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It’s Canadian Environment Week
June 4, 2013
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Albert Einstein once said "the environment is everything that isn't me."

It's one of those quotes we like, because it reminds us of our place in the broader world and can perhaps inspire us to take better care of the planet.

And hey, there's no better time than the present.

This week is Canadian Environment Week - an opportunity to raise awareness and encourage people across the country to protect our natural surroundings.

Or, if you prefer, a chance to light a fire under our collective ass.

Recently, American scientists said greenhouse gas emissions around the world have hit their highest level in nearly two million years. And it's largely because of the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal for electricity and oil for gasoline.

"What we see today is 100 per cent due to human activity," said Pieter Tans, a senior scientist with the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Just for some perspective, at the end of the Ice Age, it took 7,000 years for carbon dioxide levels to rise by 80 parts per million, Tans said. But with the burning of fossil fuels, carbon dioxide levels have gone up by the same amount in just 55 years.

The real concern is how fast it's happening.

As the Associated Press reports, "If carbon dioxide levels go up 100 parts per million over thousands or millions of years, plants and animals can adapt. But that can't be done at the speed it is now happening."

Two million years ago, when carbon levels were this high, "it was much warmer than it is today," Tans said. "There were forests in Greenland. Sea level was higher, between 10 and 20 metres."

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As for Canada, our record on greenhouse gas emissions is pretty bad. Here are a few stats from the Conference Board of Canada:

• Canada ranks 15th out of 17 OECD countries for greenhouse gas emissions per capita and earns a "D" grade

• In 2010, Canada's emissions were 20.3 tonnes per capita, significantly higher than the 17-country average of 12.5 tonnes per capita.

• Canada's per capita emissions were nearly three times greater than Switzerland's, the top performer.

• Canada's emissions per capita have fallen by nearly 5 per cent since 1990, but many other countries have decreased them even more. For example, Germany and the U.K. reduced their per capita emissions by 27 per cent between 1990 and 2010.

• Between 1990 and 2010, Canada's total emissions grew 17 per cent.

• The largest contributor to Canada's emissions is the energy sector, accounting for 81% of the overall total. That includes electricity and heat generation, fossil fuel industries, and oil/natural gas processing.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his government have set a target of reducing total greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent from 2005 levels by 2020.

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On a new website, the government says "Canada is honouring its United Nations commitment under the Copenhagen Accord..." and goes on to write...

"We estimate that as a result of our collective actions taken to date, Canada is already halfway toward closing the gap between what our emissions had originally been projected to be in 2020, and where we need to be to meet our Copenhagen target."

However, as the Canadian Press reports, critics say "the trouble with Harper's "halfway" claim is that it lumps together all the measures both provincial and federal governments have taken and the cumulative effect they will have on emissions by 2020."

"Numerous analyses suggest that closing the rest of the gap will take a near miracle."

Well, as we said, no better time than the present.

Tomorrow, June 5, is World Environment Day as well as Clean Air Day in Canada to promote clean air and good health across Canada.

Also, this Saturday June 8 is World Oceans Day - a day to raise awareness about the importance and "life-giving role" of our oceans.

do-you-believe-in-miracles-it's-canadian-environment-week-feature2.jpgYou can also take part in the Commuter Challenge - a nationwide event to encourage people to leave their car at home and find a healthier, cleaner way to get work (walking, biking, public transit, carpooling).

You can register at commuterchallenge.ca

There's also a list of ways you can take part in Environment Week. And to find out about events in your community, you can go to Environment Canada's Facebook page or start your own activity.

You can find a list of ideas on its website, including a tree-planting party or a trash-free barbecue - which sound great.

One question though - who's organizing that "near miracle" we're apparently going to need?

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