Fix Your Tailpipe

Is it just me, or is auto emission pollution getting worse in the city? It never fails. Somehow I'm always trapped behind these dirty vehicles with shit for radiators and enormous plumes of charcoal gray smoke billowing out of the tailpipe, the foul stench of burning chemicals invading my lungs. The lingering gasoline exhaust fumes burn inside me, much like my intolerance for people driving air-polluting, lung-tainting, asthma-causing rust boxes.

Perhaps they don't have the money to have the problem repaired. To this I say, if you can't afford to get it fixed, then YOU SHOULDN'T BE DRIVING! Pay your $2.50, take the TTC, and save your $3,900/year. Then you can afford to get the dilapidated parts fixed on your current nightmare.

I never thought I'd hear myself advocating more penalties, more laws and more control; but I really feel like my health is in jeopardy and quite frankly, I'm annoyed being stuck in rush hour traffic, inhaling this toxin far more noxious than second hand smoke. While I believe more people should be pulled over and choked - I mean, ticketed - or at least alerted to the fact that their car is making others sick, I also feel that there are much deeper issues stemming from the Government that need to be addressed here.

Just this past week government officials met to discuss how they could pull their weight in the Kyoto Agreement. The Kyoto protocal requires Canada to reduce greenhouse emissions six per cent from 1990 levels by 2012. Transportation generates nearly one-third of the total greenhouse gas from human activity and is said to be the fastest growing source of pollution leading to smog.

It's no surprise that yet again they're passing around legislation like a hot potato. "We're confident that we could arrive at a deal in the next few days," said Transport Minister Jean Lapierre. That was February 4th. They still aren't any closer to reaching a conclusion.

As late as last Thursday, Prime Minister Paul Martin was still muttering vague utterances like, "This plan must be strengthened. We need to have a more robust plan and this will be released pretty soon." Pretty soon like ... next December at the Environmental Summit where you will surely be held accountable for these shallow promises?


Environment Minister Stephane Dion tried to give us a clearer timetable. "It will be several more weeks before anything is ready. Cabinet ministers have made no firm decisions," he said, alluding to February 23rd when the Finance Minister releases this year's budget.

However, another government official was more careful about getting our hopes up. "It may take a year in total for all of the parts to be locked," he said, alluding to the complex disagreements within the Cabinet. "We want to do it right." I think that's a nice way of saying, "We don't want to spend any more money than we have to on this environmentalism crap!"

This is what many environmentalists fear. "It's more encouraging on the political side than I've ever seen it and it's just as discouraging as it ever was on the bureaucratic side," said The Sierra Club's May. "Part of our problem in achieving ecological fiscal reform -- maybe 90 per cent of our problem -- is the bureaucracy at Finance Canada."

Esteemed environmentalist David Suzuki reports, "You have people who agree to certain programs that are 10, 15 years down the pipe. And people who agree with those protocols know full well they're not going to be in office 10,15 years down the line, so they sign up for all kinds of things".


So what are the options currently being discussed to curb Toronto's pollution problems?

1. Pass legislation to encourage corporate responsibility with automakers to pursue hybrid technology and fuel cell initiatives. Give tax breaks to those who opt to drive a more environmentally sound vehicle.

Sounds easy for government officials, doesn't it? Perhaps this option just makes too much sense for them. Or perhaps corporate ties prove to be the puppetmaster's strings yet again. The potential decrease in auto sales could lead to a decrease in the local economy, which is a monster far too intimidating for many government officials.

2. Instead of passing legislation, Martin's crew is contemplating using a "voluntary agreement" with auto makers where industry professionals will be given a set of goals for making the vehicles more fuel-efficient, without "closing down trade borders" or "hindering business", as some officials fear.

This sounds like a wonderful idea. Because you all know how well the honor system works when it comes to corporations. I'm so sure they'll put environmental concerns at the top of their agenda and spend billions to see that these non-legally-binding goals are met. God forbid Canadians have higher standards for their vehicles! A Leger Marketing poll found that 81 per cent of respondents thought the federal government should be tougher on citizens and companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, 84 per cent of respondents thought it was important for Canada to be recognized on the world stage as a world leader in environmental policy.

3. Another option is to follow California's policy, by starting with innovations for the highest emitting vehicles such as SUVs and pickup trucks which could cut 18-25% of the dangerous emissions.

General Motors Canada revealed its hybrid transit bus and full-size pickup trucks at the Canadian International Auto Show here in Toronto this week. President of GM Michael Grimaldi said, "GM's strategy is to target the highest fuel consuming vehicles first. We have hybrid transit buses and full-size pickup trucks available today and will be offering hybrid versions of our full-size sport-utilities, compact sport-utilities and passenger cars over the next few years." Hooray for technology! But now I'm wondering why Industry leaders claimed just this past October they "cannot produce special fuel-efficient cars for the small Canadian market". Again, money is an issue. The hybrids and fuel cells are no doubt more expensive to make and the government hasn't sweetened the deal with rewards and incentives for increasing production of these environmentally-safe models yet.

