Canadian Plastics

Kyoto revisited

As you can see from the letters on page 5, a number of readers disagree with my anti-Kyoto editorial which appeared in this magazine's October issue.First, I should point out that a version of that sa...

December 1, 2002   Canadian Plastics

As you can see from the letters on page 5, a number of readers disagree with my anti-Kyoto editorial which appeared in this magazine’s October issue.

First, I should point out that a version of that same editorial which appeared in the Financial Post was generally praised in letters to the editor and e-mails I received following publication. Not surprisingly, there are many diverse and passionate opinions on this issue, even within the business community.

Yet, as much as we are able, we should strive to keep passions and emotions out of the Kyoto debate, as this is first and foremost a scientific question. I may have erred in this respect, as Mr. Hilland suggests, by asserting Kyoto is being “rammed down our throats by developing countries and their euro-environmental supporters.” While the phrase, in the heat of a deadline, seemed well-wrought, it does now appear to me to be a bit heavy-handed and unnecessary.

Science aside for the moment, one of the striking things about the letters are the differing interpretations about the social and economic significance of my anti-Kyoto stance. Mr. Schad, while he ultimately argues that Kyoto is the right thing to do on a moral basis, also notes, “Our industry … stands to gain from new technologies that help reduce CO2.” In other words, my anti-Kyoto views oppose the interests of the industry. Mr. De Winter echoes Mr. Schad on this point. In contrast, Mr. Hilland writes, “your attitude demonstrates to me your complete willingness to put personal profit ahead of the long-term health of people.” In other words, my anti-Kyoto outlook represents a narrow-minded support of the plastics business.

Obviously I cannot be arguing both for and against the interests of our industry at the same time. In fact, naively or not, the only personal agenda I had when I sat down to write this column was to represent and interpret the facts as truthfully as I could. Moreover, unlike many journalists who pontificate about Kyoto in the popular press, I feel I am perhaps a bit better qualified to take up this subject. I have two science degrees and worked in the environmental field for a number of years. In one position, I implemented waste reduction programs that not only spared the environment but saved companies money. I supported the Montreal Protocol banning CFCs because a chemical mechanism was proposed (then confirmed by measurement) to explain how these molecules were damaging the earth’s ozone layer.

This is not the case with Kyoto. The studies of Goddard Space Institute referred to by Mr. Schad are modeling studies, laden with hosts of assumptions about the interactions and mechanisms of climate change.

Of course there is not enough space here to debate the scientific minutia of climate change. Yet clearly, even without clear-cut evidence that CO2 buildup is directly causing the earth to warm up, the standard Kyoto default argument (as suggested in these letters) is the notorious precautionary principle — that is, we should do something because to do nothing might be worse, and then it would be too late.

But this is precisely one of the main points of my stance: Even if you accept that CO2 is causing unprecedented global warming, Kyoto will not alleviate it. We would have to reduce CO2 emissions far below 1990 levels to see any impact on climate within the current modeling regimens.

But over and above this, Kyoto raises this fundamental question: What is the right thing to do in a world of limited economic resources? The developing world needs clean water and jobs — immediately. In Canada, people are demanding more money for health care, education, recycling programs, etc. The ancient Greeks used to have intelligent discussions about sticky matters like these. They, more so than we, understood you can’t have it all.

Michael LeGault, editore-mail:

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