Thursday, October 12, 2006

Targets, not talks, vital on emissions

A shout-out to my brother Charles, who has this letter published in the Toronto Star yesterday.

Targets, not talks, vital on emissions
Re: Editorial, Oct. 11.

This editorial discusses Prime Minister Stephen Harper's plans to "reduce emissions of both greenhouse gases and smog-producing pollutants." While it is heartening to hear Harper's government even acknowledge the environment, we have to be careful not to conflate smog and global warming. The same vehicles may contribute to both, but when it comes to improving the technology, these are two entirely different beasts.

Most smog-causing emissions are accidental by-products of burning fossil fuels. These emissions can be reduced by making comparatively minor changes in a vehicle's design, and this can have a noticeable effect on local air quality. However, greenhouse emissions are fundamentally required for a combustion engine to function, and their effects can only be seen on a global scale. Reducing CO2 emissions from a vehicle means redesigning the entire technology to burn less fuel in the first place — a much more expensive feat — or doing away with fossil fuels altogether.

The latter case might bring up fanciful dreams of electric or hydrogen-powered cars that produce no greenhouse emissions at all. Unfortunately, all the energy used to power the car or create the hydrogen fuel will have to come from somewhere, and it won't be stored very efficiently. What's the use in cutting tailpipe CO2 emissions when the same amount (or more) is emitted at a power plant nearby? The atmosphere doesn't particularly care where greenhouse gases are coming from — the whole world inherits the consequences.

Effective global warming strategies must take a "life-cycle" approach that tracks which actions produce real global emission reductions.

For all its flaws, the Kyoto accord was meant as a way to agree on co-ordinated action that would ensure greenhouse reductions actually happen.

Independent regulations on separate industries in individual countries will never be able to guarantee greenhouse gas reductions — they may only give the fiddlers a tune to play while the planet burns.

Charles Troster, Vancouver, B.C.

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