4. "Montreal will host the International Summit on Climate Change next December," Paul Martin remarks proudly.

Soo that buys them another year in this painfully drawn out charade? NDP House Leader Bill Blaikie received public applause when he commented, "A conference is not a plan. And I hope for the prime minister's sake it's not a smog day in Montreal when they have the conference." Speaking of smog... lest not we forget a few weeks ago when Toronto saw it's first smoggy February day! If that's not a sign that pollution and global warming are getting out of control, then I don't know what is. Even the bears are out of hibernation and having babies in upper Ontario!

5. Find a loophole and latch on! The Kyoto Agreement still has loopholes that allow wealthier countries like Canada to pay lower-emitting countries like Russia for the "right" to pollute, and claim credit for moving Canada closer to its own projected goals.

Finance Minister Ralph Goodale claims this will not be the case but we can only speculate about the integrity of anyone's words at this point since there are currently so many disagreements in Parliament.

6. Pay other countries to develop technology that will help them reduce their emission, therefore making Canada look like the bigger, nicer, more technologically advanced big brother.

Ralph Goodale who moments ago assured us he would not pursue paying off other countries to compensate for Canada's overindulgence, has now announced that he's interested in paying other countries to develop environmentally-sound technologies to help Canada's image. Insert irony here. Call me ludicrous, but maybe we should focus on improving our own country instead of mothering everyone else, an appealing idea - if you're George W. Bush.

7. Wait, I know! Let's put billions of advertising dollars into the TTC!

Maybe we can brainwash these people to abandon their beloved cars and get on a crowded, 10km per hour streetcar or ride the rocket which excludes the nightclub crowd! I'm sure you've noticed this already taking place full-force in the last year. A lot of people are saying, "I know, I know, it saves me $3,900/year... but that still doesn't change the fact I live in Brampton and don't have time for a 2 1/2 hour commute to and from work everyday."

8. Strengthen personal responsibility by requiring motorists to have their vehicles inspected every two years, as mandated by Drive Clean standards.

There's a responsible idea! Although this could very well be the latest example of "good in theory, corrupted in practice". In 2001, one of Drive Clean's facilities was shut down on nine charges of violating EPA regulations... that we know about. Drive Clean's data shows only 14% of vehicles failing the biannual emissions tests, but I am not convinced. Especially since Drive Clean policy states, "Vehicles 20 years or older, light-duty commercial farm vehicles and motorcycles are exempt. The test results will be compared by a Drive Clean computer to emission standards for the vehicle and its model year. For example, if you drive a 1986 model car, it will be tested against 1986 emission standards with an allowance for vehicle deterioration." Lovely. So the guy driving the restored 57 Chevy pickup can be my new tormentor? Somehow


he's above the law?

The Auto Protection Agency adds, "Drive Clean as it is currently designed is an ill-conceived and costly program that was misrepresented to Ontarians and will never deliver the promised 22% reduction in emissions." The APA has conducted numerous mystery shops in the last year and found that their 1988 Pontiac Sunbird passed the emissions test at 11 locations but failed the test at 9, which reveals a discrepancy in Drive Clean's methodology that varies from facility to facility.

9. Remember the Idling By-law?

The theory was that if every driver in the city avoided five minutes of idling per day, the city could shed 79 tons of carbon dioxide from its atmosphere and Toronto residents could also avoid wasting a total of 8,700 gallons of gas per day. Since 1998, 111 tickets ($105), 2 summons and 800 warnings were issued for idling.

But there are so many overwhelming factors - what about taxi drivers? What if you're waiting for a friend in the freezing cold? What about gridlock traffic? This initiative seems like a failure from conception. To assume that people aren't idling just around the corner after being spoken to by an officer - if that even happens at all - is just naive.

10. Sic the bike cops on them!

Over the last few years, Toronto has increased its "Smog Patrol" to thirty cops on bike strong! In fact, there's even a pack of four bike cops that patrol the downtown core looking for motorists with plumes of dark smoke coming out of their rears. As absurd as this sounds, allegedly since 1998, the unit has inspected over 21,500 vehicles and has issued more than 3,900 tickets.

But now I'm still drawn back to the same question: Why do I see several major polluters every single day? And also, what about the highway polluters? How are bike cops supposed to nab them?

In conclusion, am I pessimistic about Toronto's environmental policies? You bet I am! On one hand, I think the important and certainly more positive conclusion is that Canada is at least talking about environmental issues, instead of backing out of the Kyoto Agreement like the US last year. Some researchers have even speculated that more than 50% of Ontario's smog problem is due to pollutants blown in from the United States.

But on the other hand, talk is cheap! Let's see some initiatives that are worth the wait here! Let's encourage both personal and corporate responsibility! Let's welcome new technology, instead of fearing it! Let's stop all this squabbling! And Officer please, pull over that Jerk in the 57 Chevy pickup and make him accountable for that intolerable stench emitting from his tailpipe.

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