Government: The Largest Pollutant

You would be quite reasonable if you thought that government was not the largest contributor to pollution and climate change. After all, we are repeatedly told that the burning of fossil fuels is the chief carbon dioxide culprit, and that we should all consider recycling and re-using paper, glass and metal. Government is often associated with bureaucracy and inertia – not pollution.

It’s not very obvious that wave dynamics are a function of the moon either. So, it’s worth considering that the few elected and mostly unelected officials who manage the biggest player, the state, have a significant impact on the carbon dioxide footprint within our ecosystem.

The average car emits 404 grams of carbon dioxide per mile.[i] Let’s not get carried away about speed, driving conditions, engine size and the many other factors that impact fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions. Yes, I get it, a Camry Hybrid typically burns less fuel going downhill at 50 miles per hour than does the Mercedes Benz E63 AMG Wagon travelling uphill in snow at 5 miles per hour. And let’s assume that in rush-hour, 404 grams per mile is being conservative.

In the City of Toronto, 24% of commuters take public transport to work.[ii] In contrast, 56% of commuters take public transport to work in London, England. Underlying that is the reality that London has built a bigger and better transport infrastructure. The Toronto Transit Commission only has 75 metro stops compared to London’s 270 …. and yet Toronto has a much bigger area than does London, and needs public transport more so to combat its harsher winter.

Now let’s suppose Toronto’s 1.52 million commuters had better public transport options, so that it made sense to use public transport. Let’s assume that 56% of commuters used public transport to get to work. Instead of 365,000 Toronto commuters using public transport, we now have 851,000 commuting the median 12-mile roundtrip to work.[iii] Every single day.

In this simplified utopia, we have taken 486,000 commuters largely from cars and allocated them into buses, rail and the metro. Yes, these all also contribute to pollution but this is negligible in comparison to cars. You can see where I am going with this. 486,000 commuters travelling 12 miles per day, emitting 404 grams of pollution per mile comes in at 2,356 tonnes of carbon dioxide pollution per day.

With the caveat of some simplifications, we’re not too wrong in suggesting that if the proportion of Toronto’s commuters taking public transport matched that of London’s, the commuters of Toronto would reduce their carbon dioxide emissions by 2,356 tonnes every single day. The question then becomes, why don’t working commuters take public transport in Toronto?

With the appalling lack of public transportation infrastructure, it’s not difficult to point to the governments of Toronto, its neighbouring municipalities and Ontario as quite possibly the largest contributors to climate change in Canada.



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