unnatural law:

Leading environmental lawyer David Boyd will be speaking on campus Fri., Sept. 26 to promote his new book, Unnatural Law: Rethinking Environmental Law and Policy.

I know what you’re thinking: "Oh great, another hippie from Lotusland with a degree in tree-hug-ology who’s going to tell us we’re all horrible people for driving cars and eating his animal friends."

It’s not like that, really.

So, an environmentalist whose alarmist book warns of our imminent doom unless we go back to living in caves, right? Not exactly.

"Quite often when people hear environmentalists talking about reducing consumption," says Boyd, "they think that they’re some kind of Luddite strain that seeks to send people back to the past, when in fact it is really about just becoming more intelligent in the way we use energy and resources in the future."

While one could write a book about the environmental movement and the public’s perceptions of it, Boyd focuses instead on policy issues. In particular, he discusses climate change and the Kyoto Protocol, examples of effective and ineffective policy, and the root causes of environmental degradation.

Climate Change

"There’s no question in my mind that climate change is a serious environmental challenge that human society has to grapple with," states Boyd, who claims the science overwhelmingly supports his position. "And so the next question is, ‘What do we do about it?’"

According to Boyd, the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change–under which Canada is committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to six percent below 1990 levels–is a tentative first step in the right direction. However, he shares the popular opinion that Kyoto does not go far enough in its current form. He refers to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which found that Canada would probably need to reduce emissions on a scale of 50-70 per cent in order to get down to an acceptable level of human impact.

Would such a drastic reduction in emissions entail a severe decline in our quality of life or cripple the economy? Boyd doesn’t think so, and has an interesting parallel case which seems to support his argument: the discovery, debate, and subsequent political action regarding ozone depletion.

"Back in the 1970s, scientists discovered the problem: the science was attacked, the science became progressively more clear that, indeed, human activities were damaging the earth’s ozone layer; and then there was a series of international agreements," Boyd recalls. "With the advantage of hindsight, we can see that they were first steps. As the science became more clear about the urgency of the problem, those international agreements were modified to require increasingly more dramatic reductions in the use of ozone-depleting substances.

"At the time industry said the science was junk, they said that there were no alternatives, and they said that there would be economic chaos if we phased out the industrial chemicals that were depleting the earth’s ozone layer. We can look back in hindsight now and say that all of those warnings have proven to be false. Canada has reduced our use of ozone-depleting substances by over 95 per cent, globally the reduction is at about 88 per cent, and scientists are now saying that the damage to the earth’s ozone layer should begin to repair itself in the coming decades."


Canada has had mixed results with its environmental policies, which Boyd attributes to the different approaches used. He argues that voluntary agreements are essentially useless, while mandatory regulations are highly effective.

"The result of those voluntary agreements [with automobile manufacturers to increase fuel efficiency] is that the overall fuel efficiency of the vehicle fleet has gotten worse since 1982," says Boyd.

He points out that a 1912 Model "T" Ford actually has better fuel economy than a 2003 Ford Mustang or a 2003 Ford Explorer. Conversely, the Energy Efficiency Act–which Boyd singles out as the most effective thing Canada has done yet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions– forced industry to improve the energy efficiency of refrigerators and other appliances. As a result, new refrigerators use at most one quarter of the energy used by refrigerators made 20 years ago.

"The question I ask as an environmental lawyer is, why do we have laws and regulations for refrigerators and appliances, and not for motor vehicles, and not for homes, and not for buildings, and not for all of the other energy users in our society?"

Root Causes

"We’ve passed all kinds of environmental laws and policies in the past three decades to try and address our environmental problems, but the reason why we still continue to struggle with so many of these problems is that we haven’t addressed the underlying root causes of environmental degradation," Boyd postulates.

He sees two root causes: the burgeoning human population, and the rate of consumption of energy and resources.

While efficiency legislation is helpful, Boyd indicates it is not enough. He illustrates this point with the American experience.

"The United States probably has the world’s strongest environmental laws and policies, but also has, without a doubt, the world’s worst environmental record," he charges, offering Sweden as an example of a country which is addressing the root causes of environmental degradation instead of just treating the symptoms.

In addition to Vikings, meatballs, trendy furniture and state-produced vodka, Sweden has a national objective of achieving environmental sustainability by the year 2025.

"They’ve got a plan in place with concrete goals, concrete timetables, and they’re making incredible progress on a whole range of environmental issues," raves Boyd.

The Swedes, says Boyd, have already managed to stabilize their greenhouse gas emissions, reduced pesticide use by 80 per cent, and reduced national water use by roughly 35 per cent. Ninety-five per cent of Swedes are on tertiary sewage treatment, the application of which in Calgary results in the Bow River leaving our city cleaner than it entered it.

"So Sweden’s really an exciting model of how Canada could be doing things differently."

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