Daily Archives: July 3, 2007

Speaking of the NRTEE …

On Sunday I noted that Canada’s National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy just warned, very gently and politely, that the federal government isn’t pushing hard enough on climate change and should begin imposing some form of charge for carbon emissions very, very soon. I described the group this way:

The NRTEE is a federally-funded think tank with a board of business leaders and smart environmentalists and lawyers, ranging from the ubiquitous Mark Jaccard to the chief operating  officer of Suncor, an extremely major player  in Alberta’s oil industry. Although the top people have a noticeably Liberal-red tint (the last president of NRTEE, David McGuinty, is now the opposition Liberals’ environment critic and the current chairman is Glen Murray, the largely well-regarded former mayor of Winnipeg but a failed Liberal candidate there), the organization itself is a thoroughly respectable source of ideas and forecasts on the environment file.

All this is true. But the Conservatives’ most recent three appointments to the NRTEE’s board are worth noting:

I’m sure these are all good people, and they all appear to have distinguished records of moving their employers to more sustainable footings. Nevertheless, they all work for companies that, faced with the choice between polluting like hell or going bust, would have a fiduciary responsibility to pollute like hell. The quality and tone of the NRTEE’s advice will deserve very, very close monitoring.

It’d certainly do the Tories’ credibility on this challenging file some good if they could bring themselves to name the most sensible person they can find from the ranks of Greenpeace or the Suzuki or Pembina foundations to fill the next slot that comes up. But then, they seem pretty tone-deaf to things that do their credibility good.

The holy strive to be holier

Smaller businesses taking it upon themselves to be more planet-friendly is something I really want to like, particularly in the wake of last week’s post complaining about how bad governments are at working with them for anything very productive.

But this project, a “carbon-neutral working group for small businesses” organized by an outfit called Ecotrust out of British Columbia, seems like the choir going out with the priest of a Sunday afternoon and thinking about ways to be more holy. Definitely not a bad thing, but equally definitely not a world-changer. Sponsored by the Suzuki Foundation and the Pembina Institute, among others, the 13 participants include an organic-and-local-food delivery service, a green-building consultancy, and a bus company in hippy-dippy Tofino.

From the news release:

Three workshops will show companies how to calculate and reduce their carbon footprint, and learn about strategies to market their climate-friendly products and services. The Pembina Institute and David Suzuki Foundation have developed innovative software to help these businesses calculate their carbon footprint. The Pembina Institute will also provide one-on-one technical assistance.

The Carbon Neutral Workgroup will also help entrepreneurs to understand the complex and emerging market to purchase carbon offsets. “We need to create a local carbon market whereby companies and consumers can purchase offsets that reinvest money into climate change projects in their local communities,” says Gill with Ecotrust Canada.

What we’d need are a regular delivery service, a traditional architecture firm, and the Vancouver bus company signing up, to really make a difference. A bunch of green businesses committing to be green doesn’t seem to warrant a headline like the Vancouver Province‘s: “Small businesses accept green role.” Nor do I get the idea of creating a local carbon market, except as an exercise of some kind. It only works if even those for whom it’s inconvenient — the emitters we really have to worry about — are compelled to participate.

Ultimately, it seems Ecotrust hopes to expand the information program and maybe distribute some sort of free software package to help less devotedly environmentalist companies improve their operations. Best of luck to them. That’s when they’ll make a difference.

(Via Green Options.)

Latest Ottawa Citizen column, on ethanol

Specifically, on the American and Canadian love affair with so-so alternatives to gasoline:

Whether ethanol is a good substitute for gasoline depends on whom you ask; it’s cleaner, but it doesn’t push a car as far as the same amount of gasoline does. Nevertheless, both the United States and Canada are big fans of ethanol. Five per cent of all the vehicle fuel sold in Canada is to be ethanol by 2010, and the U.S. is adopting similar rules.

To be precise, we’re big fans of a particular kind of ethanol — the kind that comes from corn and other grains. Trouble is, those aren’t a really good source of ethanol, they’re just what we happen to grow a lot of.