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A version of the following opinion editorial appeared in the Toronto Star, February 8, 2007

Kyoto: A little positivity please

Several decades ago, I ran on the cross-country team for Don Mills Collegiate in Toronto. I remember one big race with 300 runners on a rainy November day at York University. At the start I tripped, fell on the pavement and was trampled. By the time I dragged myself to my feet, I was dead last. I never felt so discouraged. I began to run anyway and ended up having one of my best races ever, passing all but 20 or so of the runners along the way to the finish line.

In 2006, Canada fell down in the race to save the biosphere from catastrophic climate change. Federal programs were slashed, and the importance of addressing global warming was downplayed.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper publicly questioned whether the burning of fossil fuels was responsible for global warming. An entire year was lost. This lost year came after a decade of Liberal procrastination, half measures, and delays.

Now, Canada is not far from dead last among the nations of the world in meeting Kyoto Protocol commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In the lost year, Canada also went from hero to zero in terms of its international reputation on Kyoto.

Former Liberal environment minister Stéphane Dion, considered by many the best chair of any of the international Kyoto conferences for his efforts at the second United Nations Climate Change Conference in Montreal, was followed by Conservative Rona Ambrose, who did not even show up to international Kyoto meetings she was to chair.

Harper's recent change of heart about the importance of the climate crisis and his appointment of John Baird as environment minister are both welcome.

But a chorus of politicians and pundits whine that Canada cannot possibly meet the target of a 6 per cent reduction from 1990 levels by 2008 to 2012. Canadians will never make the necessary changes to their personal lives and businesses, they complain.

Sierra Club of Canada has a more positive view about what Canadians, and their governments and industries can achieve once we collectively make the commitment to tackle this formidable challenge.

Canadians built a railway to the Pacific, helped defeat the most notorious tyrant in history, led international efforts to close the hole in the ozone layer, and convinced industry and American governments to stop acid rain.

We did these things without knowing at the beginning exactly how we were going to achieve them. So let's not give up on our Kyoto targets before we have even started work.

Still, after so many years of weak Canadian efforts, achieving dramatic reductions in carbon pollution will surely not be easy. Many Canadians are discouraged, thinking that we can never get on track.

At the same time, Canadians know that something is very wrong with the climate. The staggering hurricane year of 2005, the crazy winter weather in 2006-07, the ongoing once-in-a-thousand-years Australian drought, the mountain pine beetle scourge of western Canadian forests, and disappearing Arctic sea ice have led 25 per cent to 30 per cent of Canadians to rank the environment as their biggest top-of-mind issue in recent opinion polls.

They understand that the planet is coming into a period of mainly dire consequences.

Given the enormous privileges and natural heritage that Canadians enjoy, surely we owe it to the other nations of the world – not to mention our children and grandchildren – to get back on our feet and make every effort to be leaders, not laggards, in implementing the Kyoto Protocol and making the even deeper reductions that are needed.

And a little positivity would help.

Stephen Hazell is executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada.


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