How freight puts garbage into our air

Globalization CO2

Toronto produces different types of garbage. Some is dumped into landfills; some is dumped into the air. The difference is that the amount dumped into the air is far, far greater.

For instance, the recent and bloody battle over proposals to ship garbage to Michigan and to the Adams Mine in Kirkland Lake involved 1.5 million tonnes a year of solid waste.

Meanwhile, Toronto is dumping about nineteen times that weight of greenhouse gases into the air. Calculated in tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2), it comes to about 28.5 million tonnes a year.

Toronto also dumps other garbage into the air such as sulphur, mercury, and the components of smog, but because of a recent study by the New Economics Foundation in London, England, I want to focus on greenhouse gases. The study is called « Collision Course: Free Trade’s Free Ride on the Global Climate,’’ and it can be found at www.neweconomics.org.

The comparison of solid waste and greenhouse gas dumping in Toronto gives context to the extent of our disregard for controlling climate-changing emissions. The study underlines how prevalent, and how serious, is similar disregard elsewhere in the industrialized world.

It points out that about a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation. And freight causes up to half of that — in other words, freight is responsible for about 12 per cent.

But because of globalization, it says, we’re in the midst of an tremendous increase in freight that is going to make a mockery of attempts to meet the target set out in the Kyoto accord for reducing emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by the period 2008 to 2012.

« The transport sector is the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, and (they) are forecast to increase 39 per cent above 1990 levels by 2010,’’ the study says.

However, the Kyoto target is ridiculously low. Simply to stand still, the world needs to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60 to 80 per cent below 1990 levels.

The growth of international trade has been astounding, the report says. « One day’s trade today equals a whole year’s commerce in 1949.’’ And a huge portion of that trade involves long distance transportation, not only in finished goods, but in parts and components.

To give an idea of the absurdity of some long distance transportation, the study notes that Europe gets 80 per cent of its orange juice from Brazil. However the orange juice « is fuel thirsty, requiring 10 per cent of its own weight in fuel. European produced black currant juice would be just as nutritious,’’ it says, « but need less transport…and pesticide.’’

According to the foundation, emissions could be held to target levels if there were:
•   a move to full cost accounting that incorporated environmental costs in transport management,
•   more encouragement for locally produced food, goods, and services
•   greater investment in alternative fuels, such as hydrogen,
•   a move away from just-in-time deliveries (because they increase road traffic and result in many trucks returning home empty),
•   an end to subsidies and tax exemptions that promote fuel-intensive transportation, and
•   a change in Kyoto emission-counting to include air and marine freight.

« While at first sight these technological and behavioural changes may seem expensive or unrealistic,’’ the study says, « the challenge is to start planning now, make the necessary investments…and introduce the right package of incentives….’’

The local alternative is staring us in the face. A couple of weeks ago, the Ontario Government announced that Highway 401 would be widened to six lanes from Toronto to the Quebec border. The next step would be to widen it to eight lanes. And then, across the Greater Toronto Area, to widen it from sixteen to twenty. Or to add yet another expressway — with no end in sight either for asphalt, or for changing the climate.

If we can be concerned about the damage and injustice of foisting rail cars of garbage on Kirkland Lake, surely we can grow concerned about foisting a more insidious garbage into the air that’s common to us all.

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