Climate for change Ten ways to greener highways

Australian author, explorer and conservationist Tim Flannery has urged the Canadian government to step up its efforts and act more decisively on climate change, as part of a mass global mobilization program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Flannery, a former Harvard professor whose book The Weather Makers inspired Al Gore’s Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, was in the national capital region yesterday to address the annual Canada 2020 conference in Gatineau, Que.

Named Australian of the Year by his federal government in January, Flannery’s keynote presentation, “The environment: Why we need to bring the public along,” underscored the rapid rate of change in the earth’s atmosphere and how even small changes collectively can make a massive impact.

Riding on this year’s conference theme, “Who should do what in a progressive Canada?”, debate focused on the potential for a new approach to governance: rather than the old top-down method, governments should more actively engage with its citizens in what’s known as bottom-up governance.

Flannery pressed governments around the world to include the public, to help change our lifestyles and to work with industry on policy refreshment aimed at a new formula for a sustainable environment.

For his part, new Environment Minister John Baird, introducing Flannery to the conference, said he had to agree with his boss (Prime Minister Stephen Harper) and promised Canadians would soon see tough new measures designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Since this time last year, the environment has shifted coordinates on the radar of politicians on Parliament Hill, moving much further up on the list of priorities on the Canadian political landscape. What was once Harper’s list of five priorities under Canada’s new government for “getting things done for all of us” is now a set of six, since the Feds began pushing the ecoAction agenda.

Among Flannery’s recommendations to the Canadian government was a moral responsibility and mandate to both educate and engage with the private sector and the nation’s citizens, raising public awareness and providing more information on how to change the way we live.

If every small change collectively can significantly reduce toxic emissions and help to save energy, transport provides one road to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle. It’s not always practical to hop on the bus, but we could choose to drive smarter, for example.

The federal government targeted this year’s Toronto Auto Show to announce $36 million in funding for new programs aimed at raising awareness and education, increasing the availability of more green cars and trucks, and encouraging Canadians to make informed choices when purchasing a vehicle.

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) will receive $21 million in federal funding for the ecoENERGY initiative for Personal Vehicles, set to launch next month. The program will provide fuel consumption information and decision-making tools such as vehicle labels, guides and interactive Web sites, to encourage consumers to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles that are currently available on the market.

Johanne Geoffrion, chief of the EnerGuide for Vehicles program at NRCan, notes the importance of Web campaigns. “We understand that more and more Canadians are using the Web and interactive sites as tools to make certain decisions,” she says. “We’d like to continue in the future to assist Canadians to make wise decisions when it’s time to purchase a vehicle.”

NRCan currently has an online tool where users can compare the fuel consumption of various makes and models of vehicles for a specific model year to assist in selecting the most fuel-efficient vehicle that meets an individual’s everyday needs.

Drivers can search by year as far back as 1995 under categories such as class, manufacturer and fuel type. The results can then be sorted by model or make, fuel efficiency or carbon dioxide emissions.

“This tool not only provides information on technologies, specifically fuel-saving technologies, but also on what Canadians need. Sometimes Canadians don’t always know what they need, but rather they just know what size of vehicle they require,” says Geoffrion.

“Whether they have a family, whether they have children or if they don’t have children, or they are single, this tool is to help Canadians find the right vehicle for them. This tool is easy; it’s user friendly and not too complicated, so that users can just click here, click there and be on the right path.”

With only a few clicks, a user can get the fuel consumption ratings for a particular vehicle and compare several different makes and models and rank the fuel efficiency of vehicles sold in Canada, adds Geoffrion.

The Web offers many resources to stay informed and keep up to date on the latest greening technologies for you and your vehicle. Here are some helpful and insightful tips on what you can do to stay aware and conscientious to help the environment:

1) If you’re in the market for a new car, use NRCan’s online Fuel Consumption Ratings tool to compare the fuel consumption of various makes and models of vehicles for a specific model year.

2) Drivers also have the option of using NRCan’s online Compare Vehicles tool to select and compare different makes and models and rank the fuel efficiency of vehicles sold in Canada.

3) Natural Resources Canada lists the most fuel-efficient vehicles for the year 2007 and also has an archive of past years available, going back to 1999.

4) Familiarize yourself online with the EnerGuide label.

This label can be found on all new passenger cars, light-duty vans, pickup trucks and special-purpose vehicles. The label shows the city and highway fuel consumption ratings and an estimated annual fuel cost for that particular vehicle. Use this information to compare different vehicles.

