Do our corporation’s rights now supersede the right for children to breathe?
Do corporate interests trump that of mitigating against climate change?
Lastly - Why does our society as a whole continue to participate in the pathological self destruction – even at the expense of our children?
Following the announcement of our new campaign initiative on May 9th - the “Clean Air for Children Campaign” - a US report was released stating that the world carbon dioxide levels have reached the highest levels ever reached over the last 650,000 years. Scientists say the shift could indicate that the Earth is losing its natural ability to soak up billions of tonnes of CO2 each year. Martin Parry, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's working group on impacts, said: "Despite all the talk, the situation is getting worse. Levels of greenhouse gases continue to rise in the atmosphere and the rate of that rise is accelerating. We are already seeing the impacts of climate change and the scale of those impacts will also accelerate, until we decide to do something about it." The Stern Review showed that scientific evidence of global warming was "overwhelming" and its consequences "disastrous". Nicholas Stern stated: “We have the time and knowledge to act but only if we act internationally, strongly and urgently.” Our part of this international action needs to be meaningful. What we do as a municipality is absolutely symbolic to the private sector – we must continually be on the leading edge of, with the most progressive of policies such as we are suggesting under our ‘Clean Air for Children’ campaign.
Although our campaign is a three part initiative (with more to come in the near future) – the call for a moratorium continues to be the most ‘controversial’ part of the campaign. With 150 drive-thrus currently in existence in London alone – one would not think this would be an issue.
We are now witnessing a key moment in the climate change crisis, and it is alarming news we cannot dismiss. The last time the atmosphere was this choked with CO2 humans were yet to evolve as a species. To even consider building new drive-thrus at this juncture in history is an unpardonable recklessness, but the fast food industry is determined to stumble forward regardless with its ill-conceived plans in the face of the science and mounting movement of widespread public opposition.
It’s time to weight things out.
1- Convenience. Corporate profits.
2- Children’s lives. Future of life as we know it on our planet.
Have you decided yet? It is unbelievable that at this point in time that this even warrants a discussion.
What have we created? Before 1970 – there were no drive-thrus. Today – we make excuse after excuse why it is our ‘right’ to use drive-thrus – in light of the fact that drive-thrus contribute to children dying, asthma rates soaring (fourfold over the last twenty years) and our earths losing ability to take on any more abuse caused by our C02 emissions.
In Ontario, the number of "smog days" nearly quadrupled from 15 in 1995 to 53 in 2005. If nothing is done to clean the air, medical experts estimate that by 2026 the number of smog-related premature deaths in Ontario alone will hit 10,000 annually. The combined health care and lost productivity costs are expected to exceed $1 billion. Pollution is a particularly serious issue for London, Ontario, the city with the province's second highest number of smog days after Toronto. London has had 3 smog days already this year - all before the month of May.
It would be wonderful if multinational corporations would place our children, even people in general, before their profits. However – this is not about to happen. Corporations are legally bound to show profits to their shareholders first and foremost. This is at any cost. There are no boundaries. There are no ethical or moral considerations. The costs of doing drive-thru business are almost completely externalized. If one had to pay the true cost of a cup of a coffee at a drive-thru window – one can only imagine the exorbitant price. However – we do pay. We pay with the continued detriment to our planet, we pay the ever escalating costs to a healthcare system in crisis, and ultimately, we are paying with that of our children’s lives. If one can understand corporate greed – then one can you begin to understand why drive-thrus are so enticing to fast food chains with plans to double their drive-thrus over the next five years. Sixty percent of the 129 billion dollar per year industry takes place at the drive-thru window. China has now introduced drive-thrus. It is considered a status symbol to sit in a vehicle and idle in a drive-thru in China where emissions have begun to absolutely soar. Plans to expand drive-thrus in China and throughout Asia have only just begun.
