Good afternoon. I am Parisa Ariya, James McGill professor, McGill, Canada research chair, tier one, senior chair.
I had the opportunity to train over 150 people in my laboratories in the departments of chemistry and atmospheric and oceanic sciences at McGill, leading to five high-tech spin-off companies, 15 professors, and many leaders in government as well as the environment. I've had the opportunity also to act as the lead author for two UNEP science reports in the chemical and physical transformation of compounds, as well as acting as the chair of the joint European committee for climate change.
As a scientist, I am here, and I find it illogical to not be able to present you, as a physical chemist and a physical scientist, the data on which my arguments are based. Having said that, as a physicist and chemist, I'm going to show you what I think using also last-minute experiments.
What I'm getting at is, when you look at CEPA, there are lots of good things about it. But since 1999, there are lots of shortcomings as well. For example, the nanoparticles, emerging contaminants, and so forth were pushed into the existing laws, which are not characterized. What I'm going to show you is what more should be done. We have recommendations about aerosols that are regulated but not enforced.
What I'm trying to do today is, starting with one sentence, I think cutting carbon is good, the carbon tax is good, but based on the data evaluation of over 12 years of data, I don't believe that a cap-and-trade system is a logical process to follow because it has resulted in contradictory data over the years. However, the carbon tax is a good idea.
Actually I want to bring something that brings people together. Environment is not a Liberal platform or a Conservative platform or an NDP platform. Environment is not right wing or left wing. It's everybody's problem. It affects our health. It affects our climate, and we have to find solutions together.
I have heard many times how much it costs, and I bring you some of the costs, but one of the questions I would like every single one of you to think about is this: what is the cost of doing nothing? What is the cost of continuing to do the things you do, which is basically nothing?
What I know is our planet, we call it metastable. Because I was deprived of my audio-visual because of the French language.... Funnily, I must be the only native francophone in the room.
It is at a metastable position. Metastable means that, like my keys, which go back and forth around what we call the “axis of symmetry”, when we have some changes, which we call “forcing”, our planet can go back naturally to its original position; that is, until the emissions go so far that the planet cannot seek its natural position, and then it goes to an unstable position. That's why we are worried about climate change.
Not that many of the natural processes are strong, but many of the anthropogenic-emitted processes are such that they can bring the planet, which is naturally in a metastable position, to an unstable position. That's why there is urgency to act now.
What we do know for sure is that human anthropogenic activity, including fossil fuel-based processes, do impact climate. We also know what the sound policy evidence and sustainable technology can do. I want to respectfully make a comment about sustainability. Sustainability is a beautiful word that has been used by different people in different contexts, but in many cases doesn't mean what we want it to mean.
One of the first molecules that was called sustainable and green was chlorofluorocarbons, which led to the destruction of the ozone because we didn't do the life-cycle analysis at the beginning. We thought it was energetic, and it was. We thought it was facile, or very effective, and it was. That's because of not thinking it through, not looking at it in depth. We had to stop that process, which was led by someone who was actually my supervisor, Paul Crutzen, who got the Nobel Prize. We could reverse the process through regulations such as the Montreal protocol.
I looked at bringing you costs because you will appreciate costs better than numbers that form from science. One thing that we have to keep in mind is that climate change is estimated to cost approximately $5 billion by 2020 in Canada; air pollution, $8 billion. For extreme weather, the number is more rounded. On average, it's about $630 million.
When you look at these processes, what are you looking at when we talk about air pollutants and contaminants? With regard to air pollutants, there are millions of compounds, such as ozone, NOx, VOCs, SOx, and particulate matter, which are particles that are very small, from zero to 100 nanometres. In a minute, I will get to why I care about these small particles.
Also, there are emerging contaminants, composites. Many of them are natural, but when you combine them, their life-cycle analysis in nature isn't the same. Therefore, you can actually pass it in law as natural or green or sustainable, but the life-cycle analysis has been shown in many studies to not be identical.
Regarding the effect of air, air is important. It is the fastest-moving fluid in the environment. This means that as soon as you emit pollutants from water or soil, when they get to air, they are subject to long-range transportation. Therefore, the effects can be not only local, but also regional and global. For example, when you mentioned mercury that was a problem from the electricity companies, yes, they did decrease it, but still they have a lot of black carbon and particle emissions coming in. The effect is that, from the air, they affect water and soil and biota, in general.
One thing I would like to mention is that, yes, the environment is complex. Yes, there are lots of chemical and physical processes that are going on at the same time, but if we are smart enough, we will be able to see the trends. That happened when we regulated, very beautifully, the complex reactions of ozone. They showed that actually we don't need to cut all the precursors at the same time. We scientists showed that when you have, for example, huge amounts of NOx, or low amounts of NOx, or low amounts of VOCs, by cutting one, not two, you can bring about the same reduction in ozone.
That's what I want to make sure that the industry knows, that the science right now, since the 1999 CEPA, has evolved significantly. We have to have more interaction amongst scientists, industries, and policy-makers to know that, yes, there are intelligent ways to cut and save money and be good for the environment.
One of the areas of CEPA where we have not done a good job is aerosols. Aerosols are airborne particles that go from a few nanometres to a few microns. Their lifetime is long. They can go into nanoparticles. They can be subject to transport. They can go to the native communities and to many others, even from, say, Montreal. In that case, they also can have a global effect. If they are larger, they go very quickly to places close to their origin.
What are they? They are pollen. They are bacteria. They are dust. They are emerging contaminants. They are nanoparticles. Those are the composites, and so forth. They have one thing in common. Two agencies, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and the World Health Organization—two different international organizations for health and climate—both concur that aerosols are their priority, for totally different reasons.
For climate, aerosol and cloud interactions are the major uncertainty in all domains of climate change. The uncertainty is in the magnitude of all greenhouse gases together. In health, aerosols are a cause of respiratory and other diseases. One of the nanoparticles, for example, black carbon, has both health effects and climate effects. Nanoparticles have many properties, such as size, composition, surface properties, and so forth. The major question becomes whether we will be able to see them. Will we be able to characterize them to mandate them? The answer is, after the last 17 years, I would say, yes.
We have the capability to do analysis. We have the capability to do chemical characterization and laboratory experiments, and yes, we are able to do modelling at the moment from the satellite, from the ground, and so forth.
Last, we can use these particles for green technology. These are natural and abundant particles, and in many of the papers right now they are becoming the top articles for many associations, including for the American chemical associations, and including our own work.
Absolutely—and I concur with Bill—as Canadians right now, because of the American election, we need to take the leadership. The time is now. There is a huge opportunity for us to start regulating the aerosols and particles that we have recommended but you have not enforced yet. We have a huge opportunity for emerging contaminants and nanoparticles. It brings us highly qualified personnel and it brings jobs, and it also answers the question, what is the cost to our health of not doing anything?