Canada's Environmental Corpus Callosum malfunction

One of my first impressions on moving to Victoria was the high environmental consciousness of the people here. The obvious markers of environmental consciousness such as recycling, composting, organic food consumption, local food consumption, small car driving, and most importantly, pride at being environmentally conscious are off the charts here  (and I am  most definitely  one of those people as well!).

My second impression was that a country with such a resource driven economy can’t possibly live up to what its citizens think it is doing. And I was right. The country as a whole performs abysmally. Canada vs. the OECD (a report produced by my very hometown University of Victoria) compares Canada’s performance vs. the OECD on a number of environmental parameters. It is shocking. The picture is painted of an inefficient economy whose consumption of major resources and pollution indicators are growing at a time they should be dropping. For example:

Canada is among the three worst countries on nine indicators (per capita greenhouse gas emissions, sulphur dioxide emissions, carbon monoxide emissions, volatile organic compound emissions, water consumption, energy consumption, energy efficiency, volume of timber logged and generation of nuclear waste);

Canada’s economy is inefficient, in that we use much more energy and generate much more pollution to produce a given amount of goods and services relative to our industrial competitors, including 33% more energy than the United States per unit of GDP; and

Canada’s performance on most environmental indicators continues to worsen

So, not only are things bad, they’re getting worse, but the people don’t seem to notice. Massive corpus callosum1 malfuction?

BTW, this is what happens to people when their corpus callosum is removed.


Once this theme crystallized in my head, I went searching for earlier work that would reinforce my conclusion and came upon this book Unnatural Law – Rethinking Canadian Environmental Law and Policy. From the First chapter:

Is Canada an environmental leader or an environmental laggard? Is Canada contributing to solving environmental challenges or are we exacerbating these problems?

Great, a book that reinforces my frame in the very first paragraph! I’ll let you know after I finish reading the book (helpfully available from my local library and written by a former ED for the SIerra Legal Defence Fund (now known as Ecojustice) and who lives on Pender Island, a few islands away from where I live! Promises to be an interesting and illuminating read.

1Corpus Callosum = Part of brain that connects the two hemispheres.

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  1. Again, keep the provincial perspective in mind. It’s a big country with diverse regions. If there’s a silver lining it’s that the people in BC show a willingness to adhere to green policies mandated by the government (e.g., recycling, composting in Vancouver) that would be political suicide outside of the province. Canada’s performance on per capita environmental measures could be skewed by miserable practices in other parts of the country, such as the Tar Sands in your earlier post.

  2. Oh sure, that’s why I love BC! The province has a lot of forward looking legislation. It has some issues too with forest management that I need to get more familiar with.

    There are a lot of provincial disparities and the gaps between Federal and Provincial law needs to be addressed. Alberta pollutes a lot, but the energy it produces is used by all of Canada and the foreign exchange it generates makes Canada as a whole richer. So the country as a whole needs to deal with it.

    The one big advantage Canada has is that there is near consensus agreement on the problems (unlike our crazy Southern neighbors who think climate change is a political issue). The challenge here is to find suitable policy that addresses the problems. Don’t see it yet, BC starts a carbon tax, but Alberta’s the one with the off the chart GHG emissions. We’ll see. But I’d rather be where Canada is at the moment that the US.

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