From the TDL Group (Tim Horton’s):
This study would have us believe that customers are being more environmental by sitting in a drive-thru and idling than they are to park and walk in. (no – this is not a joke). In this study its conclusion states “Overall, the findings for Tim Horton’s stores examined in this study indicate no air quality benefit to the public by eliminating drive-thrus”. The report states that the Tim Horton locations without drive-thrus produce more emissions than the stores with drive-thrus.
How can this be?
The report claims that the clients who are parking and walking in – are on site for an average 7-8 minutes. In the most bizarre twist – it is stated that most of the additional time was a result of vehicles idling while waiting for a parking space because the lot was congested.
From the study: The emission inventory for the drive-thru portion of the facility was compared to “everyday” emission sources (i.e. lawn mowers, snow blowers etc.)
Now – just an fyi – if you didn’t know this already – push lawn mowers produce approx. 11 times the emissions than that of a car – riding lawn mowers produce approx. 34 times the emissions than that of a car. (Source- EPA) Also - according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the typical two-cycle snow blower can expel nearly a pound of carbon monoxide for every hour it runs. One wonders who considers lawn mowers, snow blowers (and incidentally leaf blowers – see below) to “‘everyday” emission sources.
They compare combined emissions of all vehicles using a drive-thru in one peak hour (137 vehicles times idling 3 to 4.5 minutes each) to that of a single chain saw operating for one hour. Just another fyi –the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that operating a chainsaw for one hour produces the same amount of exhaust emissions as driving an automobile for 1,000 kilometers.
It is interesting to note that in a CBC investigation produced on May 28th, 2007, journalists documented 113 cars going thru the drive-thru in one hour in a Winnipeg Tim Horton’s drive-thru. The average drive-thru wait per vehicle was 5 min. 15 sec. Natural Resources Canada estimates these cars produced 290 grams of CO2 each which means that in one hour, this one drive-thru generated 35 KG (77 pounds) of carbon dioxide. The senior vice-president of Tim Horton’s is interviewed on the investigation and he states: “We prefer education as does others in the industry verses punitive measures be it a bylaw or fines”.
For a consulting firm with sustainable design listed as a service – one would think that they could develop a suitable parking lot for Tim Horton’s customers so they would no longer have to be on their site for 7-8 minutes spending the majority of this time driving while looking a space to park (according to their report). This is clearly a planning issue and should be recognized as such. Further stress on our children and our earth itself should not be tolerated only because Tim Horton’s chooses to focus on profitable drive-thru service rather than adequate parking.
From the University of Calgary:
Estimated statistics (May 2007) from the University of Calgary found Edmonton drive-thrus contribute an estimated 25 tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere per day. (Enough to fill over 12 NHL hockey rinks per day) Over a year, this could represent up to 9,000 tons. Using a total of 115 cities with same population and the same amount of drive-thrus, this could generate a total of I MILLION TONS in a year, and this is just for larger cities in Canada.
Now – How many trees to do we need to plant in order to offset 1 million tons of carbon in one year? 277 million trees. Even if this was possible – should we not be planting trees to offset something we actually need to live? Perhaps heat that we need to survive in the winter months? Is the industry going to plant these trees annually? We don’t think so.
Does your head hurt yet? Is anyone enraged yet? Do we need a reality check?
Perhaps in addition to industry gifting our children with ‘happy’ meals and summer camp, perhaps fast food chains can start supplying puffers to children with Asthma. When our children and grandchildren someday, (coming soon) ask us why we did not immediately cease all unnecessary forms of C02 emissions to mitigate against climate change – when we knew full well the consequences - what are we going to say? “I’m sorry sweetheart – Mommy really couldn’t give up the luxury of the drive-thru – that was just too much to ask. I’m sorry we destroyed your chances for a future on the planet, but it was just more sacrifice than one could be expected to endure.”
What a legacy.
Are eco footprint is four times larger than what is sustainable. We still want more? If there is to be a future on this planet - we need to re-design our lives to live using 75% less. We don’t have to sacrifice our quality of life to combat climate change, however, we do need to change the way we live. And simple, is more often than not, beautiful.
