Ocean Mist

Issues and trends shaping our environment, health and economy

20 Nov 2016

A difficult pathway

Posted by Michael Keating

Sustainability has been described as more a journey than a destination. The pathway is often twisted and torturous. Sometimes it seems like two steps forward and one step back. That is the case now with climate change, perhaps the defining sustainability issue of our time. Last December, world leaders reached an unprecedented agreement to fight climate change by reducing huge amounts of pollution, most of it from the fossil fuels that power our economies. The United States was a leader in hammering out the Paris agreement. The recent election of Donald Trump as U.S. president has cast a pall over that agreement, because he claims climate change is a hoax and says he will pull the United States out of global efforts to slow it down. He even wants to increase the use of more fossil fuels, including coal, which will worsen the climate problems.

In 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president, his anti-environment views led to great concern in Canada and the United States. Then the big issue for Canada was controls on acid rain. Much of the acidic fallout on southern parts of Canada blew north from U.S. power plants. Mr. Reagan told Ohio coal miners during that election campaign that he would do away with many environmental regulations because they were crippling the economy. Mr. Reagan promised he would “see to it that the Environmental Protection Agency has leaders who understand what coal is to the nation’s economy.” It took seven years, but President Reagan, nearing the end of his final term in office, said he would consider a clean air accord along the lines of two earlier agreements to clean up Great Lakes pollution. It was his successor, George H. W. Bush, who, in 1990, got new legislation in the United States to reduce air pollution, including acid rain, and in 1991 signed Canada-United States Air Quality Accord.

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