It's Not a Perfect World

June 1, 2003

By Michael Jessen

In a week when Canadians should be celebrating the country's environmental bounty and beauty, new revelations show our everyday activities imperil our very future on the planet.

Media stories have bombarded us about SARS, BSE, and West Nile Virus. These scares have received pages of newspaper attention even though their impact is minimal. In the seven months since the first case of SARS was diagnosed, 728 people have died worldwide from the disease. During the same time period, 583,000 people have died in motor vehicle accidents. But these diseases are just the tip of the iceberg of panic-causing problems facing Canada as we celebrate Canadian Environment Week June 1 - 7.

Lost among the headline grabbing disease scares was a report by the World Wildlife Fund of Canada (www.wwf.ca). Entitled The Nature Audit, the report examines the effects of human activity on the country's wildlife and natural habitats. It concludes we are living at the expense of nature, not with it. If we continue to neglect the environment, we can expect a continued decline in the biodiversity of our nation which has already resulted in the depletion of Atlantic cod stocks and put more than 400 species at risk in Canada.

Canadians have an enormous stewardship task: 20 percent of the world's remaining undeveloped areas, 25 percent of the wetlands, 20 percent of the freshwater, and more than 10 percent of the forests. What we do with these valuable resources in the coming years will determine the future of our flora and fauna -- and ourselves. The report has identified an urgent and growing nation-wide need to protect, manage and restore the nationís natural capital.

The WWF report follows on the heels of a study by two fisheries biologists at Dalhousie University in Halifax that found that the giant fish -- the blue-finned tunas, halibut, cod and sharks -- have dropped in abundance by 90 percent. One in ten is left.

According to the study by Ransom Myers and colleague Boris Worm, it takes only 15 years for today's industrial fishery to reduce a fish population by 90 percent. Their research became the May 15th cover story of the prestigious journal Nature (www.nature.com).

"What we've done is sliced the head off of the world marine ecosystems and we don't know the consequences," says Myers. "Where we've done this before, like the cod in Newfoundland, the cod has not recovered. We do not understand why. And we're doing this to all the world's ecosystem simultaneously without really keeping track of what's going on."

In a 12-page investigation of the WWF report, the June 2nd issue of Maclean's (www.macleans.ca/xta-doc2/2003/06/02/Cover/60063.shtml) does an admirable job of alerting Canadians to the issues facing us on this Canadian Environment Week. Since the 1950s, Canada's paved roads have nearly quadrupled in length. Our cities have sprawled into the countryside, spewing pollution during the march. Large dams have destroyed vast habitats and altered water temperatures and nutrient levels. Eight particularly threatening invasive species are poised to infiltrate the Canadian environment. Honeybees are in peril from a mite that started spreading in the 1980s and has become pesticide resistant.

The Nature Audit calls on us to:

 Conserve the virtually untouched north

 Better manage northern forests

 Designate more Marine Protected Areas

 Restore habitats to aid species recovery

 Curb invasive species, which cause damage in the billions of dollars annually

 Adopt industry standards that favour environmental protection

 Protect long-lived species that reproduce slowly -- everything from carnivores to whales, turtles and yellow cypress trees

 Reduce toxin use and get government approval for safer alternatives

 Limit urban sprawl and promote public transit.

The WWF praises the country for making "significant commitments to conserve nature," including:

 The Mackenzie Valley pipeline project, which promises to be sensitive to natural and cultural areas

 The federal government's announcement to create 10 new national parks and five new national marine conservation areas, and its promise to improve the "ecological integrity" of the 39 existing parks

 DaimlerChrysler Canada's switch to a water-based, lead-free primer on its vehicles at its assembly plant in Windsor, Ont. -- a move that eliminates the use of 25 tonnes of lead per year

 Forestry companies, such as Tembec Inc., which have adopted voluntary management standards that go above and beyond what the government asks for.

