Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Black Cloud

I came across this article that every Canadian should be aware of:

U.S. doing better than Canada in cutting toxic pollution, says NAFTA report

While it might be buried down near the bottom of the news of the day, to me it sticks out like a sore thumb. So much for our being more environmentally enlightened than our neighbours to the south.

U.S. manufacturing facilities cut their releases of toxics by 21 per cent between 1998 and 2003, while Canadian manufacturers cut releases by 10 per cent.

This might be the most damning blemish on the sorry legacy of the Chretien/Martin Liberal government. Although they talked a good game about the environment and the importance of Kyoto and other pollution-reducing measures, they fiddled whilst Rome choked. And the situation won't likely improve under the Conservative government.

But there was a very interesting statement within the article:

[NAFTA Commission for Environmental Co-operation executive director William] Kennedy said U.S. pollution is generally subject to greater regulation while Canada relies more on voluntary actions by industry. "You have greater reductions when that control is there than when you don't."
The first sentence is counterintuitive based on what we believe about the two countries, but there it is. The second sentence is only counterintuitive to Milton Friedman and his disciples. It should be pointed out that this study covered the period from 1998 to 2003, when environmental policy put forward by the Clinton/Gore administration was mostly still in effect. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next five years after some relaxing of regulations by the current U.S. administration.

There are a couple of important things to be learned by this. First, we have more evidence that environmental improvements come about because of regulations, and not the corrections of the almighty free market. And secondly, standards can be put in place without destroying the economy. It remains to be seen if the facts will get in the way of a good Conservative "pro-business" platform. But with those myths put to bed, we can focus on the much larger issue - things are still bloody bad.

"The cocktail includes the smog-producing chemicals, but you've also got the carcinogens like lead and benzene, developmental toxins like mercury and lead, which are particularly worrisome because of their effects on children's health and their I.Q."
There's probably a joke in there about how this helps certain parties grab the next generation of voters, but this is serious business. When you add up the volume of pollutants here, and then consider all the places in the world where regulation is next to nil, you see that we are in big trouble if the tide doesn't turn.

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