Escarpment highway a bad idea

July 18 2003. The Hamilton Spectator -By DAVID SUZUKI


Scientist and broadcaster David Suzuki says transportation planning must include protection for natural resources.

This fragile ecosystem is one of Canada's natural treasures

The Great Lakes are truly deserving of their name. From the coniferous forests that support populations of moose, caribou, lynx, and wolf to the sandy beaches along the shores of Lake Ontario, Georgian Bay and Lake Huron, the Great Lakes region is home to many intact and distinct ecosystems.

My family moved to Leamington, Ont., in 1945 when I was nine. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of summers spent in magical places like Lake Erie and Point Pelee National Park. It was heaven. There were fascinating insects to poke and prod, waters teeming with fish, and birds to watch for hours.

But that is changing. The Great Lakes region is now home to more than 40 million people whose actions are profoundly affecting the regions's ecological bounty. By burning vast amounts of gasoline — or any other fossil fuel — we're producing carbon. dioxide and altering the chemical composition of the atmosphere.

This is causing climate change and putting enormous pressure on the Great Lakes.

We are already seeing signs of climate change throughout the region: average annual temperatures are on the rise; the extent and duration of ice cover is decreasing; and air pollution, once a symptom of congested urban areas, is rapidly becoming a problem in cottage country.

How do we solve these problems? Local government is the first line of defence in the fight against uncontrolled sprawl, air pollution and climate change. You can help to reduce our dependence on the fossil fuels that heat our homes, cool our buildings and move goods across the region.

Leading municipalities in the area who are already taking action are finding out that reducing greenhouse gas emissions also saves money and creates jobs.

The City of Toronto has cut its emissions by a staggering 67 per cent since 1990 by improving the energy efficiency of city buildings and streetlights, and by treating gas seeping from garbage in municipal landfills. Capturing landfill gases produced the greatest reduction in emissions and also generates $2.5 million in yearly income for the city.

Although energy efficiency measures resulted in much smaller emission reductions, they save Toronto producing $10 million in energy costs each year.

But it is not all good news. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done. I understand that there is a proposal to build a new highway through the Niagara Escarpment. This fragile ecosystem is one of Canada ’s natural treasures. It even has the distinction of being one of our United Nations designated biospheres. I cannot agree with any plan that would run a new highway through it.

We need to have a rational transportation planning process that looks at alternatives, both in routes (away from the Escarpment) and at methods — we should have a made-in-Niagara Region rail freight strategy, for example, and stop putting so many resources into last century's approach. of building more highways.

When I heard that the government of Ontario had introduced a Smart Transportation Bill,I was pleased. There are some positive elements in Bill 25, like transit passes for systems that overlap. But when I dug a little deeper and saw that they mean to rewrite the environmental assessment act to take out any analysis of the environmental and human health impact of highway planning, I just shook my head. This is not smart growth.

I understand that some of the Ontario mayors here have a good analysis of the impact of Bill 25 on their council decision-making process and I hope you will join together to help defeat Bill 25 and replace it with better legislation.

Several Great Lakes states and Ontario have programs that could be emulated throughout the region. I can ’t mention all of the positive contributions that cities and towns here have made to the environment,but I ’d like to mention a few:
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Burlington has made a concentrated effort to direct its growth south,and protect its urban and rural boundary. I know that the residents there are very concerned about the impact of the mid-peninsula highway on their rural region, and I hope they will stick to their great official plan. We need to save all the good agriculture land in Ontario that we can.
- Sudbury has set a goal of becoming the most energyefficient community in Canada. It is developing wind systems suitable for residences, farms and businesses. It is also developing energy systems to use geothermal power to heat and cool new businesses.
- St.Catharines should be proud of the many environmental initiatives along the great stretch of its water systems.

Our wilderness areas and the plants and animals that characterize them are central to our identity as Canadians. What would Ontario be without our abundance of natural forests, lakes and rivers? Waiting to address the environmental risks to the Great Lakes region will only increase the severity of the problems and the expense of dealing with them. As well,any delay increases the likelihood of irreversible losses — a terrible legacy to leave our children and grandchildren.

David Suzuki is a Canadian scientist and broadcaster. He is chair of the Vancouver based David Suzuki Foundation.This article is taken in part from notes prepared for a speech by Suzuki to the International Association of Great Lakes Mayors. The foundation ’s report, Confronting Climate Change in the Great Lakes Region,can be down- loaded from www.davidsuzuki.org.

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