The David Suzuki Foundation (www.davidsuzuki.org) takes a proactive approach by encouraging Canadians to commit for a year to undertake three of 10 suggested ways to conserve nature. They are:

 Reduce home energy use by 10 per cent (heating accounts for nearly 60 per cent of energy consumption in the average Canadian home)

 Choose an energy-efficient house and appliances (R-2000 homes use 30 per cent less energy than standard homes, and new refrigerators use 40 per cent less energy than models made a decade ago)

 Don't use dangerous pesticides

 Don't eat meat for a day each week (grain production uses far less water and land)

 Buy locally grown food to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants from food transportation

 Choose a fuel-efficient vehicle (a typical SUV burns almost twice as much fuel as a modern station wagon)

 Walk, bike, carpool or take transit

 Choose a home close to work or school to cut down on driving

 Support public transit systems

 Learn more and prompt politicians to promote conservation.

In the most hopeful news of all, the giant global reinsurance company Swiss Re told the Wall Street Journal that it is seriously considering eliminating insurance coverage to the corporate directors and officers of companies that find themselves vulnerable to financial risk as a result of possible shareholder lawsuits over their lack of action to mitigate global warming. (The story appeared in the April 16 issue of Wall Street Journal www.wsj.com and a summary can be found at www.cfo.com/printarticle/0,5317,9443|,00.html).

Nature is under siege. The planet Earth is our only home. How we conduct our everyday activities can influence real change, if we can learn to do them in less harmful ways. We don't live in a perfect world, but we can each make it better. Canadian Environment Week is the perfect time to rededicate ourselves to protecting the environment on which our life depends. Go out and make a difference.

RESOURCES - For more than thirty years, Canadian Environment Week has been held the first week of June each year to coincide with World Environment Day (www.unep.org/wed/2003/ ) proclaimed by the United Nations in 1972 and celebrated on June 5. The theme of this year's World Environment Day is Water -- Two Billion People are Dying for It. Canadian Environment Week -- established through a Private Member's Bill introduced by British Columbia MP Tom Goode -- was given Royal Assent in March of 1971. The name "Canadian Environment Week" was chosen to bring attention to the many facets of the environment and the benefits of environmental protection. Environment Canada's Canadian Environment Week web site is at www.ec.gc.ca/e-week/index_e.htm.

Clean Air Day (www.ec.gc.ca/cleanair/index_e.cfm) was proclaimed by the Government of Canada to increase public awareness and action on two key environmental priorities, clean air and climate change. It is part of Canadian Environment Week, which was created to promote and to celebrate activities that care and nurture our environmental legacy. Clean Air Day is celebrated on June 4. The Nelson Clean Air Protection action group will be hosting an information booth at the Chahko-Mika Mall in Nelson on June 13 and 14.

For those of you who aren't running nations or making major political decisions, you can still stay engaged with climate issues by checking out a cool new web site, www.CarbonCounter.org. The Carbon Counter helps you estimate your yearly output of CO2, while allowing you to offset your emissions through donating to the Climate Trust's global portfolio of energy projects. These include energy-efficient renovations of buildings, restoration initiatives, and the use of "low-carbon blended cements in public and private construction projects."

You can get David Suzuki's take on the current focus on "new diseases" at www.enn.com/news/2003-06-03/s_4695.asp.

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change (www.pewclimate.org/) has released a report on the impact of the American transportation system on the production of greenhouse gases. It's a huge impact that is growing!

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CIFA) issues regular food and allergy alerts. Bookmark their web site www.inspection.gc.ca/english/toce.shtml and check it regularly. On average there are two food alerts every month. The site also has information about the BSE disease outbreak and tips for handling food.

FoodWatch (www.foodwatch.ca) provides information and tools to Canadians so that they can make informed decisions about food safety.

Michael Jessen is a Nelson-based consultant who helps companies and communities achieve a sustainable future. He can be reached by telephone at 250-229-5632 or by e-mail at Michael@zerowaste.ca. His company -- Zero Waste Services -- has an award-winning web site at www.zerowaste.ca.


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