reuse, recycle, etc. Now we're into the "design for the environment" period - design production processes and products that are better for the environment. He also mentioned Germany, and said that Germany is spending huge amounts on energy sources such as wind and solar: "they are driving their economy into a vision of the future."

John Godfrey said that climate change is the greatest challenge of our generation, and reminded us that last summer there were 53 bad air days in Ontario. He said we are approaching the end of cheap energy. He said that the Martin government took some initiatives, such as Project Green, to help the environment, but we didn't do enough, and the period 1993-2003 was "ten lost years." He thinks that climate change and energy should be top national priorities. It should be a great national movement - like WW2 - and not a problem that seems too expensive or too difficult. He also added that "Sweden chose a different path and made a lot of money doing so."

The first audience comment was by Tony O'Donahue. Tony was very critical of the past Liberal record on the environment and suggested that the party should hold a national conference on the environment. He suggested changing the building code at the national level; having a public discussion of greenhouse gases and transportation and the fact that Canada is consuming twice as much energy as Japan and Germany. The panelists discussed the building code and the need to update it. They said that the technology for more energy-efficient buildings exist and builders are frustrated.

The next audience member also expressed frustration with our lack of movement on the environment, and the lack of enforcement of environmental regulations. S/he asked how we can ensure that the next Liberal government will actually take action, and the panelists urged everyone to keep bringing it up with the leadership candidates.

The next audience member pointed out that Mike Harris enacted a waste diversion act that charges levies based on the weight of packaging, with the money passed on to municipalities to pay for dealing with the waste packaging. S/he said that this is effective, and asked for other ideas. The panelists mentioned that the tar sands have a very generous tax regime and said that we should employ tax shifting in Alberta to recoup the public costs of the oil extraction. Another panelist said that there are three areas of solution: technology, infrastructure, and pricing; backed up by regulation and education.

The next audience member has a company that builds Tirewall houses, which are made from old tires. He said that Canada and the US produce enough waste tires to build 150,000 tirewall houses a year.

Next up was Tim Flannery, a Kitchener-Centre environmental lawyer who worked on the Uniroyal case, among others. He said that environmental laws need constitutional force - an environmental bill of rights.

Constantine Campbell, a research scientist, said that we need to do more to produce ethanol from damaged grain.

In summation, Greenwood said that at this point the solutions are known and we have to act. She pointed out that there is a $1 trillion market for environment technologies.

Ogilvie added that Pollution Probe produces primers on all these issues that are freely available on their web site. He said each primer takes two years to write. He challenged the audience to read the primers and become better educated about the issues.

Godfrey pointed out that the environment is a wedge issue with the Conservatives. He mentioned that 85% of Quebeckers support Kyoto. He also said that this topic will, sadly, become more of an issue as summer comes along and we have smog days.


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