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Five reasons Earth Day still matters in Canada

Image of a craftsman-style home in Kamloops, B.C.
This beautiful craftsman style home in Kamloops is an example of the type of home Canadians have loved for decades. On average, Canadian homes are far larger than homes in other countries, and that adds up to higher electricity use.

We've learned a lot about sustainability, but we've only just begun

It's tempting to feel a bit smug here in beautiful B.C., where you can literally get lost in the wilderness, or paddle alongside whales and seals. Our electricity generation is also mainly hydroelectric and among the cleanest in the world.

But while we've learned a whole lot about sustainability since the first Earth Day in 1970, we still have a long, long way to go. So on Earth Day 2018 – Sunday, April 22 – consider what you can do personally to live more sustainably.

Not quite sure Earth Day is relevant? Here are five reasons why it still matters:

1. Canadian homes are energy hogs

We've come a long way in the efficiency of our lighting and in our awareness around Power smart behaviour, but Canadian homes are among the world's hungriest in terms of electricity and water use. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Canada has cold, dark winters and that Canadian homes are among the world's largest – they doubled in average size between 1975 and 2010 before slowly shrinking. Still, should we be using twice the electricity of the Japanese or the British?

Image of swimming grizzly bears
Grizzlies aren't endangered in B.C., but one of the things they love to dine on – seeds from the whitebark pine – is. BC Hydro's Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program funds a program to re-establish the trees throughout the St'at'imc traditional territory near Lillooet.

2. We're losing animals and plants

You may not lay awake at night worrying about the disappearance of the whitebark pine, but it's among the list of plants and animals endangered in Canada. Its seeds are part of the diet of squirrels, birds and grizzlies, and the tree is endangered in B.C., thanks to a combination of the mountain pine beetle, fire suppression, climate change, and an introduced disease called pine blister rust. The BC Hydro-supported Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program funds the collection of seeds from rust-resistant whitebark pines throughout the St'at'imc traditional territory near Lillooet to help re-establish healthy trees in the area.

Image of a flooded blueberry farm in Abbotsford, B.C.
A flooded blueberry farm near Abbotsford is part of what is becoming more and more common in B.C. and other areas: flooding and extreme weather resulting from the impacts of climate change.

3. Climate change hurts

According to the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium [PDF], even if the world halves its future CO2 emissions, the average annual temperature in B.C. will increase by 2.5°C by 2050. If you think a little more beach time is a good thing, consider this: By 2050, B.C.'s glaciers are expected to shrink by a quarter, the sea level is expected to rise by 30 cm, and (according to the Fraser Basin Council) a Fraser River flood could cost the B.C. economy $32.6 billion.

Image of a discarded PET bottle on a pristine beach
Plastic bottles are recyclable, but it's not uncommon to see them tossed on our beaches and in our waterways.

4. Plastic is everywhere

It's great that a supermarket in Amsterdam opened the world's first plastic-free aisle of products last month. As much as we like to think that recycling plastic is enough, there's plenty of evidence to the contrary. Topping the list of cleaned up items from the 2017 Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup was "tiny plastics and foam." On one day in 2017, volunteer cleanup efforts on Canada's shorelines picked up more than 330,000 pieces of plastic and foam, more than 47,000 food wrappers, 22,000 plastic bags and more than 17,000 straws. We literally need to clean up our act.

Image of cars on a Vancouver Island street
A pickup truck remains the top-selling vehicle in Canada and the world, and transportation now contributes 37% of B.C.'s total greenhouse gas emissions.

5. Canada's top-selling vehicle is a pickup

There seems no end in sight to the Ford F-150 pickup's dominance as the top-selling vehicle in Canada (and the world). What was originally a farm vehicle is now a hugely popular choice for both the rural and the urban Canadian, and while its fuel efficiency has improved considerably since its debut in the 1970s, it's hardly efficient. F-150 owners on report a combined average of 14.1 litres per 100 km, which is twice the gas usage of Canada's No. 3 highest selling vehicle, the Honda Civic (7.0 litres/100 km). Transportation now contributes 37% of B.C.'s total greenhouse gas emissions, and while Ford plans to have a gas-electric hybrid version of the F-150 by the 50th anniversary of Earth Day in 2020, it has no schedule for an all-electric version.