From the reactions to my last post, as well as comments elsewhere in the blogshpere, there seems to be an ideas that some party, alone at the Federal Level, can miraculously pass its policies and platforms and make us meet our Kyoto targets. Or reduce, even stop Global Warming.
Nothing can be further from the truth. There is no magic bullet. The only way to both protect the environment and to maintain a vibrant economy is to act at multiple levels of government and to take matters into our own hands.
First we must understand the problem and then act. First we Act Local.
According to the government's own numbers,19% of GHG come from road tranasportation - cars, trucks, mini-vans. Part of that comes from a shift to SUV and min-vans, but a greater part has been the shift to poor urban planning, as documented by Jane Jacobs in both "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" and "The Dark Age Ahead" - we have become car-centric rather than community centric. This can be seen as Jacob's mantra and her greatest legacy.
Let me give you and example.
I live in Barrhaven, a suburb in the southwest corner of Ottawa. Ottawa in general and Barrhaven in particular, have experienced incredible - some would say insane - growth since 2000. Our community has at least doubled in size since then and is the fastest growing part of Ottawa. New housing developments are springing up regularly and quickly, as are new shopping centres and malls.
The problem is, however, not the pace or size of the growth, but how it is being done. Almost every single home is built with 2 car garages, on long winding streets with no sidewalks (read Jacob's entire chapter on the importance of sidewalks to see why this distinction is important. You are not meant to walk here. To do anything you must drive. To go grocery shopping, even when you can see the grocery store, you must drive. To get to the bus, many people must drive to the park-and-ride. To get the kids to school, may people must either drive their children or arrange busing, once reserved for farm kids. Stores and houses are separated by large ring roads and highways, with the stores rimming large, open parking lots. this means to even get from one store in the mall to another, one must drive. Much of the items sold in these malls are not locally produced, but trucked in from places like Montreal, Toronto and Vacnouver (where they were offloaded from ships or planes...)
Contrast this (for urban planning purposes) to the Glebe. The Glebe is a neighbourhood much like the Annex in Toronto (where Jacob's herself lived until her death). Every home has a decent yard and almost all services, including most shopping, is within walking distance. The stores are small and locally owned and the neighbourhood thrives.
The difference is in the zoning. The Glebe and areas like it are zoned for mixed usage, while the new suburbs are zoned single use - either business or residential. Why? Because it suits the needs of Big Box stores and outlets and of the the home developers, not the needs of the people who live there. They can make bigger profits from store rentals and densely packed homes sold, without having to worry about the infrastructure - we pay for sewers, streets and what passes as public transportation to these places with our taxes.
This has been the blight of most urban centers for over 40 years. Lets fix it.
1. Vote for city councilors that support the idea of mixed zoning, to allow neighbourhoods to grow based on the ability to walk rather than drive. Or contact your current councilors (if no election is looming) and ask them to introduce this into your community. Smaller, neighbourhood businesses are almost always locally owned and operated and rely on locally produced items as much as possible (or can be encouraged to develop local supply replacement, another of Jacob's favorite remedies). We reduce our dependence on cars to drive to a store (or any other activity), our dependence on trucks to bring in commodities from great distances and keep the local economy strong.
2. Buy local as much as possible. Not really possible for things like bananas or coffee, but there are a lot of things - furniture, foods, services - that you can keep locally. Again, reduce the need for trucking or flying these things across country.
3. Support and fight for real mass transit solutions. Not new roads, but real public transport alternatives.
4. If your city council won't do these things (because they are beholden or friendly with the developers), do them yourself - create local, cooperative car-pooling or busing, open up local stores illegally if you have to.
These are but a few small steps that, when everyone does them, can have an impact.
For what it is worth, when I lived in Toronto's Annex community, I did not own, nor did I need, a car. Nearly every thing I needed - from groceries, to restaurants, to various services - existed in the community, an easy walk from my home. I now find myself in a situation where I may need a 2nd car, because of the things mentioned above. No amount of tax credits or rises in the price of gas will eliminate that. I want to walk to the store or the rink, I just can't.
If we have to reduce our consumption of gas, and reduce our need to drive, we need to make these local changes i the way we live. They can be done not only relatively cheaply, but they will make our cities and communities better places to live.