Lakes deserve a break from pollution
By David Suzuki
Environmental News Network
I spent my youth in southern Ontario, where Lake Erie,
the Thames River, and a huge swamp were my enchanted places
for fishing, watching birds, and catching frogs. Those
experiences helped shape who I am, which is why a recent
report on climate change in the region is so distressing.
The report, prepared by the U.S.-based Union of Concerned
Scientists (UCS) and my foundation, examines what will
happen to the Great Lakes region if serious action is
not taken and heat-trapping gases from burning fossil
fuels continue to build up in the atmosphere, worsening
Already, on my trips to Toronto in the summer, I cannot
get over the smog that blankets the city. According to
the two-year UCS study, this smog is expected to intensify
throughout the Great Lakes' many urban areas, where 80
percent of Ontarians live.
Warmer temperatures enhance the creation of smog, which
exacerbates respiratory illnesses, like asthma — and may
even cause them. In Ontario alone, the health costs associated
with this pollution exceed $1 billion each year.
Water levels in Ontario's many lakes are also expected
to drop, and soil moisture in the region could decrease
by as much as 30 percent this century. These changes would
cause small streams to dry up and damage water quality.
They would also forever alter the region's wildlife and
habitat. According to the report, trout populations could
plummet, while the range of destructive alien species,
such as carp and zebra mussels, would likely expand.
In other parts of the world, the effects of global warming
will be much more deadly. A recent study by the Adaptation
and Impacts Research Group with the University of Toronto
has found that flooding in Bangladesh is expected to increase
by up to 40 percent this century as global temperatures
rise. Up to one-fifth of Bangladesh is already flooded
each year, and climate change will make the problem much
worse because sea levels are expected to rise and monsoons
to become more intense.
In Ontario or Bangladesh, the cause of global warming
is the same: excessive consumption of fossil fuels. Canada
is a key culprit in this regard. We are one of the world's
largest per-capita consumers of energy. The fact that
we are a Northern country is no excuse, as many European
nations with similar climates are far more energy efficient
and generate much more of their electrical power through
renewable resources like wind.
Ignoring or trying to merely adapt to global warming
will only make it worse. Consider this: As temperatures
rise, air conditioners will work harder and more often.
This will require more electricity, which means more fossil
fuels will be burned, adding to the burdens of air pollution
and global warming. It's a vicious cycle.
That's why reducing the amount of fossil fuels we burn
is so important. It's the most direct way to reduce air
pollution and the build-up of heat-trapping gasses in
We have the technical ability to make these reductions
now. By making us more efficient and reducing the health
problems associated with air pollution, such reductions
will even save money. The City of Toronto, for example,
has greatly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions from
municipal operations and saved taxpayers' money in the
Recently, I had the opportunity to speak in several southern
Ontario cities, including my hometown of Leamington. Everywhere
I went, people expressed grave concerns about the future
of southern Ontario's environment. They want their children
to have the same quality of life and the same opportunities
that they had. We may still be able to give them those
opportunities if we start taking action now.