In September 1977 the Science Council of Canada wrote a landmark document, “Canada As A Conserver Society” [Report No. 27], that brought into focus for the first time our choice to be either a Consumer or Conserver Society. This report outlined how we should recognize the total cost of our wanton consumption of energy, the imperative of respecting the capacity of our biosphere, and laid the policy foundations for what we should do about it.
Also in 1977, the Canadian dept of Energy, Mines, and Resources published “An Energy Strategy for Canada” that mapped out the detailed policies necessary for energy self-reliance and environmental sustainability. For example the report identified the prime importance of appropriate energy pricing to cause shifts in consumption patterns. (Today this same concept has resurfaced as “carbon taxation”. )
Other innovative policy imperatives identified in this report included:
- energy conservation,
- interfuel substitution,
- increased R&D stimulus for sustainable energy, and
- greater Canadian content and participation in natural resource development. This last policy led to the creation of Petro Canada as a policy implementation vehicle.
These concepts vaulted Canada into a leadership position internationally on this topic. These ideas were widely reported and many young people, including myself, went “Green” and initiated Conserver Society practices such as recycling, re-use, repair, re-purposing, etc.
For example, the first community paper recycling project in Canada was launched by a volunteer group of Queen’s students in Kingston in the winter of 1978 (for which I have the honour of knowing and the privilege being one of those volunteers). This project was ultimately transferred to the City of Kingson and is now commonplace in virtually every municipality in Canada. The Recycling Council of Ontario was also born in 1978 as were similar recycling initiatives in Toronto and other cities.
But these initiatives were not enough to change our society into a Conserver Society. Although Canadians started re-cycling (e.g. 1/2 of the paper in Canada is currently recycled), and we did a better job of insulating our homes, we only reduced the trajectory of our energy consumption. We did not fundamentally change it.
30 years later, according to ”Key World Energy Statistics’” from the International Energy Agency 2006, North America with 5% of the world’s population consumes 33% of the world’s resources.
Notice Canada’s embarassing position at the far right of the graph. Nobody else consumes as much energy as we do per capita!
If every other person on the planet consumed on a per person basis as much as we do, we’d need another 3 planets to provide for that consumption!
This consumption translates directly into greenhouse gas emissions. The chart below shows the outrageous per capita CO2 emissions of Canada and the USA relative to the rest of the world. Thanks to our resource-intensive industries, we rank along with Australia and Saudi Arabia among the world’s worst polluters. Notice that most European countries are significantly less egregious emitters of CO2.
As Canadians we have nothing but shame. Our track record relative to the promises we made to the international community when we signed the Kyoto Accord is not very pretty as illustrated below.
Our recent election proved that politicians to not lead change, they respond to popular opinion. We must change popular opinion first and become embarassed enough to get out of our comfy chairs.