Thursday, June 14, 2007


By now, all of my readers likely heard about former U.S. Vice-President Al Gore's fanciful tour about the planet ranting on and on about the "inconvenient truth"; how global warming and climate change is all our fault and that it is pretty well too late. The planet is doomed.

Nevertheless, despite this gloom, more and more of us are becoming "green". We are joining the "green train" of sorts, whereas everything we buy, ingest, bathe in, drive or ride in, or become a part of must be environmentally correct. That is, we must reprimand fast food outlets that dare to still use styrofoam packaging for their high trans-fat treats they continue to sell unabated to a knowing, but evasive population. The least they can do is wrap their toxins in biodegradable packaging!

At the same time, most of us continue to drive our cars to these fat food places, use their drive throughs, idle our engines to no end and as we leave, we bitch to the passengers beside us about the high gas prices. In fact, people like this are all over the Internet. People are becoming quite manic about the rising price of gas, yet at the same time they do not blink an eye when they drive their SUVs to the corner store or around the block to their children's school. Nobody walks or takes the bus anymore. The interesting thing is none of these folks seem to associate the rising rate of obesity among certain populations with this very behaviour.

Once, a friend of mine tried to get me to pass along a major protest against gas prices to other people on my address list. They wanted EVERYBODY to boycott the big oil companies and only use "independent" gas retailers during some specified day or week or month or so. I wrote my friend back to tell them the only way the price of gas is going to come down is if people drive less. Gas is like a drug. People use gas for almost anything. We heat our homes with it, drive our cars with it, power our lawn mowers with it, operate our boats with it, etc. It just seems to me whenever I tell people that the ONLY way to cut the price of gas is to drive less, they get into a real frenzy. Well, as long as people are addicted to the wheels of their car, the suppliers of fuel will hike their prices to whatever they think people will pay to keep this circus moving along.

There are websites like and that allegedly tell people via the web where the cheapest gas prices are in town, encouraging every man, woman or small child in a gas powered trike to drive over there to fill up. That is also stupid too, because all you are doing is increasing demand at that one source, which will eventually have to hike their own prices imminently to protect their supply. Are we really being smart anyways with all these gas price protests? When we learn that all of our petty protests fail to bring gas prices down, we turn to the government. Can politicians *really* do something about the price of gas? Put it another way. Can government *really* control the prices of anything else, ranging from chocolate bars to ice cream to clothing to furniture? If they can't do anything about these other prices, why do people think the government can wave it's invisible hand over the gas markets and force the prices down? Bad news, folks. Gas prices are expected to go up even further.

So, people - we are facing another inconvenient truth. We are facing the truth about the price of ownership and operation of motor vehicles. At one time, Henry Ford stated with pride about how he can reproduce his product more efficiently and cheaply by inventing the assembly line ... but today, we need to question why so many gas guzzlers are still coming off the line and why so many people are still buying them. Somebody told me that gas guzzling cars like SUVs and Hummers have actually increased their sales by over 20% over the year prior ... and yes, right after we were shown Al Gore's piece of rhetoric, many people just went out and did what they want anyways. That is probably why people like Gore say it is too late.

What about other things that people do to waste environmental resources? I walk up and down our main drag several times a day to meet with clients, check on existing files, take pictures (where relevant to a case), or do banking. In addition to the usual assembly line of dope deals and graffiti artists that run when they see me coming, I notice variety stores that continue to keep their air conditioning on full blast and keep their front doors wide open ... symbolically, I suppose, in a lame attempt to lower the temperature of the outside. Sorry, that isn't going to work. I also notice large garbage bins behind many business establishments that contain way too many recycleables for my liking. I've seen the following items being disposed destined for our landfills: old computer monitors, old floppy disks, burnt out light bulbs, plastic grocery bags, radios, televisions, organics, etc. Obviously, 90% of us do not practice the 3 R's: reduce, reuse and recycle.

Further along, I walk into our friendly neighbourhood courthouse to drop off some documents. After passing through security and avoiding the body cavity searches one more time, I approach the civil counter and find myself freezing all of a sudden. The court clerks all have coats on and people are running around wearing mitts and gloves ... I was surprised nobody tried to start an indoor snowball fight! There's no need for air conditioning to be kept at such low levels that winter-time memories are so near. Christmas is over. Give it a rest.

I then walk towards my bank. On my way naturally, I encounter the friendly neighbourhood hot dog man who uses natural gas to fuel his grill. I ask him about his suppliers. He told me he found a fine place in a city an hour's drive from here. Hmmm, there are no local suppliers? Anyways, I ordered a grilled sausage with all the fixings and a diet Coke and walked away. I ate on the run; after all, I do have to burn off the calories I am taking in with something, right? By the time I reached my bank, I noted there were no trash cans around to put the napkin and the Coke can away, so I walked a few metres to find one that was overflowing, leaving more on the ground than in the actual can. Recycling bins are nowhere to be seen, of course. It must be the city workers' day off.

At the bank, I grab enough cash so that I can go grocery shopping the next day. I then stop on my way back to my office at the office supplies store across the way. I pick up a number of items (on plastic as usual), including a toner cartridge (something that seems to perpetually run out, even in my laser printer), more pens (because clients perpetually steal them from the office when I have them in to sign documents), more disks and CDs, as well as a table fan. It seems the people that run my building don't believe in air conditioning, so I have to use my own air cooler (which by the way takes up more kilowatt hours than a regular air conditioner, but I have no choice). I then drop off the items to my office, take a sugar-free Red Bull drink from my small efficiency fridge and drink it to catch up on sleep I never get.