The industry states local jobs will be lost. Is this a viable argument? Red Roaster seems to be doing well in London. There are cafes and restaurants across Canada – with no drive-thrus - all doing well. Speaking of fast food industry employment - health for most minimum wage fast food employees working a drive-thru window does not seem to be a very high priority. Does anyone recall second hand smoke? Let’s consider first hand vehicle exhaust. With no paid health benefits for the majority of employees in the fast food industry their health seems completely irrelevant and disregarded. Please note the industry is now testing and are already implementing outsourcing your drive-thru order. The next time you press an intercom at a drive-thru – you may be speaking to someone in India. Hmmm. What happened to keeping the jobs local? Fast food multinationals who make billions in profits continue to pay their hard working employees anything more than poverty wages. And even this is considered too high. Why pay minimum wage in North America when you can exploit someone in India? We are proud to announce that the London and District Labour Council has endorsed our campaign including the moratorium on drive-thrus.
Is it possible that a progressive marketing strategy from a fast food chain will be announced? Is there any retailer with a drive-thru that will step up to the plate and close their drive-thru? Perhaps replace the drive-thrus with trees and a lush garden that would serve as an outdoor café. Is any establishment with a drive-thru willing to demonstrate to the world that the health of our children and the future existence of life on our planet supersedes drive-thru profits? Is it possible a marketing strategy could embrace a concept recognizing the fact that people would be most loyal to a retailer whose priorities were the clients themselves? We are quickly approaching the end of the cheap fossil fuel era. Is this not completely irresponsible to waste diminishing fossil fuels in this manner? Drive-thrus are not sustainable and eventually they will go - whether we want them or not. The first retailer that recognizes this simple fact is the retailer who will take the lead in the industry by creating the positive change necessary by way of a new model. A new model and a new way of thinking will be required for any kind of long term future in the fast food industry. Imagine if you were mobility impaired, and you parked at a designated space at a restaurant formerly enslaved by a drive-thru. You would speak into an intercom. Out would come a real live person with your order (perhaps even some day with real live food). I think I remember something like this happened in the not so distant past. It was called a drive-in. The competitor to re-introduce the drive-in, with ‘real’ or at minimum, biodegradable dishes and cutlery, serving fair trade, organic food – all powered by renewable, green energy – the first one smart enough and fast enough to do this - will win.
There is one basic issue here. That is the basic reality that drive thrus are wrong. Simple. End of story. The main issue is that there are going to be many more issues that will have to be tackled – issues that are not nearly as clear cut and simple. So drive thrus have to go. If we cannot sacrifice a convenience such as drive-thrus in order to secure the possibility of life on this planet for our children – then how can we ever hope to make the hard choices, the hard decisions that we will have to make in order to save our species. We do not need the industry’s science. Because we share an environment, that does not mean we have to share the industry’s obtuse ideas on economics and environment. If the citizens of London cannot have confidence in city hall, if we find we do not have city hall's support we believe we will find as a community that we have less and less need for them. As this support is at this time still in question, we the people, must stop using drive-thrus altogether.
There are now more refugees displaced by climate change environmental disasters than there are refugees displaced by war. People with families – just like us. It is sad to know that the people who did little to contribute to climate change are the very ones suffering the most. The poor choices we continue to make are killing other people. Other species. Each and every minute. Are we so entitled that we cannot see beyond our own wants? Not even when it comes to the health of our own children? Does this not go directly against the most natural instinct in every woman and man? The natural instinct to protect your child at any and every sacrifice? The damage to our children’s lungs goes largely unnoticed. We don’t see our children’s lungs each morning at the breakfast table. Toronto's medical officer has released a report stating a 30% reduction in vehicle emissions could save 200 lives, one billion dollars a year in health care costs and 68,000 asthma attacks for children a year. If we had 68,000 children dying a year from leukemia – it would be nothing less than that of a crisis. One must wonder why there is such apathy towards these numbers when pollution is something we can clearly defeat. The selfish excuse to use drive-thrus because you have children is the poorest excuse when it is ultimately our children’s lives, by way of their health and their future that we are destroying. If we love our children – surely we can do something as simple as stop idling wherever possible. Whether it is at a railway tracks, waiting at the school or at a drive-thru – the end result is the same. Idling kills.
