The problem with our largest, most intractable sources of emissions is that their tentacles run through every part of modern society.
Take freight, for example — singled out in the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario’s latest report. Transportation is responsible for one-third of Ontario’s emissions and those from freight have grown the most dramatically – rising 117 per cent since 1990. According to the ECO report, the growth has come primarily from tractor trailers, dump trucks, and “specialty trucks,” including those that carry cement or garbage. Without significant reductions, the ECO says, that one sector could prevent Ontario from achieving its reduction targets.
The commissioner’s report recommends some big-picture fixes for the freight problem: encourage the sector to ship less by using better logistics, improve the efficiency of trucks by incentivizing trading in old models, and provide high-level support for zero-emission trucks. Oh, and maybe consider removing subsidies for natural-gas vehicles.
But “greening” the freight industry will be no simple matter: trucking is necessary for every aspect of modern consumption, from the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, to the garbage we throw out.
For people just trying to live their lives, struggling with transit delays and hydro prices, it can be tempting to label freight as somebody else’s problem. Big policy shifts are the job of the government, after all.
But the little things matter, maybe more than ever, because we are out of time. We can’t just sit back and wait for elegant policy solutions to whittle away the massive emissions of the freight industry. Luckily, individuals can start taking action right now.
While freight looks big on paper, its components are as small as they come: the garbage thrown out by the people of Toronto, hauled 200 kilometres away to the Green Lane Landfill near London; the out-of-season foods imported to Ontario from warmer climates; the cases of water, bottled in Guelph and trucked around the province, consumed largely in places where perfectly good tap water is freely available.
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In short: it’s all the stuff we buy and throw out every day. If enough people stop buying — and wasting — so much stuff, we’ll need fewer trucks.
In a report published in January, researchers from the University of Toronto warned that Canada would, as part of a larger effort, need to completely phase out oil production from the oilsands in order to meet its Paris targets.
The oil sands and freight emissions have this in common: both are driven by demand. In the case of the oil sands, much of the demand is global. But demand for freight is right here in Ontario.
We can take big actions on both fronts — the report recommends massive subsidies for electric transport trucks, heavy road tolls redirected into environmental funds, more support for advanced logistics. But its top recommendation, the first thing that needs to be done? Reduce freight.
If we reduce demand for freight — by buying less stuff, consuming more locally, and wasting less — we can reduce emissions in this sector right now.
According to the Toronto Environmental Alliance, organic materials make up 40 per cent of the contents of the average garbage bag. When Torontonians put them in the organics bin, they’re taken to the Disco Road organics facility near Pearson International Airport — not trucked 200 kilometres to the landfill.
When faced with seemingly large sources of emissions, like the oil sands and freight, we should not be deterred from individual action. If anything, the ECO report flagging freight as a major emissions source is a guiding light to where efforts should be focused.
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