Thursday, June 7, 2007

Beyond Kyoto

The G8 summit is an occasion for me to make a return on the chronicle «Kyoto and consumption» chronicle, published on April 27, 2007, in which I wrote: «Are those highly virtuous citizens, allegedly worried about the environment, truly willing to make an effort to change their habits and reduce their consumption?»

I was then, and still remain, with good reason, sceptic about the will of Quebecers, like citizens of other provinces and countries, to make an effort to reduce polluting emissions. True, a minority of citizens is willing to radically change their way of life to safeguard the planet, but such is not the case of the majority. Evidence of this can be found in the article « Environnement : oui aux mesures indolores » (Environment: yes to painless measures), published on Wednesday May 30 2007 in La Presse daily newspaper. Journalist François Cardinal wrote: «A very large majority of Quebecers are ready to act to counter climatic changes provided that this action does not require any sacrifice on their part.»

This article is based on the «Changements climatiques au Québec méridional: perceptions de la population générale et suggestions d'adaptations futures» (Climatic changes in southern Quebec: perceptions of the population at large and suggestions for future adaptations) survey from the «Institut national de santé publique du Québec» (Quebec national institute of public health). Here is an eloquent extract (page VIII): «Besides, it would seem that a majority of citizens would support national and international initiatives in as far as they do not require a significant change in their life style or sacrifice of their comfort for collective well being and in as much as that does not cost them a penny. Lastly, the majority would also have a strong attachment to status quo and would risk more to avoid a loss than to obtain a benefit.»

For millennia, the earth has gone through several cycles of warming and cooling; the current one is undoubtedly more pronounced due to human activity. This is not a reason to panic the population, set unattainable objectives and propose impracticable solutions. Obviously, it is imperative to act… intelligently. I favour setting perhaps less ambitious, but realistic objectives. Privileged solutions must be simple to implement and not constitute an obstacle to the population’s way of life, a position supported by Mario Roy.

In an editorial published on Monday February 5 207 in La Presse (page A15) this journalist wrote: «Quebecers talk big about being world champions of the environment. […] Why are Quebecers opposed are to a rise in electricity tariffs and to exploitation of hydraulic power? […] Why have sales of the largest and most luxurious sports utility vehicles (SUV) progressed by 17% and 6% respectively in Canada in 2006?» Amongst other things, he attributes this apparent contradiction to the fact «that the citizen indicates he will not sacrifice comfort and freedom which modernity gives him.» He looks upon technological development as a promising way to find solutions to climate warming: «Like the industrialist, the citizen will put a price on his sacrifices. Better still, he will prefer new clean technologies to them, new green processes, correct ecological behaviours… as long as they are without pain.»

Humans have shown their inventiveness at the time of humanity’s greatest crises; science has the made colossal progress. Think of antibiotics, technologies of communications, data processing and nuclear energy, which have resulted from research undertaken during the Second World War.

The same will be true today, provided that we devote resources and energies needed, rather than remaining locked up us in sterile polemics.

What do you think it?

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