Skip to Content

The best climate news you never heard

Have you ever asked yourself what our societal problems are? Of course not. It's a funny question. Just open a newspaper and you'll see: dropout rates, obesity epidemic, homelessness, etc.

We're all familiar with the issues, but how many of us know whether or not we are making any real progress? Where are we in terms of the drop-out rate? Are we getting somewhere with homelessness? The thing is, good news rarely makes the front pages. Just this spring, the media missed a great good-news story on the fight against climate change. But more on that later.

There is an exception to this rule of talking about a problem, but never its progression, and that is unemployment. We hear about unemployment every day. We hear the latest stats for Europe, the United States, Quebec, and Montreal as soon as they become available, and even before, as anxious observers speculate on what these numbers will be. After the numbers are announced, we hear journalists dissect them by age group, occupation, geographic area, and ethnicity. Variations of a tiny fraction of per cent are somehow newsworthy enough to generate commentary for days on end. At the same time, we are told about the opening or closing of every plant, every business, regardless of size. In fact, it is hard to read or listen to the news without hearing about fluctuations in unemployment rates.

It is therefore not surprising that job creation is the top priority of all governments at all levels in all countries. We worry about the things we measure, but we don't measure all the things we worry about, or, if we do, the results don't always make the news. Where are we in terms of the dropout rate? Have we progressed over the past 20 years? Have we achieved the goals we set? I am sure that the experts have the answers. But not many of us ordinary citizens do. I think this kind of information should be regularly reported in the media.

It is encouraging to see that we can solve societal problems. It gives us the confidence to tackle other societal issues, even those that seem enormous.

It's the same thing for the environment. People listen to us (at least, a little bit) when we talk about the problems, but much less so when we talk about the progress we've made.

In 2006, the late Claude Béchard, then minister of the environment for Quebec, adopted an ambitious action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 6% by 2012 as compared with 1990 levels. At the time, we welcomed the plan, which included specific measures and financing – i.e., all the tools to achieve this target.

This past April, Environment Canada published an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions for 2012. The result: Quebec had reduced its emissions by 6.8% as compared with 1990 levels. We had met and exceeded our target! Moreover, between 1990 and 2012, the gross domestic product of Quebec had increased by 50%. This is proof that it is possible to reconcile economic development and environmental protection.

Alas, this news went unnoticed, to the chagrin of the people who had helped make this an achievable target. Politicians, officials, businesspeople, municipalities, environmentalists and citizens alike.

Last week, we invited some of these people to a small 5 à 7 to raise a glass to the main architects of this great achievement. I'm thinking of Paul Bégin, who, as minister of the environment for Quebec, went to Kyoto in 1997 to convince Canada to sign, and to adopt a binding target. I am also thinking of Jean Charest who firmly believed that the future of Quebec lay in a low-carbon economy and gave ministers such as Line Beauchamp and Pierre Arcand leeway to implement the action plan, including a controversial carbon tax that oil companies fought tooth and nail. I am also thinking of companies like Cascades, that have been leaders in energy efficiency and renewable energy, and unions like the CSN who have embraced the fight against climate change and the idea that it is possible to create jobs in the new green economy.

When will we publish a monthly social progress index that can be dissected as closely as the unemployment numbers? That would be a good challenge for someone to take on. 

This article by Sidney Ribaux, executive director of Equiterre, originally appeared in French as an online column for Métro newspaper.