Monday, December 14, 2009

The Pie in the Sky Greening of Quebec is a tale Told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing. -Macbeth

For personal reasons I don't usually write negatively about Premier Charest, but I shall make an exception and comment on his speech about reducing greenhouse gases out of profound admiration for his unbridled 'chutzpah.'

I couldn't help but get a chuckle at the ridiculously amateur and completely ineffective plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that he outlined in his speech on November 24th. It was patently clear that he hadn't put much effort or content into his plan, correctly and cynically concluding that nobody in the press would dare to tell him that his plan was as phoney as an Emperor with no clothes.
That the press took him seriously and failed to challenge him on the crock that he spouted was another case of failed journalism.

As skillfully as David Copperfield, our illustrious premier used the tried and true magical device of misdirection to concentrate and direct our focus elsewhere. Suffering from scandal after scandal and in virtual free fall in the polls, the Premier decided to re-focus the subject of public debate in the faint hope of changing the dynamics of a government in trouble.

And so, out of the blue, Premier Jean Charest announced, with a straight face, that by 2020, the province will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 per cent below 1990 levels, a goal similar to the target the European Union has adopted. The idea is so absurd, it as testament to his sang-froid and his confidence in his ability to mislead convince us.

Let's do some high school math to figure out what his proposed reduction actually means. For argument's sake, let's assign a number of 100% to the benchmark 1990 emissions level that the Premier referred to. To reduce emissions by the 20% that the Premier proposed, we'd have to get down to 80% of that number. Considering that our emissions have risen by 26% since 1990, we'd have to cut  greenhouse emissions by a whopping 36% in ten years to achieve Mr. Charest's goal.

Doable? Not a chance!
To pretend that it is, is nothing but pure fantasy, as realistic as Canada's Kyoto Accord commitment wherein we promised to cut emissions by a paltry 6% and failed miserably, actually increasing our output by 26%. Deja Vu?

How does the Premier intend to get to this mythical land of environmental equilibrium? Through a nonsensical and unrealistic mixture of hyperbole, magic and fantasy. His plan doesn't even stand up to the most cursory of analysis.
"Mr. Charest said he plans to reach the new objective by investing in public transportation and adopting tough regulations to reduce automobile emissions similar to the strict standards set in California. The province is also hoping rapid development and marketing of electric automobiles will significantly reduce its dependency on fossil fuels." Globe and Mail
Electric Cars Ha Ha!!!!

Let's quickly expose Mr. Charest's ideas as pie-in-the sky.

Increasing Public Transportation. People take public transport because a car is either unaffordable or inconvenient. If Mr. Charest thinks he's going to convince a significant number of those people, for which a car is affordable and a convenient alternative to public transport, to switch, out of an altruistic respect for the environment,  he is sadly out of touch with the human condition. A fact that environmentalists ignore, is that public transport is only marginally more environmentally friendly than cars. Aside from rush hour, buses and trains run all day long, near empty, while cars remain parked. At any rate public transport ridership in Canada has been increasing by less than ½ of one percent per year, unimpressive at best. If Mr. Charest increases that figure by ten-fold (a mean feat)  it will mean a paltry 5% increase in public transport use, hardly a breakthrough.

Lower emission Standards. The internal combustion engine has progressed to the point where new efficiencies are going to be marginal at best. The only way to lower emissions is to mandate smaller cars with smaller engines. The other alternatives is to eliminate cars. Do you think Mr. Charest is planning to enact legislation setting upper limits on size and horsepower or by banning the second family car?

Electric Cars. I'm not even going to comment. Perhaps Mr. Charest's next suggestion is that we power our cars with foot power à la Fred Flintstone.

For Mr. Charest and the citizens of Quebec discussing the reduction of carbon emissions without addressing the proverbial 'Elephant in the Room" is disingenuous.

Instead of nonsensical solutions, Mr. Charest and the good citizens of the province should address the problem of the hundreds of thousands of wood burning stoves, still in use in Quebec, which represent a monumental environmental disaster. While several Quebec cities have recognized the problem and moved to ban the purchase or installation of new stoves, nobody is remotely considering a plan to get rid of the old ones.
...."This is as rational as banning the purchase of new cars but letting people continue driving gas guzzlers."

