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Volume 1 Issue 1 ISSN# 1708-3265

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 A Growing Backlash Against Waste
by David Suzuki

Back in the early 1990's, environmental concerns topped the polls. Everyone, it seemed, was worried about the impact of human beings on the biosphere. It was as though the collective inertia of decades of unchecked industrial growth had suddenly caught up to us. When we stopped to take a breather, we realized there were consequences to all our actions - pollution, global warming, habitat loss and species extinction to name a few. We saw our species had the power to alter the very systems which sustain life on Earth and it scared us.

Unfortunately, it didn't penetrate our lifestyles. We did make some strides - we phased out ozone-depleting chemicals and started recycling and reducing some air pollutants. The problem was, once we made a few changes, we reverted to assuming everything was fine. Corporations and governments all developed bureaucracies focusing on environmental problems and we thought they were taking care of things for us.

This made us all feel better, but it blinded us to other growing problems. Many of the well-meaning people who were putting out their blue boxes once a week then walked across their driveways to get into massive SUVs to drive to work - alone. Most didn't even recognize this as an environmental problem. They felt they needed a vehicle and SUVs were big and looked safe. SUVs also looked like they could take people out to the wilderness in complete comfort. Who wouldn't want that?

Automotive manufacturers took advantage of this fantasy by using beautiful natural imagery in their commercials and advertisements. And boy, were they effective. By the late 90's, the majority of cars hitting the roads of North America weren't cars at all, but "light trucks" - a government classification term used to describe everything from pickups to SUVs and minivans.

This classification provided a convenient loophole for vehicle manufacturers. Light trucks are exempt from stricter "passenger vehicle" fuel-efficiency regulations, so they could burn more fuel and pollute more. Why? Because in the late 1970's automobile manufacturers lobbied for the measure, originally as protection against more fuel-efficient competitors from Europe.

At the time it didn't seem to be a big deal. Back then pickups were largely for farms and industry, and no one had heard of SUVs. All this would change as the auto industry found they could make enormous profits by slapping a passenger-vehicle type of body on a truck frame powered by an old-technology gas-guzzling engine. Toss in a dozen cup holders and leather seats and dealers couldn't keep them in the showrooms.

So a loophole, combined with effective advertising created a fad, which led to a decade of massive growth in greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. Air pollution and smog, which had been slowly shrinking in the late 80's, thanks to better fuel efficiency regulations for cars, is once again choking our cities. We're back where we started - or worse.

But change is afoot. Led by California, the pressure is on to update our antiquated fuel-efficiency regulations. And the charge is no longer being championed by only environmentalists. Average people are beginning to realize how wasteful large SUVs are. The "backlash against SUVs" even recently made the front page of USA Today. People are beginning to see them as big, dirty, safety hazards.

If that's the case and tastes are changing, do we really need improved regulations? Well, it would hardly be prudent to leave the fate of our health and well-being to automotive fads. Fuel efficiency is simply not a priority for manufacturers. In fact, the 2003 vehicle fleet on average actually burns more gas than the 2002 models. Better regulations to reduce greenhouse gases and smog are thus urgently needed. Let's call a car a car and a truck a truck, and bring fuel efficiency standards up to date.

David T. Suzuki PhD, the Chair of the David Suzuki Foundation, is an award-winning scientist, environmentalist and broadcaster. David has received consistently high acclaim for his thirty years of award-winning work in broadcasting; explaining the complexities of science in a compelling, easily understood way. He is well known to millions as the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's popular science television series, The Nature of Things. Take the Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

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