Environmental Justice and Air Pollution in Canada Research Paper

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Global warming is one of the most important environmental issues in the world today (Aldy, Ley, & Parry, 2008). However, it is an issue that is inaccessible to millions of people around the world. It is inaccessible due to difficult to understand scientific terms. It is, therefore, important to consider simplifying the issue. One of the best ways is to explain that air pollution is a major contributor to the burgeoning problem of global warming.

Scientists and environmental protection agencies all over the world are in agreement that the root cause of global warming is the uncontrolled release of greenhouse gases (“GHG”) into the earth’s atmosphere (Aldy, Ley, & Parry, 2008). A closer examination of the nature of GHG will reveal that carbon dioxide is a critical factor in global warming.

Canadians must work hand-in-hand to reduce the emission of GHG into the atmosphere in order to contribute to the struggle against global warming. Astute environmentalists must work with policymakers to develop a solution package crafted using the principles of environmental justice.

Canada’s Struggle with Air Pollution

Canadian cities have been struggling with the effects of air pollution since the 19th century. However, in that time period, the fight to eradicate air pollution was not against crude oil and natural gas. The root cause of air pollution in the 19th century was against the smoke coming from the wood fire and coal fire. According to primary research documents, “for the first fifty years of its existence, Toronto was a wood-fuelled city” (Anderson, 2014). In addition, 19th century Toronto’s economy had an emphasis on locality.

There was a growing demand for food, and the farmers were able to meet the demand by clearing the nearby forest. The removal of the trees provided enough land area for farmers to till. At the same time, the land clearing converted forests into firewood.

As early as 1830, the growing population required about 100 acres of woodlands in order to sustain the habit of using firewood as the city’s primary fuel source. The city of Toronto started as the Town of York. In the year 1830, the Town of York only had 2,900 inhabitants. Four years later, the town had 9 200 inhabitants. The rapid growth compelled government officials to create the city of Toronto.

The consumption of firewood became increasingly unsustainable. There was a need to acquire new sources of energy. In 1848 city officials discovered that Toronto’s lighting system and firefighting department consumed 500 tons of coal per year (Anderson, 2014). The fire department needed coal as a reliable source of power in order to generate significant volumes of water for their fire fighting needs. The end result was a predictable environmental nightmare that created great amounts of smoke, ash, and foul odor.

There is photographic evidence to show how the city of Toronto suffered from the utilization of firewood and coal. In 1856 city officials hired the firm of Armstrong, Beere, & Hime in order to capture in photographs the beauty and grandeur of Toronto. The end goal was to persuade the British Colonial government to make Toronto the permanent capital of the country (Anderson, 2014).

But even with total freedom to choose the location for the shoot, and even with access to top of the line photo equipment, the photographers from Armstrong, Beere, & Hime submitted photos wherein almost half of the images showed buildings and landscapes obscured by haze (Anderson, 2014).

It is imperative to point out that the city of Toronto does not suffer from significant levels of fog. Therefore, there is another reason why the photographs had shown building vanishing in a haze. It was air pollution that significantly reduced visibility in the city. According to one report, “coils of smoke, belch from Edwardian factory chimneys and steam trains” (Anderson, 2014, p.3). In addition, puffs of smoke were emitted from the tailpipes of tin lizzies, steamboats, and domestic flues (Anderson, 2014).

The environmental protection counterparts of 19th century Toronto was able to solve the problem by introducing anti-pollution measures. At the same time, there was a major shift that was occurring in the use of fossil fuel to light up homes and provide heat during the winter season. The fight against smoke and haze was successful because of two major reasons.

First, businessmen and common folks had access to an alternative source of energy that does not produce significant amounts of smoke. When compared to firewood and coal, fuel sources from natural gas produced less visible evidence of smoke. In addition, technological advancements in the field of engineering enabled the creation of more efficient machines. Nevertheless, pollutants are still in the air.

Strength and Limitation of Environmental Justice

The consumption of petroleum products produced less smoke compared to wood-burning facilities in 19th century Toronto. However, this does not mean that the amount of unseen pollutants released into the air is less harmful.

It is, therefore, important to encourage every member of Canadian society to participate in the fight against global warming. The first application of Environmental Justice principles can be seen in the sensitivity to causal factors, and how one event causes a ripple effect that harms not only the people that are living nearby but also those that are residing several miles away.

