George Bush means Canada never has to say it's sorry at international meetings on global warming. At the G8, Canadian leaders seemed to be talking real cool compared with U.S. president Bush. But when all has been said and done, more has been said than done. Once talk and complacency have gone up in smoke, Canada is in a dead heat for last place, barely behind the U.S.
If it weren't for Toronto's soft energy projects, we'd be worse than the neighbour to the south we so love to malign.
Other industrial nations are nowhere near as hot and bothered as Canada. In France, the average citizen dumps 12 tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, has already surpassed its Kyoto target by 1.9 per cent. Germany airfills (the atmospheric equivalent of landfills) 12 tons a person, and is 2.8 per cent away from meeting its Kyoto pledge. Brits each airfill 11 tons, and have already met Kyoto targets.
The average Yankee blowhard does 24 tons, leaving the country 20 per cent away from meeting Kyoto expectations. Sucking and blowing at the same time, Canucks throw out 23 tons of CO2 a year, and the country is 26 per cent away from being on target.
Change is in the air at the local level, but after you remove Toronto (see Greenhouse Time Warp) from the equations, Americans are probably ahead of Canada.
Across the U.S., 145 mayors have formed a U.S. Conference of Mayors to galvanize action, and 169 cities have pledged to meet or beat Kyoto standards by reducing emissions 6 per cent below 1990 levels before 2012. About seventeen cities are already close to that goal, saving their ratepayers $600 million along the way, according to a review by British consultancy the Climate Group.
The report was released at a gala mid-July event hosted by Robert Redford at his 6,000-acre Sundance resort in Utah - an example of what star power, if not solar power, can do to gain the attention of mayors. "You must understand that tackling climate change is financially a competitive advantage, not a liability," the Climate Group's Steve Howard told the mayors.
Portland, Oregon, has already rolled its emissions back to 1990 levels.
Seattle is already halfway there. Mayor Greg Nickels offers cash incentives to people who carpool or sell their second car, and even shares 130 city-owned cars with pooling commuters. The city's vehicle fleet is being converted to bio-diesel and hybrid electric vehicles.
In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley shows what can be done with two ideas that first came on the North American scene in Toronto: green roofs, which are now demanded of all box stores and will soon spread across the city, and "living streets," where pedestrians and cyclists have the run of the road.
By contrast, Canadian municipalities do good networking on the Web. In Canada, Partners for Climate Protection links 124 individual cities with both the United Nations' Cities for Climate Protection campaign and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, which sponsors projects paid for from an Ottawa-financed climate fund. Although the municipal Partners acknowledge that 350 million tonnes of greenhouse gases - close to half Canada's emissions - are "under the direct or indirect control or influence of municipal governments," the programs highlighted as successes rank as amateur. Calgary installed low-energy streetlights, while Ottawa flares off gases leaking from its landfill sites, for instance, both good examples of leadership 20 years ago.
The same embarrassing pattern holds for power utilities. In 2006, Illinois will supply the windy city of Chicago with electricity from the world's biggest wind farm, which will produce 400 megawatts of power while providing an income stream for farmers and rural centres. The state will pay citizens to reduce energy consumption by 25 per cent over the next decade, all part of an "all-American energy" plan, Governor Pat Quinn says.
In Connecticut, the state utility's Cool Sentry program pays residents up to $100 to have a device installed that turns off air conditioners if there's a risk of overloading the system and causing a 2003-style electrical brownout. Customers can keep the money or put it toward solar power purchases.
In penny-wise, pound foolish Ontario, the utility pays top dollar to U.S. utilities to import their surplus power during peak periods, but spends very little rewarding citizens for cutting consumption. An amount equal to .4 per cent of the money sent south is allocated to credits for wise users here, according to the Ontario Clean Air Alliance.
Avoiding another billion-dollar brownout seems to involve touching wood, a substance conveniently found atop the shoulders of leading Ontario utility planners.
The U.S. is also ahead when it comes to creating market institutions to reward corporations that cut back on their smoking. Chicago boasts a Climate Exchange where heavy smokers buy carbon credits from companies that have cut energy use, thereby giving them a financial reward for going beyond the bare minimum required by the law.
The exchange has 90 corporate members, including Ford, Motorola and IBM, who all agree to reduce emissions by at least 1 per cent a year. Gild it and they will come, the thought seems to be.
Also on the market front, ExposeExxon launched a mid-July 50-city boycott of ExxonMobil, the most unrepentant of the global warming deniers. But hitting corporations in the pocketbook seems too adversarial for Canucks. email@example.com