5) Natural Resources Canada has a Web site dedicated to unnecessary vehicle engine idling, in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. Visit it here: Welcome to the Idle-Free Zone

6) “Be Tire Smart” is a Web site sponsored by the Rubber Association of Canada and the Government of Canada under the leadership of NRCan’s Office of Energy Efficiency. This Web site is meant to promote awareness of good tire maintenance practices. Visit the site here: Be Tire Smart

7) Similarly, visit Natural Resources Canada’s page on vehicle maintenance. The page can be visited here: Tips for keeping your car in shape

8) Most people are aware that there are different types of fuel out there, but a lot of people fear change. For instance, ethanol fuel is friendlier to the environment than gasoline and can be used in virtually any gasoline-powered vehicle manufactured after 1980. Ethanol is already available at more than 1000 service stations across Canada, but how many of us actually use it?

Natural Resources Canada has a Web page dedicated to promoting and raising awareness of alternative fuels. Visit the site here: Alternative Fuels

9) Governments at all levels across Canada offer rebates and incentives to Canadians to be greener and more environmentally aware not only with their vehicles but in all aspects of their lives.

To find out more information about incentives and rebates, visit NRCan’s Incentive and Rebates page

10) Awareness and education is for any age, but begins with children. While too young to drive, they can at least get a head start on learning the value of the environment so they can make proper, informed decisions about being environmentally sound when it comes time to get behind the wheel.

For 2007, NRCan is using the ecoENERGY Efficiency Initiative theme – using less, living better – to promote awareness and education. The page can be visited here: Calendar Club for Kids

Outside of Parliament Hill, even Hollywood is becoming greener. At this year’s Oscars, when Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth won for best documentary, movie stars enjoyed “green” limousine rides en route to the red carpet.

Global Green USA escorted Hollywood’s elite to the event, shuttling them to the Academy Awards in electric sports cars and plug-in hybrids, and the line of limousines waiting their turn to drop stars off at the event were idling on cleaner fuels than ever before.

Recently, Natural Resources Canada held their own annual awards, as they announced the 2007 list of the most fuel-efficient vehicles.

The annual EnerGuide Awards, administered by NRCan’s Office of Energy Efficiency, are presented for the most fuel-efficient vehicles for the current model year.

Mazda Canada was one of the winning manufacturers for 2007.

This year’s top winning manufacturers with their makes and models are:

* Honda Canada – two-seater car (Insight), compact car (Civic Hybrid), minivan (Odyssey EX-L and Touring);

* Toyota Canada – subcompact car (gasoline) (Yaris), mid-size car (Prius), station wagon (gasoline) (Matrix – co-winner);

* Ford Motor Company of Canada – pickup truck (Ranger – co-winner), special purpose vehicle (Escape Hybrid);

* General Motors of Canada – large van (Chevrolet Express Cargo and GMC Savana Cargo – co-winners), station wagon (gasoline) (Pontiac Vibe – co-winner);

* Volkswagen Canada – subcompact car (diesel) (New Beetle TDI Diesel), station wagon (diesel) (Jetta TDI Diesel Wagon);

* Hyundai Auto Canada – full-size car (Sonata); and

* Mazda Canada – pickup truck (B2300 — co-winner)

The full list is available here: NRCan’s list of the most fuel-efficient vehicles for 2007

Readers write back:

Drew Steeves of Springhill, N.S., on March 29 wrote: I believe a carbon tax is a means to reduce emissions with appropriate regulation and incentives.

An option for revenues from carbon taxes is to shift taxes from earnings (personal and corporate) to taxing energy. This shift would prompt everyone in society and business to reexamine their energy footprint and restructure society to be as energy-efficient as technology will allow.

I recognize that personal transportation is important and convenient, but as a society we will want to create locations that allow people to live in urban areas without the need for a vehicle. I think of my student days when I lived and worked in a limited geographical area but had all my needs met. The area was walking-centic. For planning purposes, vehicles were a lower priority than pedestrians for design choices for roads and walkways. This created a situation where it was easier to walk than drive. Creating urban centres areas that do the same creates a more sustainable society.

Nadim Kara of Ottawa on March 30 wrote: I enjoyed this article immensely, and agree that a truly sustainable society is one in which we make every effort to understand how individual action in one part of the world impacts people and places around the globe.

While this principle is clearly understood by those involved with the climate change debate, I am struck by how little mainstream attention is given to a similar principle with respect to the human rights impacts that occur in various commodity chains.

While journalists and activists have called for sustained, coordinated and comprehensive action to support labour rights and protect ecoystems in a variety of commodity chains (minerals, energy, textiles, footwear, primary foodstuffs), these calls generate little action other than rhetoric.

Looks like we’re willing to act on climate change, because it will negatively impact our quality of life, but not human rights, which we have the luxury of ignoring as long as our consumer goods stay cheap.

Perhaps governments should support widespread public education about that, to help generate the type of mobilization we see in support of climate change action.

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