Clear warning signs of potential threats to our environment and wellbeing

Waterloo, Ont. (Thursday, April 7, 2011) - Soaring greenhouse gasses, increasing waste generation and energy use, declining stocks of large fish species, and shrinking water supplies in parts of the country - are offsetting gains like reduced air pollution emission levels, good water quality, and healthy forest bird populations, said a new environment report released today by the Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW).

"Canada isn't in a crisis situation today, but there are clear warning signs of potential threats to our environment and wellbeing, and we ignore them at our peril," said The Honourable Roy J. Romanow, chair of the CIW Advisory Board.

"We are huge consumers of natural resources with a seemingly endless and unsustainable appetite for fossil fuels, water, metals and energy. We have an unsustainable economic model built around producing, consuming and throwing away things - many of which we don’t actually need. Some of these trends could eventually result in poorer health, a weaker economy, lower standard of living, and diminished quality of life."

Among the report’s key findings:

• Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are rising - up 24 per cent since 1990. Canada is heading in the wrong direction to avoid dangerous climate change. We are amongst the highest per capita emitters in the world, second only to the U.S. More than half of our GHG emissions are produced by the oil, gas and coal industries (which accounts for 22 per cent of emissions), transportation (also 22 per cent) and electricity production via utilities (16 per cent).

• Ground-level ozone is increasing, and as a contributing factor to respiratory disease in parts of the country, should be a growing concern to urban Canadians.

• Non-renewable fossil fuels still make up 90 per cent of our primary energy production. While we’re generating more electricity from wind, solar and tidal sources than in the past, it represents less than 0.5 per cent of total generation.

• The effective supply of water in Southern Canada shrank by 8.5 per cent over the past 30 years. When combined with increasing demand, this causes concern for the Prairies, the Okanagan, Southern Ontario and the St. Lawrence Valley. This can restrict recreational activities like fishing, boating, and use of community pools.

• Increased waste generation (up in nearly every province and territory in the country) is a concern to community vitality (given the divisive nature of landfills/incinerators) and time use (as we spend more hours to buy more "stuff").

• We have been fishing-down the food chain, reducing the population of the larger more desirable species such as swordfish and cod. Altered marine food webs are jeopardizing the economic and recreational wellbeing of coastal populations, and leaving ecosystems less able to cope with natural or human-induced change. Average maximum fish lengths shrunk from 111 cm. in 1950 to 55 cm. in 1994 to 46 cm. in 2006.

"If we don't have a healthy planet, we won't have a healthy society," said CIW director Bryan Smale. "One of the main goals of the CIW is to show the interconnections among the many dimensions of our wellbeing - taking into account the full range of social, health, environmental, and economic concerns of citizens."

The report concluded that the choices we make as a society will determine whether we face a distressed future or a better quality of life. The challenge remains how to optimize wellbeing for both humans and other species, rather than maximize one domain of wellbeing such as economic growth. It called for more far-sighted policies and enforcement by government, better stewardship by industry, and lifestyle changes by individuals.

A summary and full version of the environment report as well as the document Ideas for Positive Change are available at the CIW’s website,

About the Canadian Index of Wellbeing

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) is a new way of measuring wellbeing that provides unique insights into the quality of life of Canadians – overall, and in specific areas such as: living standards, health, environment, education, time use, community vitality, democratic engagement, and leisure and culture. It is produced by the CIW Network, based in the faculty of applied health sciences at the University of Waterloo. For more information, visit

About Waterloo

The University of Waterloo, located at the heart of Canada's Technology Triangle, is one of Canada's leading comprehensive universities. Waterloo is home to 30,000 full- and part-time undergraduate and graduate students who are dedicated to making the future better and brighter. Waterloo, known for the largest post-secondary co-operative education program in the world, supports enterprising partnerships in learning, research and discovery. For more information about Waterloo, visit

David Dodge, CIW media relations, 647-729-3919 or
Michael Strickland, Waterloo media relations, 519-888-4777 or

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