Children are the most vulnerable in our society. Children also breathe 50 percent more air per pound than adults. It is the responsibility of every adult citizen on our global planet to take every precaution to protect our children and mitigate against climate change. Just as all children must have the right to clean drinking water, all children must have the right to breathe clean air.
Our planet is headed towards complete Armageddon – much faster than scientists previously predicted. Glaciers are melting. Ice shelves are breaking off. Natural disasters are happening at unprecedented rates. Deaths from pollution are skyrocketing. What does it even say about our human race, our society as a whole that we even need to continue in such discussion? There should be no debate. At this point – we should all be working together in absolute unity toward a common goal. A common goal of survival. A common goal of protecting our children at all costs. This is nothing less than the responsibility of every person and industry on this planet and multinational corporations are not exempt. Climate change leaves no room for apathy, laziness, selfishness or greed.
Our chapter has posted an online petition and we urge Londoners who are willing to make this commitment to sign the petition and support our policy lobbying efforts.
Although leadership from provincial and federal governments is crucial in negotiating international agreements, setting frameworks and standards and for providing fiscal and financial incentives, when it comes to practical action on the ground, city leadership must take centre stage. Mayors and elected officials have responsibilities in areas key to taking swift action to reduce emissions, and can show leadership in taking decisive and radical action. It is at city level that innovation and progress on pollution and thus climate change is most likely to be achieved.
So do we choose to protect and keep non essential items such as drive-thrus or do we choose to re-design our planet in which future generation can live? The benefits are immense – environmental health, physical health. People stepping out of their cars symbolize people re-engaging in community. Such a culture shift is a step to encourage people to slow down, walk or bike, and to ride mass transit. Slowing down is necessary in this fast-paced culture. We must organize and embrace a resistance to the momentum of running. If we learn how to slow down and nourish ourselves, we can pay more attention to living sustainably and mindfully in our communities. Many of today’s problems are rooted in efficiency and convenience; we zoom from place to place without slowing down to enjoy the simple joys around us. Sustainable yet slower modes of transportation like walking and biking, getting us out of our cars and help us to do that. This gives us the clarity and mindfulness to recognize things as they are. When you are mindful, you recognize what is going on, what is happening in the here and now. Without mindfulness we make and spend our money in ways that destroys us and other people. We use our wealth in such a way that we destroy ourselves and other people.
The well being of our citizens is the City of London’s mandate. Quote – Vision London – London, The Forest City: We are a caring, responsive community committed to the health and well-being of all Londoners. The actions we take will be socially, environmentally, and fiscally responsible so that out quality of life is enhanced and sustained for future generations. Our people, heritage, diverse economy, strategic location, land and recourses are our strength. – Based on this vision in conjunction with the Stern Report, the city of London must, with urgency, impose a moratorium on all new commercial drive-through operations and establish a timetable to phase out all existing drive-through operations through zoning or other by-laws.
Ultimately – the decision of a moratorium on drive-thrus lies with us. It’s that simple. We can continue to support them – or we can choose to unite and send a clear message that corporate profits and convenience will no longer be tolerated by our society at the expense of our children’s health and our children’s future in a world we have so quickly destroyed.
We have reached a pivotal point. This is now a matter of life or death. The statistics regarding children’s health are staggering. We now know we have perhaps well reached the tipping point in regards to climate change – we can no longer bend and sacrifice to appease corporate interests at the expense of our children. To do so – would be nothing less than a crime. This movement has to come from the people. It is ours to take. Write or call your councilor today. This is where we start to re-design the way we think and live. This is where we take back our cities. This is where we take back control of our lives. This is where we start.
The Great Law of the Iroquois states, “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”
I believe that the time has come to embrace such sound advice.
Council of Canadians | London Chapter