Shared Air Summit

I attended the Shared Air Summit at the Royal York on Monday.  You knew something special was going on by the number of security guards.

It was a star studded event, with Senator John Kerry live via satellite, Dalton McGuinty, Roberta Bondar, and numerous other luminaries.  Hazel McCallion, and Marc Garneau were in the audience.  Herb Grey, looking very fit, chaired one of the panels.  Sara Renner, one of Canada olympic medalists in cross country skiing gave a talk.  Ontario’s environment minister, Laurel Broten was the host of the event, with about 700 in attendance.  Elizabeth May, a leadership candidate for the Green Party, was in the audience.
The best lines came from John Kerry.  He was devastating on those in Congress and the White House who are in denial about climate change.  “America’s energy policy has remained rhetorical.”  He mentioned that one of the invited experts to a Congressional committee on climate change was the author of the novel Jurrasic Park.  “It is time to stop debating with authors and oil geologists.  The flagrant disavowel of science is the triumph of the modern day robber barons, and their supporters in Congress.  As Fox News has discovered, you can make a debate if you can find even one person with another point of view.  Washington is full of flat earth politicians, and so far, the flat earth caucus is unconvinced of the need for action.”

At the same time, he conveyed that the debate in the US is moving forward, and that the momentum to do something about climate change, and about smog, is building.

Dalton McGuinty seemed sincere when he said he wanted to change our ways.  “We have a heavy responsibility to take action.  Because we know better.  In an ideal world, we would move much faster (toward closing coal plants etc.), but in my world, the advice we have received is that it will take longer.”  He wants to make change, but his advisors, in Ontario’s electricity bureaucracy, are telling him he can’t.  Somehow, he needs to take charge of the advisors, and get them moving in his desired direction.  Sincerity with little action rings hollow.

There was a good presentation by Ken Chapman on the impact of smog on asthma.  Smog acts as a magnifier of allergen sensitivity, and so dramatically increases both the incidence of asthma attacks, and the severity.

Sara Renner spoke of how when she joined Canada’s ski team, the team was performing poorly.  She had finished poorly at Nagano, but the team had improved by Salt Lake City, and of course was very strong in Torino (she was the one who broke her ski pole, and had a new one handed to her by the Norwegian coach).  The team set difficult but achievable goals.  “We weren’t going to make excuses.”  She went on to say that our actions on air pollution and climate change should be like this.   No excuses sounds good to me.  She grew up in the Assiniboine Lodge, an off grid facility, with clean mountain air.

Claude Bechard, Quebec environment minister, outlined his government’s actions on climate change and air quality improvement.  Quebec emits 12 tonnes of CO2 per person compared to 23 tonnes average in Canada.  But still they are targetting to meet Kyoto.  They introduced a carbon tax to further this goal, are implementing California’s fuel efficiency standards for cars, enforcing speed limits on trucks, and implementing energy efficiency programs for buildings.  His talk was interrupted by applause several times.  “Kyoto is not a dream.”

Thomas Carsten made a compelling case for use of co-generation, which is a very underutilized technology in Ontario.  He estimated that we could obtain 9000 MW of capacity if we “just changed the rules.”  9000 MW would more than cover the current 6500 MW of coal, and would eliminate the need to build new nuclear stations.  And all of the power would be created simply by using heat that we currently waste.  It would seem that Ontario’s electricity advisors might want to get on with changing the rules.

Gordon Lambert, VP of sustainable development for Suncor made an interesting observation.  He asked, “What would have been the outcome of the civil rights struggle in the US, if Martin Luther King, instead of saying, “I have a dream,” instead said, “I live a nightmare”.”   He is right.  Doomsaying doesn’t work.  We need to present hope – and there is no shortage of hope to present.

The US panel was interesting.  All of the panelists were from local and state or multi state clean air initiative, rather than the US Federal government.  My perception is that things are moving on the air quality and climate change areas far more than Canadians perceive, but the action is all at the local level.  Karen May, a legislator from Illinois, said that they had more email in support of a climate change initiative than on any other bill she has worked on.  She believes Al Gore’s new movie – the Inconvient Truth, as well as a recent HBO show, has had a considerable impact.  It would seem the flat earth movement is losing traction at the grass roots level.

This was the biggest hope presented.  When the people have the dream, change will occur.

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