By David Suzuki with Faisal Moola

Leaders of nations worldwide know we are near more than one environmental tipping point. So they've met to hammer out agreements in crucial areas such as biodiversity loss and global warming. Canada itself has acknowledged, through national planning and legislation, the importance of issues such as species conservation and sustainable development. Many of these agreements and strategies must be addressed during the mandate of the government we elect on October 14.

In December 2009, Canada will meet with other nations in Copenhagen to adopt an international treaty to succeed the Kyoto Protocol on global warming. In 2010, the country will also have to report on the progress it has made regarding the UN Convention on Biological Diversity's targets for reducing biodiversity loss. Over the next few years, Canada's government must also formally review its Species at Risk Act, implement a Sustainable Development Act, and tackle a number of other crucial environmental issues.

We need a government that will lead when it comes to caring for the finite world that gives us life and sustains us. We've already squandered 20 years since global warming was first recognized as an issue requiring immediate attention. We signed the Kyoto Protocol 10 years ago, in 1998, and ratified it in 2002, but have done little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions since then. On top of that, our oceans have more plastics and pollution but fewer fish, plant and animal species are disappearing at an accelerating rate, and we have failed to take advantage of the many opportunities sustainable development offers.

Even though the environment has at least been on the agenda during this election, pollsters tell us Canadians see the economy and health care as more important. But it's not a matter of one or the other. The health of Canadians depends on a healthy environment, as does a healthy economy. Everything is connected!

The economy is a huge issue, as we can see from the current meltdown in the U.S., which will surely have an enormous impact on our economy. But some politicians are exploiting our fears to imply that environmental protection and action on global warming are not compatible with a strong economy. What planet are these people living on?

That way of thinking is wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. A strong, sustainable economy is not possible without a healthy environment. Global warming, pollution, diminishing resources, and loss of species and habitat will cost us increasingly more as our already burdened health-care systems are stretched to the limit, as we run short of fossil fuels and land to grow food, and as ecosystems collapse, threatening the availability of clean water, air, and soil.

Those who argue that protecting the environment will hurt the economy may want to take note that none of the current economic problems in the U.S., here, or around the world has been caused by environmental-protection measures! On the contrary, countries such as Germany and Denmark that took measures early on to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and switch to more renewable energy sources have seen substantial economic benefits and have been less vulnerable to the impacts of volatile fossil-fuel markets. We don't decry $90 a tonne tipping fees for landfills but we scream bloody murder at a suggested $10 a tonne to pollute the atmosphere with carbon. Sweden has a flourishing economy with a carbon tax at $150 a tonne!

We're a bit behind, but we can start to catch up by recognizing that environmental initiatives can give the economy a huge boost. We can keep sucking every last bit of coal and oil out of the ground until it's all gone, until it's all been burned and its carbon released into the air, or we can create jobs and economic opportunities by developing renewable sources of energy.

Yes, we can all make a difference through our own individual actions, by changing some of our habits, but we also have an opportunity to elect a government that will contribute to the kinds of large-scale changes needed for a sustainable world. As Canadians, we must hold the politicians to account and ensure that, no matter which party wins the election, we will have a government that shows foresight and leadership at home and abroad. That way we'll have a country that is thriving on opportunity rather than drowning in crisis. If we keep stalling, we won't have to worry about the economy, or health care, or anything else.

September 26, 2008
http://www.davidsuzuki.org/blogs/science-matters/2008/09/we-must-elect-leaders-who-care-about-the-planet/