It is, therefore, imperative to curb the emission of carbon dioxide from various sources of pollutants. A good example of the sources of pollutants is power plants, vehicular emissions, factories, and exhaust fumes coming from different types of machines requiring fossil fuels as primary sources of power.

The government must lead the way in the creation of policies that will bring about the reduction of pollutants in the atmosphere. At the same time, policymakers must develop incentives to encourage environmentally-friendly actions and discourages destructive practices.

Tough environmental laws can compel business owners to comply with existing standards. As a result, businessmen are encouraged to adopt energy-saving measures. They are also encouraged to implement strategies that will lower factory emissions.

The government will have to look into companies that use fleets of vehicles. Firms that are using significant numbers of vehicles are guilty of adding unnecessary carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. However, using the right incentives, these companies will have the capability to acquire appropriate technology to lower their carbon footprint.

A good example is Global Positioning Satellite devices that will help managers acquire accurate knowledge about the whereabouts of the vehicles. This particular technology can help trucking companies determine the speed of the vehicles and idling time. Therefore, the application of new policies regarding speed limits and engine idling can reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The next logical step is to introduce new laws that will drastically reduce the allowable GHG emissions from the tailpipes of vehicles. This is the point where environmental justice must come into play. In an ideal world, city officials will dictate higher standards of emission control, and the people will comply with the new policies. This means that older cars are no longer allowed to ply the streets of Toronto. The new policy regarding emissions also means that people are forced to buy new cars.

This is a problematic proposition if one will consider the importance of environmental justice. According to conservation experts: “environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies” (Environmental Protection Agency, 2014, p.1).

Therefore, policymakers must be sensitive to the needs and challenges faced by other people. The above-mentioned definition highlighted one of the strengths of environmental justice.

One of the major advantages of utilizing the environmental justice framework is that it compels policymakers not only to consider the scientific aspect of the problem but also the social aspect of it as well.

Without a doubt, reducing GHG emissions will help the environment. However, there are various stakeholders involved when it comes to preserving and protecting the environment. In this case, those who belong to the lower social classes will find it extremely difficult to comply with new emission standards. Policymakers must consult with them in order to find a way to resolve the problem.

Aside from reducing the emissions from the tailpipes of vehicles, government officials may consider the creation of renewable sources of energy, specifically those that do not rely on fossil fuels. One of the practical solutions is the creation of dams to harness the power of river systems. A dam is a proven mechanism in providing a stable source of electric power.

However, the creation of dams usually affects the communities that are living nearby. Adherence to the principles of environmental justice means that before any construction efforts are approved, the government must consider the needs, aspirations, and struggles of those who will be affected by the construction of the said dam.

Although it is important to apply the principles of environmental justice to all the discussions regarding environmental protection, it is also prudent to acknowledge that there are certain limitations to this point of view. First of all, it is a time-consuming process. A significant amount of time is needed to gather the opinion and feedback of native inhabitants. Secondly, it is a costly endeavor when it comes to the investment in resources to gather pertinent information.

But most of all, it is a costly undertaking when one considers the opportunity cost of delaying certain initiatives because a consensus has not been made. It is also important to consider the value of decisive action when confronted with an environmental problem that is as serious as global warming.


Global warming is a serious issue, and it is imperative that Canadians take it seriously. One of the best ways to deal with global warming is to deal with it through the local government. The creation of appropriate laws enabled city officials to remove the haze and the smog that made the city a less ideal place to live in. However, the aforementioned steps to reduce greenhouse gases must go through the environmental justice framework.

Forcing people to buy new cars and forcing them to adhere to new emission standards are examples of environmental injustice. These are examples of environmental injustice if failure to comply is due to their socio-economic status.

Forcing people to leave communal lands and hometowns, just to give way to the construction of dams, is also an example of environmental injustice. Policymakers and government representatives must work with affected stakeholders in order to develop laws that will not displace people or make life more difficult for them.


Aldy, J., Ley, E., & Parry, I. (2008). A tax-based approach to slowing global climate change. Resources for the Future, 1(1), 1-25.

Anderson R. (2014). Historical geography of smoke in Toronto. Web.

Anderson R. (2014). Toronto combustion history. Web.

Environmental Protection Agency. (2014). . Web.

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