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Viewpoint: Not too hot to handle

Global warming is not exactly a popular topic in transportation circles - it rarely makes the agenda at conferences, it's an unlikely subject of discussion at industry lunch and dinner meetings, I hav...


Lou Smyrlis

Lou Smyrlis


Global warming is not exactly a popular topic in transportation circles – it rarely makes the agenda at conferences, it’s an unlikely subject of discussion at industry lunch and dinner meetings, I haven’t heard of many shipper contracts including an energy efficiency clause. And I doubt it’s on the top five list for CB chatter or “around the water cooler” conversations.

Considering the role transportation plays in emitting the greenhouse gases that power global warming, and the subsequent regulatory curbs that it may face in the future, it’s curious that this should be so. Curious but understandable – after all most of us have been ignoring the consequences of global warming for the past 25 years.

I’m sure most have picked up enough through media reports to have a fair idea of what could lie ahead if we don’t bring under control the greenhouse gases that currently power our economy but threaten to warm our planet by two to three degrees Celsius by the end of the century. That seemingly small increase in temperature is enough to raise sea levels as much as three feet by the end of this century, thanks to melting glaciers and swollen oceans, according to the UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a peer-reviewed collaboration among thousands of scientists that is considered the leading authority on climate change. Considering about half of the world’s 6.5 billion people live near coastlines, that’s a huge concern. Global warming could also make for far more powerful hurricanes, more heat waves, droughts and species extinction (there has already been documented evidence of such).

So why aren’t such threats receiving more of our attention? Climate change is a complicated issue and that in itself leads to resistance.

It’s also natural that we don’t want to let go of the fuels that have powered our civilizations since the dawn of the industrial era and brought us great prosperity unless we can be certain it’s for good and indisputable reasons. And, of course, there is the distinct obstacle raised by the US president George Bush’s stanch refusal to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the problematic but so far only successful global accord to take action on greenhouse gas reduction.

But I’ve recently come to understand there’s another, more subtle but equally important, reason behind our inaction: we’ve been lulled into a false sense of uncertainty. Much of the public argument against the science indicating that our greenhouse gas emissions are driving global warming has been carried by lobbyists and paid spokesmen who attempt to reposition global warming as theory rather than fact.

The goal is not to win the debate but rather to keep the debate going. It’s the same tactic that was used to great effect by the tobacco industry for decades to counter evidence about the addictive qualities of cigarettes and the impact of second hand smoke. In fact, not only are we seeing the same tactics the tobacco industry used but we’re seeing some of the same groups now carrying the fight against scientific evidence for global warming.

Failing to take action on global warming may prove the largest dereliction of duty – whether you’re a politician, a company executive or an owner/operator – this century. Next issue I will discuss what can be done and what some forward-thinking members of the transportation community are already doing.

– Lou Smyrlis can be reached by phone at (416) 510-6881 or by e-mail at lou@TransportationMedia.ca.


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