Julia Stephenson: The Green Goddess

Mountains, moose and misdemeanours
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The Independent Online

I am currently in Quebec en route to Toronto, where I am attending a lecture by the environmentalist Robert F Kennedy Jr. I have splashed out on a ticket to a "VIP reception" before the lecture, but as this is only C$30 (about 50p), I'm not sure how many VIPs will be attending.

The reason I've flown thousands of miles for an audience with Kennedy is because I'm a huge fan. His bestselling book, Crimes against Nature, reveals shocking truths about environmental destruction in the US, but has had barely any coverage there. It seems that anyone with an anti-Bush message is blacklisted, such is the power of the right-wing media in the Land of the Free.

My trip has necessitated another gas-guzzling flight, but I'll spare you my usual guilty rant - I know it is a bad thing, but I'm addicted. (I blame it on my blood group. While perusing Eat Right for your Type, I discovered that Bs like me are nature's nomads, genetically programmed to wander the globe.)

Besides, my trip could serve another useful purpose. Sales of my last novel, the eco-frothbuster Chalet Tiara, published in Canada several years ago, seem to have collapsed. I'm looking on this as an opportunity to bother Alfie, my amiable Canadian publisher, into doing something about it.

Surrounded by Canada's natural beauty, I expected to find Canadians more environmentally aware. Yet Canada is among the three worst offenders in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions, water and energy consumption, energy inefficiency, logging and nuclear-waste generation. Although a recent nationwide poll showed that 76 per cent of people believe that protecting the environment should be Canada's number-one priority, this concern does not appear to be shared by politicians.

Things looked promising last week when the Ontario premier, Dalton McGuinty, brought in the environmentalist Dr David Suzuki to advise a government-orchestrated clean-air summit in Toronto. The state has terrible air quality: 5,800 Ontarians die prematurely every year from air pollution and the number is rising. Suzuki called for a ban on SUVs during the city's frequent smog alerts, saying that he was horrified that, when visiting a Toronto A&E on a smog-alert day, many patients with respiratory problems were driven to the hospital in SUVs.

McGuinty didn't support banning SUVs. No wonder as it would leave him - chauffeured to the summit in a SUV - with no wheels.

Though the Canadian government has signed up to the Kyoto agreement, and talks the talk, as with New Labour, there is little real evidence that it is walking the walk. Indeed, meeting the Kyoto requirements is proving difficult for a country that uses more energy per capita than the US. My romantic vision of Canada as a Green utopia was wide of the mark.

Tomorrow, I'm off to Toronto for the lecture. Will I get an interview with the US's leading environmentalist? Will Alfie come up with a cunning strategy to boost my sales? Or will the trip turn out to be a wild mongoose chase? Watch this space.

j.stephenson@independent.co.uk

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