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Fondly looking back at Acid Rain and the lessons learned.

Although the effects of Acid Rain were first recognized in 1852 England, it was not until 1979 that North American Governments admitted that “Acid Rain” (sulfur & nitrogen oxides being emitted into air) was caused from human sources, such as coal based electricity generation, factories and automobile exhausts.

CBC report October 1979

Although the Carter administration had agreed to negotiate a bilateral agreement on controlling acid rain, the new GOP president, Reagan reneged.

The Canadian government, now under Trudeau denounced what it referred to as an "unacceptable breach of U.S. commitments," which in diplomatic terms was considered strong language at the time.

The US went as far as to manipulate scientific research (now that sounds familiar) and even classified two NFB films on the topic of Acid Rain as political propaganda that then had to be registered before being shown in the US.

Trudeau at a US conference obviously miffed at the US in action stated “Canada is a country whose main exports are hockey players and cold fronts. Our main imports are baseball players and acid rain.”

CBC report on continuing effect of acid rain, April 1985

With H.R. Bush taking over from Reagan and the more affable (by US standards) Brian Mulroney replacing Trudeau, Canada and the US started signing agreements.

The first of which was the acid rain agreement requiring both governments to produce detailed monitoring reports every six months to prove they were living up to the clean air legislation passed separately in each country.

Forever labeling Mulroney our "Greenest Prime Minister" (although some of us remember him more for NAFTA, with a different label).

CBC reports March 1991.

By 2006 Acid Rain had been reduced by 40% in the eastern half of North America. However the signing of the 1991 accord, actually played a very small part, since it only called for the two governments to report.

Acid rain was reduced because the two governments placed restrictions on the amount of dioxides that could be released by industries. In the US it was the 1991 implementation of their Clean Air Act.

In Canada it was the provinces of Ontario and Quebec enforcing the new standards and assisting their key industries with financial support from Mulroney's government.

CBC reports April 2006

Here we are in 2008 and it is no longer Ontario's super stack in Sudbury, or Quebec's Noranda mines, that are the big elephants at the table, it is now the tar sands expansion in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Politically we are coming to an end of eight years of moving backwards on environmental issues with a different Bush and unfortunately another affable (by US standards) Prime Minister. 

Unlike their predecessors, who had to finally admit that acid rain was man made, Bush and Harper initially disputed the fact that man made greenhouse gases had an affect on climate change (and basically our long term existence on the planet). However both became very astute at using environmental labels to pass legislation that in effect slowed down environmental progress.

If acid rain taught us anything, it is that environmental progress requires political change. 

In the US it looks like they will have a Democratic President, and although Obama has a lot of things to change and his electioneering rhetoric is all over the board, at least he is not an oil man or from an oil producing state.

In Canada change will have to take place at two levels of Government. We need a Prime Minister that is willing to immediately set standards for greenhouse emissions and provincial governments that are willing to impose them upon their key industries.

And similarly to Acid Rain it will probably also take funding (tax incentives etc.) from the Federal government to assist Alberta and Saskatchewan to accomplish this (and that is a big issue for the rest of us when you consider how much money the oil industry makes).

Canada's 142nd year could be a year of environmental advancement. All we need is a change in the US and a shift in Canada.

But hey it's Canada Day and I'm feeling very optimistic and apparently quite generous.

References: CBC archives here, Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Trudeau here. Wikipedia on Acid Rain here.


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