As we see governments struggle to meet carbon emissions reduction targets, the time may have come for us to lead by example by reducing our individual carbon footprints. Yet doing so can be a tricky calculation, particularly when we take into account all the environmental impacts of our actions.
Electric vehicles will certainly help to reduce our emissions. Yet how effective they are depends on the source of the electricity to charge them. In Quebec we will see a major increase in demand for hydro-electric power as electric cars become the norm. While relatively green, the hydro-electric dams that generate such power do have impacts on the environment. These include the destruction of habitat and migratory paths for wildlife. The breakdown of organic material in artificial reservoirs emits greenhouse gases as well. Nuclear-generated electricity presents obvious non-carbon environmental challenges of its own.
Provinces that are reliant on fossil fuels to generate electricity will see much less impact on carbon emissions from switching to electric vehicles until their electricity comes from more sustainable sources.
Historically, one of the major advances in reducing emissions and improving air quality has been improved fuel efficiency in vehicles. This will continue to play a key role in mitigating global warming. Vans today are as fuel efficient as smaller passenger cars were in the 1980s. Still, vans and SUVs, electric or otherwise, use about a third more energy than equivalent modern cars. In all cases smaller vehicles are more environmentally friendly. Many of us make good use of the extra space in larger vehicles, but a compromise can be choosing a smaller car for the second vehicle in a household, especially if it’s primarily used for a single-person commute to work.
Traditionally, fuel prices have decided the size of vehicles families tend to choose. If we can instead create a mentality in our communities that smaller vehicles are more socially responsible, we’ll go a long way to meeting our collective emission targets and being more environmentally friendly in general.
Making slight adjustments to our diets can also help us to reach environmental objectives. The production of meat, and especially beef, creates substantial amounts of carbon dioxide. Yet elimination of beef is neither realistic nor necessary. We can simply eat smaller portions of it, substituting more greens to complete our meals. Beyond being more environmentally friendly, this is also likely to be healthier.
Another tool to reduce carbon emissions is recycling. Beyond considerations of garbage accumulation, recycling plastic generates 30% less emissions than creating new material. Although this is a clear improvement, we should keep in mind a phrase that was popular years ago: Reduce, reuse, and then recycle. Even more effective than recycling is to reduce our consumption and reuse what we have. This goes for everything from bags to packaging to face masks. Less is more, and to leave the world a better place for our children we should look at the details of our daily lives. Everyone can help their communities improve their environmental footprints.
Publisher’s note: in the November 10 edition of the Aylmer Bulletin, Ian Barrett’s byline was, regretfully, not published. The editorial was penned by Mr Barrett.