Inside View: October 2007

January 17, 2008
Written by Gary Jones
Ruling offers industry some breathing space.  "Growers need to be fully supported in fighting unreasonable standards."
Anyone who has been to South East Asia will understand the concept of noise and air pollution. For example, there are reportedly four million motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) Vietnam, owned by a population of around 8.5 million people.

It seems that all of those motorcycles are within a 100-metre radius of you as you walk the city, and the noise of horns is constant and deafening.

No wonder people wear face masks.

Contrast this to our well-developed, urban Canadian areas where the streets are busy but generally not noisy, and most road users cocoon themselves in a steel shell a few millimetres thick. The impression is of a (relatively) clean air society.

And so it was that I got to wondering about how such differing cultures compare in the global pollution stakes, but had no idea of how to measure it. Timing is everything, according to one comedian, and out of the blue arrived an e-mail with a website “that you just have to see.”

So I did. And there it was.

According to ‘Breathing Earth’ (http://www.breathing earth.net/) it takes our ‘clean’ cities of Canada about one minute to produce 1,000 tonnes of CO2 and our friends in Vietnam about 7.9 minutes to achieve the same contribution to global warming. OK, so it’s one website’s information and it doesn’t give all its reasoning for calculations in the model. But does it make you think? How long do you think it takes to generate the same amount of CO2 in the U.S. or China? Or Cambodia?

“A person in the U.S. causes 100 times more damage to the global environment than a person in a poor country.” (Dianne Dumanoski, "The People Problem," The Boston Globe, Feb. 5, 1990, citing Paul Ehrlich. From ‘All Consuming Passion - Waking up From the American Dream,’ in ‘EcoFuture’ website, www.ecofuture.org/pk/pkar9506_refs.html.)

This summer saw a valuable, landmark court judgment ruling in favour of the greenhouse industry in B.C. in the ongoing fight against the imposition of new and more strict air quality standards by agencies now not deemed to have that power. Growers need to be fully supported in fighting unreasonable standards, especially in what sometimes seems to be a singling out of our relatively small and, for the most part, extremely green industry.

Put into perspective, according to the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD – now ‘Metro Vancouver’), ‘boilers and heaters’ (of all kinds from all residential, commercial and industrial sources) contribute eight per cent of the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in the GVRD area. The largest contributor is, of course, ‘light duty vehicles’ (your car and mine!) at 25 per cent, which is equal to the contribution from marine vessels in this coastal city. How much of that eight per cent is generated by the greenhouse industry is not stated, but one would think it relatively small.

The ruling mentioned above was specific to air pollutants and particulate matter. But at the same time, we need to be responsible for our contributions to global issues such as CO2 output. Even if we are already doing well, we may be able to do better and should strive (within reasonable constraints of available fiscal and technical abilities of course) to do so. Many growers, of course, are already doing this. After all, most of them have families growing up too! They should be applauded for the technical advances they typically incorporate into the running of their operations. Indeed, most growers using wood-burning boilers are already utilizing scrubbers that produce emissions comparable in many cases to those of natural gas.

At the same time, we need to be cognizant that the environment is a major hot potato and emotions around the subject are prone to run high. In my experience, growers are too smart to ignore public opinion, and typically are ahead of it anyway. But it’s oft said in this industry that ‘if you’re not running ahead, you’re going backwards.’

So, let’s continue to help increase the Canadian time to produce 1,000 tonnes CO2. So, I guess I’m off to trade in my mini-van for a motorbike…

Oh, and for anyone who did have a guess to my earlier question, according to the ‘Breathing Earth’ model, to produce 1,000 tonnes CO2 takes 5.4 seconds in the U.S., 9.2 seconds in China and 15.3 hours in Cambodia!

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