Thursday, October 12, 2006

Hey Harper, To Cut Smog, Reduce Global Warming!

In his speech on October 10, 2006, Stephen Harper promised to “ a holistic approach that doesn't treat the related issues of pollutants and greenhouse gas emissions in isolation." Does this sound too good to be true, when it comes from Mr. Harper? Unfortunately, it is! His main target is smog rather than global warming. But his plan may achieve nothing, or even make things worse -– for both global warming and smog.

The Globe and Mail reports: responding to questions in Vancouver, Mr. Harper uttered a phrase that had the opposition fuming. 'We will produce intensity-based targets over the short range and the long term and they will cover a range of emissions, not just carbon dioxide, but nitrous oxide, sulphur oxide, sulphur dioxide; so it will be a comprehensive plan,' the Prime Minister said.

[...] 'intensity-based' [...] means industries would have to reduce emissions per unit of production, such as per barrel of oil.

Lowering emissions per unit, however, does not mean that Canada's total output of greenhouse gases will decline. If, for example, there is an expansion in the oil sands, total levels of emissions would increase even if per-unit emissions decrease.
So Harper still doesn't get global warming.

Ironically, Harper does not even understand his chosen target, smog. As Elizabeth May said in the Globe & Mail on October 11, 2006,

...a failure to confront the climate crisis, directly and soon, will result in more extreme heat conditions. The more 30-degree days that Canadians experience, the more smog days will occur.

Some people, like Blair King from Langley, Canada, say that May got it wrong, and Harper's plan would actually reduce smog. Further, "...environmental protection has to include more than just Kyoto. Let’s not let this useful piece of legislation get hijacked by special interests who seem unable to concentrate on more than a single issue at a time." But implementing Kyoto would actually help reduce smog. The two issues are linked, and it's people like May who understand this linkage. Here are two more reasons why she is right:

Combining the two effects, we could get:
more extremely hot days + a net increase in smog-causing emissions = even more smog
  • A hard limit on smog-causing chemicals but not on greenhouse gases could also prove ineffective. This "compromise" idea is not too far-fetched. Harper repeatedly referes to the environmental achievements of the Mulroney Government, whose Acid Rain control program had limited net sulphur dioxide. But studies suggest that sulphur dioxide (an aerosol) actually creates a bit of shade from all that haze. This shading can counteract warming to some extent, regionallly or even globally. Scientists call it the "global dimming" effect. So if Harper decides on a net reduction in sulphur dioxide, it could reduce "global dimming" -- and cause more warming. Again, the net reduction in smog could be less than expected, due to the hot weather connection above -- unless there is also a net reduction in the causes of global warming, like carbon dioxide!
To sum up, the most effective way to cut smog is to reduce global warming at the same time. This means producing less net carbon dioxide. The Tories just don't get it. I hope that the Canadian people will.


* Michael H from Edmonton, Canada makes a similar point.

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