Earth Day provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the state of the environment and the future of our planet. No matter which side of the “global warming” or, to use the new term, “climate change” debate you might find yourself, we should all do our part in minimizing misuse of the environment.

From a business point of view, it makes no sense to be wasteful. Addressing the environmental impact of how we conduct business is also being a good neighbour. Most of us would not throw our garbage on our neighbour’s doorstep. Similarly, all of us must recognize that actions taken in one part of our planet can have effects across the globe. The recent eruptions of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, whose volcanic ash has fallen from the skies over Europe and beyond, has had significant effects on international travel and world trade. These eruptions also illustrate that the Earth is really one organic whole.

This Earth Day 2010 coincides with the Millennium Summit in Montreal. Notable guest speakers include Al Gore, a former U.S. Vice-President. No doubt Mr Gore and other speakers will spread the gospel of climate change and urge all participants to action. Everyone will leave the conference feeling buoyed by the atmosphere. (Sorry for the pun.)

Enough with the hypocrisy

While any reasonable person would admit that Mr Gore makes some interesting points, is it too much to expect of our environmentalist luminaries that their own actions approach their words? Must they travel everywhere on land by limousine? Of course, they cannot be expected to take sailboats across the Atlantic. But can’t one of them take the subway to work once in a while, rather than to stage a photo op? Well, at least Mr Gore took the subway in Oslo, Norway, to collect his 2007 Nobel Prize. Of course, the fact he did so on that particular day was entirely coincidental. Will Mr Gore take the subway to the 2010 Millennium Summit? After all, Montreal’s convention centre, location of the event, is right on top of a Metro station.

In the city of Montreal, Mayor Gerald Tremblay urges everyone to take public transportation, and makes it increasingly difficult and costly for persons who wish to travel by private vehicle to park and do business in the city. But the mayor himself parades around town from event to event in a chauffeur-driven vehicle.

Indeed we looked pretty hard on Google but could not find even one photograph of Montreal’s Mayor Gerald Tremblay travelling anywhere in the city on a bus or on the Metro. That’s right, not even one picture! The closest we got were a few photos of him attending at a ceremony to open some Metro stations. But did Mr Tremblay deign to ride the Metro as a passenger and mix with the public that one time? It would appear not. Show me proof that I may come believe he took public transportation, as doubting Thomas might have said.

The contrast between the mayors of Montreal and of New York City could not be greater. While both leaders encourage citizens to take public transit, Michael Bloomberg, New York’s boss, actually takes the subway to work quite often. To be fair to his Montreal counterpart, Mr Bloomberg has received some flak from the New York Times and other media outlets since he sometimes has a city vehicle pick him up at home to take him part of the way, instead of getting on at his local station. It appears this is to enable Mr Bloomberg to catch an express train further along the line. But even with such limitations, Mr Bloomberg is known to be a frequent passenger on the subway. I suppose that, unlike the mayor of New York City, the mayor of Montreal is just too busy to take public transit.

What is to be done?

On this Earth Day, let us not get too discouraged about the hypocrisy of some of our leaders. We should demand higher standards from them. If we insisted that they actually take public transportation, our leaders could learn its weaknesses first-hand and work to lessen them, all the while relating to the real-life experiences of the citizenry. Maybe the result would be improved public transportation that is actually preferable to travel by private vehicle.

And all of us should lessen our use of resources where feasible, whether through simple gestures like turning off the lights at home when leaving a room, to buying energy saving vehicles, to more complex steps like adopting a strategy to make our workplaces more efficient. We will all benefit. At Fogarty Law Firm, we have taken steps to lessen the environmental footprint of our law practice. We invite you to read about it at the We are Green tab of our website and to contact us with any suggestions.

And on this, I wish a happy Earth Day to one and all.