Commuting and Climate Change

Wednesday 23 April 2003, by Kamilia BAROUDI

Photo : CIDA

In May and June, Transport 2000 Quebec is organizing Clean Air Day 2003. For the past eight years, Transport 2000 has organized this event to raise awareness of and public interest in the effort to reduce greenhouse gases.

Vehicle exhaust emissions (such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxide) contrbute to air pollution as well as to climate change. The concentration of these gases in the atmosphere has increased by 25 percent since the Industrial Revolution, and scientists are already detecting their negative impact on the health of both individuals and the planet.

According to Norman Parisien, Transport 2000’s executive director, greenhouse gases generated from the burning of fossil fuels are causing average temperatures to increase. "Greenhouse gases are chemical compounds that are found in the Earth’s atmosphere," he explains. The normal, natural concentrations of these gases play an important role in retaining the sun’s heat and maintaining a stable climate. But when we dump huge quantities of these gases in the atmosphere, too much heat is trapped.

Vehicles are the largest single source of greenhouse gases in Canada, accounting for 25 percent of total emissions. Local traffic, then, is not just a local problem - it might lead to ugly smog and respiratory problems in our neighborhoods, but more ominously it contributes to the worldwide crisis of climate change. The government of Canada has taken strong steps to improve urban air quality, though Parisien believes those steps are not enough to reduce the effects of emissions on the world’s climate. He thinks that a better mix of transportation options for commuters, including relatively low-pollution light rail systems, are key to reducing the environmental impact of our everyday trips to work, school, and the store. The ratio of cars to citizens is rising, warns Parisien, and the development of mass public transit should be our first priority. He says both the Tremblay administration and the provincial government have made promises, but failed to deliver.

"What is needed is surface transportation systems that are as efficient transportation for urban areas as for the suburbs. Ever since 1996, we have promoted a public awareness campaign with regards to air, atmosphere and energy conservation issues. It takes a public transportation user 40 years to consume what a motorist does in four. That is why we promote developing transport infrastructure and services," he says.

"Transport 2000 is progressively implementing electrically-propelled bus systems and light rail transit systems. We think that at least three lines could be set up in the next few years. Pie IX and Henri-Bourassa looks promising, maybe even Côte-des-Neiges and Avenue du Parc. These roads see a lot of use. This must be a top priority for Montreal administrations because it improves public mobility and the quality of life for the surrounding populations. There are 325 cars for every 1 000 inhabitants in Montreal and 450 cars for every 1 000 inhabitants in Quebec; it is not going to be sustainable for much longer."Parisien believes that when cities use public money for roadways at the expense of public transit, they in fact waste money. Considering the total cost to society, it is far more expensive to maintain a roadway-centered transportation policy than to spend money more wisely on mass transit.

Along with many other nations, Canada has signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which includes a commitment to decrease emissions of greenhouse gases. However, like most other nations, it has failed to curb pollution increases - the result of economic growth and increased personal consumption of energy, mainly through the public’s taste for bigger and bigger vehicles.

He says that the Canadian government, over the past five years, has dedicted few resources to pollution reduction and alternative transportation strategies. "I don’t certainly trust the Canadian government to settle this problem," he says.

Kamilia Baroudi, special collaboration

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