..."Environment Canada asserts,  for example, that a conventional wood stove, burning for nine hours, emits as much particulate matter – known historically as soot – as a car driven 18,000 kilometres.

Combined, Montreal's wood stoves emit as much particulate matter as a car driven 207 billion kilometres. -NEIL REYNOLDS Globe and Mail
What is more disheartening is that 90% of the wood stoves currently in use in Quebec, are the old inefficient ones that burn up to 94% less cleanly than the newer models, the ones that follow EPA standards. Quebeckers who heat with wood and who are too cheap, lazy and inconsiderate to upgrade their equipment in the name of lowered emissions, are the real environmental bandits among us. Instead of carping about the Alberta Tar Sands, why don't we Quebeckers and Mr. Charest concentrate a little closer to home. An inconvenient truth, perhaps?

If Mr. Charest was the least bit interested in making genuine progress in reducing Quebec's emissions, he'd start by dealing with this environmental disaster,  one that can be actually remedied rather easily, or a least with less pain and expense than other solutions that reduce emissions.

Quebec has the lowest electricity rate in North America and forcing the public to switch to electric heating from wood (or oil and gas, for that matter), would be the first logical step in lowering our carbon footprint. If Quebeckers are the environmentalists that they claim to be, we would embrace a law that would phase out wood-burning stoves and gas and oil furnaces. Electricity may cost more than fossil fuels, but the cost-benefit co-efficient is the highest of any currently available option to lower carbon emissions. Banning fossil fuels as heating devices, would be the first real step to changing our lifestyle and a concrete commitment to change.  It's a no-brainer.

So why isn't the Premier talking about meaningful change? Because deep down, he knows that real change is hard to sell. The public, despite the talk, isn't really ready to sacrifice. That's why our carbon footprint continues to grow.
I once heard an environmentalist question an audience, asking how many people had really made a significant change in lowering their personal carbon footprint, a change that entailed considerable personal hardship or expense. Nary a hand went up.

Instead of real change, our Premier talks about mythical electric cars. The  media eats it up and the public is satisfied that we're supposedly on the way to doing something.

Deep down, none of us really care enough to change our lives, and none of us are prepared to take a significant hit in our pocketbook or in our lifestyle.

As we poke fun at world leaders who have jetted over to the Copenhagen conference on climate change in private planes and who are flitting about the city in oversized limousines, let us accept that we are every bit as hypocritical.

Mr. Charest, you are not alone....


  1. Please watch "who killed the electric car?" and excellent film. Mr. Editor, viable electric cars were on the market in the US and Canada in 1990 and that was long before our current advancements in battery technology. You can do it. We, the people of Portland, OR need you the fine people of Quebec (who I beleive live in a nation less beholden to Mega Corporation interests) to create these cares and sell them to the world. Please.

  2. "Canadian Transit Ridership Breaks Record Again in 2008"

    "TORONTO, June 17 /CNW/ - Public transit ridership statistics for 2008
    showed an increase of 3.5% nationally for another all-time record year with
    1.82-billion trips, as reported today by the Canadian Urban Transit
    Association (CUTA). This increase is a 16 percent increase over the five-year
    period since 2003.
    ' "For six consecutive years, Canadian transit systems continue to out do
    the previous year's record," says CUTA Chair Charles Stolte. "The growth is an
    increase of 62 million trips, which is more than the entire ridership at a
    transit system the size of Québec City or Edmonton Transit."
    ' "What is most significant about the new figures is that - while ridership
    grew by 2.6% nationally in the first half of 2008 - it grew by 4.5% in the
    second half, compared to the same period a year earlier," says CUTA President
    & CEO Michael Roschlau. That was precisely the time when the economy started
    to fall into recession and unemployment was going up, while gas prices had
    fallen back down from the spike in the summer of 2008. Historically, transit
    ridership has been negatively correlated with these trends ... "