Statement on Transportation & Environment

November 21, 2001


Toxic Smog and Climate Change

Air pollution in cities and global climate change are serious problems.

Air pollution is obvious: smog and brown haze are visible over urban areas, and it is clear that asthma, other respiratory disease and heart disease occur more often and become worse when people have to breathe air that is increasingly polluted.

Climate change is less obvious as it is happening gradually, yet if global warming continues we may face disaster in the not-too-distant future. The greenhouse effect caused by excess carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuel will heat up the earth. The resulting impact on water levels, hydroelectric generation capacity, fisheries and agriculture in Canada will be disastrous.

We need to reduce this pollution. Toxic smog and climate change are 30% directly connected to transportation, because when we run our vehicles fossil fuels are burned, releasing these pollutants.

In order to reduce these harmful emissions we need to do a number of things including using clean fuels and vehicles.

Clean Fuels

The best kind of fuel is a fuel which produces no harmful emissions. These zero emission fuels are electricity and hydrogen which burns so cleanly it produces only water. Some trains, subways and trams as well as forklifts run on electricity. The transit vehicles are powered from rails or overhead lines; the forklifts are powered by batteries. General Motors is the first of the Big 3 to market an electric passenger car. At present electric cars are expensive but an increasing market will reduce the cost to the consumer. Our members produce hydrogen fuel cell buses which are just beginning to be used for public transit. Since they are still in the developmental stage they are expensive.

Other fuels such as natural gas and propane produce lower harmful emissions than gasoline. Our members presently produce vehicles powered by all of the alternate fuels.

For existing gasoline and diesel powered vehicles we need mandatory vehicle emission testing programs. As well, we need regulations requiring lower sulphur content in diesel fuel. And we must ensure that batteries for electric cars are recycled in an environmentally responsible manner.

Clean Vehicles

Today's vehicles are safer, more comfortable, cleaner, and more fuel-efficient than ever. But since cars are so large and so heavy, much more energy is devoted to moving the car than to moving the passenger. To reduce energy waste and excess fossil fuel consumption we need lighter cars.

Our union needs to study alternative vehicle design and propulsion such electric/gasoline hybrid engines and the use of composite materials so that we can understand how these new technologies impact on the environment, and, if introduced, we can ensure that our workplaces are converted to produce these new materials.

We need government run scrappage programs such as the new B.C. system, designed to get old vehicles with high emissions off the road. For those vehicles which are salvageable, we need car dismantling and recycling programs so that parts can be rebuilt and reused.

Laws are Needed

Over time, we need to replace the current fleet with vehicles that produce zero emissions and we need to insist that our members produce them. During the transitional period we need to see the fleet mix include some vehicles which produce zero emissions and others that produce lower emissions. Throughout this period we need to ensure that our members are trained to produce these new products and that our present workplaces are converted to produce these new products. In order to ensure there is a sufficient market to lower costs to the consumer, laws must drive these changes. We must support laws like the Clean Vehicles and Clean Fuels Regulations in B.C. These laws should be federal to apply to the entire country so that all Canadians are protected and vehicles suitable for all provinces are built in Canada.

We cannot stand in the way of progressive technological change. We either get out in front and lead the technology in a way that benefits our membership or we try to retard new developments and see them push our members out the door.

Congestion and Urban Design

As the number of cars in use in our cities increases, urban roads and highways become more congested. Congestion leads to increased local pollution, safety and noise problems. Eventually it becomes difficult to get around in urban areas, and unpleasant and unhealthy to live in them. Why is the construction of more and more highways seen as an investment by the government when it so clearly saps the public purse?

At the beginning of the century, people in towns and cities walked a lot more since they lived close to where they worked and shopped. Higher urban density meant that public transit systems such as electric trams were efficient and low cost. Since the Second World War, however, Canadian cities have been laid out differently with spread out suburbs requiring cars to get around. Because of decreased population density in the suburbs, public transit systems are inadequate.

We need to redesign our cities so that we live closer to where we work and shop. We need to increase urban density to build real communities, not bedroom communities. We need to be able to walk or cycle safely where we want to go. We need to ensure that public transit is plentiful and cheap. Taxation used to support public transit should not be seen as a subsidy but an investment in building the community, the urban environment and urban planning. We need to support van pooling so that groups of workers can ride to work together.

Freight

Deregulation has meant that there are increasing numbers of ever more heavy trucks hauling freight on our highways, yet our members in the trucking industry still have trouble making a living. We need re-regulation of the trucking industry. We need to commit to increased rail freight transportation. We need intermodal systems so that freight travels most of its way by rail or by water, with local delivery being made by trucks. Rail transportation reduces road congestion and is much more fuel efficient than trucks.

We called on the companies to begin to develop light, energy efficient, non-polluting, and safe vehicles more than forty years ago (1948) but the companies rejected this advice ... After the first energy crisis ... their investments and engineering skills led to a 90% decrease in major pollutants and a doubling of fuel efficiency ... future changes will have to be more dramatic and adjustments more severe.
- CAW Statement on Transportation, 1992

Our Jobs

The CAW must be front and centre in the demands for the protection of our jobs in the transportation industry. If new technologies change what we produce or how we produce we must ensure that we require education and training for our members to be able to perform these new jobs and that existing workplaces be converted to workplaces which produce the new product.

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Conclusion

We are a transportation union. Our members build, service and operate automobiles, trucks, buses, subways, commuter rail, passenger and freight rail, boats and ships, and airplanes. We want to keep our good jobs and to make and work with products that contribute to society, not that do society harm. We demand that the corporations we work for produce, service and operate environmentally and socially responsible products. As well as protecting the environment we all live in, this ensures the viability of the Canadian transportation industry, making our jobs secure.

In bargaining we need to achieve a cents per hour fund to study and act on environmental issues.


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