My office is on a street that time forgot. The downtown revitalization types believe that all we need to do is make St. Paul Street two ways again, instead of the one way traffic direction it is now. I don't see how that will help, other than give people an opportunity to see old, broken down buildings, graffiti and the engrained drug culture of the Garbage City two ways instead of only one. Besides that, I know from riding the bus that this street isn't even wide enough. One way traffic is difficult enough to manage with the hoards of delivery vans, people trying to park and others on foot trying to cross the street. If it becomes two way, cyclists will only drive their bikes more often on the sidewalk, which only further marginalizes pedestrians. This will only make St. Paul Street even more unsafe than it already is, which to me, only drives people away from downtown instead of attracting them to downtown. The two-way street advocates claim this is good for the wine route. In my view, would this not be better to be rebuilt into a pedestrian roadway instead of reverting to two-way traffic? The last time I heard, it was not safe to drink and drive anyways.

After my day is done, I go home. I usually walk home or bus it home. I do have a bus pass, so I never have to dig for change when I need to get on. If I do work late or the weather is inclement, I use a cab, as it is fifteen minutes from the nearest bus stop to my house. I wish other people used the bus too; if they did, the bus service would be more frequent and have more routes covering a larger geographic area. However, because no matter what public transit is available in our region, people still insist on polluting the environment with their SUVs and Hummers, while the rest of us have to breathe the air and put up with their "road hogging" behaviour, even when pedestrians or cyclists lawfully have the right of way.

Anyhow, the next day I do my grocery shopping. I don't have a grocery store in my neighbourhood (because I choose to live far away from certain parts of civilization I tolerate each day at the office). Therefore, we have to either take a bus to the grocery store - which is hefty if all of us go. It is cheaper and probably better for my waistline if we walked, although the walk can be forty-five minutes in length. The interesting thing is that our government and public health people try to cram down our throats that we MUST eat more fruits and vegetables and keep our shopping to the outer tier of the aisles. I live in a Region that includes a substantial number of farmers and agricultural businesses. Niagara's tender fruit industry is among the best known in the world. These same farms also produce a full range of vegetables as well. However, when you set foot in the grocery store, do we see any Niagara fruits and vegetables for sale? Of course, not!

We are told we can travel (meaning only drive) to Vineland or Jordan or Merritville Highway or wherever else to find ubiquitous fruit and vegetable stands put out by farmers or go to various markets located on the other side of Fourth Avenue or downtown as well. This is not practical unless you have a vehicle, which again is polluting the air as you get to the fruits and vegetables that are locally grown, so if you don't drive you are stuck purchasing fruits and vegetables that have been transported from even further away in order to get our daily requirements. Greenhouse gases increase the further one must drive to deliver what they have to deliver. Grocery stores that call themselves "fresh" anywhere in their name are lying to you.

Anyhow, it doesn't really matter what you eat anyways. You have to wash everything off the best you can, unless you can afford to purchase 100% organic product - however, even the term "organic" can't be relied upon anymore. In my household, we frequently run out of food before the next grocery day, two weeks' away. I will simply not purchase anything in between. It is the fault of people who eat too much during the first week if it can't last during the second week. Try to live on a budget for $850-$1,000 per month for groceries, only to have them run out on you before the end of the first week. I end up having to get fresh fruits and vegetables from the market uptown, or from the corner store, as I have to eat properly even if others in my household choose not to.

But, everybody wants to go "green", I hear. That could have fooled me. Until the day I see packed buses taking people to every corner of this city and this region, with less cars on the road and less use of fossil fuels for things like air conditioning to be blown full-blast to the great outdoors, I will believe this Inconvenient Truth is only too inconvenient for those among us that have the money to blow on higher fuel costs anyways, though it continues to be the Canadian way to bitch about these things, but do nothing. Personally, I wouldn't mind if gas for cars went up to $5 a litre, with an exemption only for those that use their vehicles for business or courier purposes. In many European countries, gas is running at about $3 -$4 a litre and probably getting higher; in addition, many of these same cities charge toll fees for private automobiles coming into the city. If our cities suddenly decided to take this turn and use the extra fees towards transit, people would throw a fit ... the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution would mean nothing at that point. We would be taking the drug away from the addicts to a point that there would have to be a black market somewhere.

Our own Region wants to extend two different highways, add more lanes, as well as get the province to increase the number of lanes from four to eight on the Queen Elizabeth Way, as well as build a brand new Niagara-GTA corridor at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. To me, it just means more smog in the air for me to breathe, not a good thing for a region that already has a higher proportion of persons suffering from respiratory conditions, as well as more tax dollars sucked away from people like me for things I will not likely use. Big box stores will continue to dominate the market, forcing more and more people to stay in their cars to go to shop. Parking is "free" or so they think. Yet, people like me pay the same prices as those who park their cars at the same stores ... even though I didn't benefit from the "free parking" that I indirectly paid for like they did. People who drive continuously bitch that people that use transit do not cover the full cost of fares; yet, those who drive do not even come close to covering the true cost of their own addiction. Someday, I may just ask for my money back.

But then again, the Truth that I am telling you may just be too inconvenient for you to understand. You may be "green" in principle, but know absolutely nothing about what it means to actually BE "green". As Al Gore said, it may already be too late ...

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