Auto Service World
Feature   April 1, 2002   by Andrew Ross

Smoke and Mirrors

It is my firm belief, and one which is supported by actual scientific fact, that people need air to breathe.

That may not sound like such a radical statement, but the way the Kyoto Accord has been greeted lately, you’d think it was the most radical assertion ever made.

In case you’ve forgotten, the Kyoto Accord is not a special edition from Honda; it is a global agreement to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases being expelled into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases is the family name shared by numerous compounds, including the products of combustion such as carbon dioxide and water vapor. They call them greenhouse gases because they have been theorized–some say proven–to have the ability to increase the temperature of the planet by holding in heat. The global agreement was to help curb the increase in the same way that CFCs were phased out not all that long ago.

You are no doubt well acquainted with the impact that changes like that can have on the automotive industry. Frankly, if it weren’t for the controls on CFCs and the later phasing out of them, the mobile air conditioning service industry would be a fraction of what it is today. Recovery and recycling was the first noticeable impact; the phase-out was the final one. Other global agreements drive our federal government to push provinces toward instituting emissions testing programs, like B.C.’s AirCare and Ontario’s DriveClean. It is not an overstatement to conclude that the automotive aftermarket has fared quite well from environmental initiatives and regulation.

The Kyoto Accord is the next logical step toward a world where we put a little less junk in our air every year.

Agreements like Kyoto, or the Montreal Protocol that ushered out CFCs, are incredibly difficult to devise–weighing economic and health issues against environmental and political ones. And they can have unintended consequences.

The Kyoto Accord took years to devise and was poised to become one of the most visionary global agreements to date.

Well, it was a global agreement, until our enlightened friends to the south–or just a few powerful ones–decided it was ill-advised and prompted their president Bush to opt out. Now it has become a global rush to the door to exit from the agreement, with business and political leaders acting as cheerleaders, generating a large amount of global warming gases of their own as they do so.

It’s really an old song writ anew: since they, the U.S., are opting out, having Canada opt in might be economically harmful to us.

I offer this example to illustrate that view: A company has two factories in two different countries. If one country requires more stringent pollution controls than the other–which might increase costs–the company may be tempted to close down that plant and expand the other. This is in effect what the Kyoto opponents are arguing. They’re saying that if the agreement isn’t truly global, there’s no point in having it at all.

That position completely ignores the impact of international political pressure. When South Africa was in the grip of full scale apartheid, Canada was one of the most vocal countries in support of economic sanctions. Other countries argued that such sanctions would only hurt business and the citizenry of South Africa. Canada said that this might be so, but it was the right thing to do, that the alternative was to do nothing and this was unacceptable. I don’t think I need to tell you who was correct. Shame is a truly awesome tool in political circles.

Abandoning environmental initiatives like Kyoto because one recalcitrant member of the world community decides it doesn’t feel good is a guarantee of its failure, possibly forever. Signing on anyway means there is always a chance that their collective mind can be changed.

Sometimes it’s not just about rules and regulations; sometimes there is more to life and politics than just economics. Sometimes you have to take a position that allows you to look at yourself in the mirror and say that you did the right thing.


Summertime sales, safety and speed will all get their fair share in April. Stay tuned at

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