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Canadians: we’re not perfect, but we try

Most of us celebrated our status as Canadians yesterday — and why not? Canada continues to rank among one of the best places in the world to…

Most of us celebrated our status as Canadians yesterday — and why not? Canada continues to rank among one of the best places in the world to live.

But who are we as Canadians? I decided to spend my Canada Day finding out the answer to that question by looking at our buying habits.

I discovered what I already suspected, that we are a mediocre society, hardly blazing any environmental or social trails, but that we are at least trying to follow some of Europe’s proven trends.

Statistics Canada, in its 2006 Households and the Environment Survey, compiled much of the following data about how Canada is spending its money in service to the environment.

In general, it found that more Canadians are increasing their commitment to saving the planet.

Six in 10 households use compact fluorescent bulbs and more than four in 10 have a programmable thermostat.

More households compost than before, thanks in large part to municipal compost-pickup programs, and more use water-saving showerheads and toilets.

The use of chemical pesticides is down slightly from the early 1990s, with the exception of Quebec, where strict regulations exist against pesticide use and the rate has decreased by half.

The three Prairie provinces continue to use the most pesticides — increasing their use compared to a decade ago, in fact — whereas the Maritime provinces are using less.

The majority of Canadians commute to work alone in a private car or truck. Large urban centres saw this happening the least.

Overall, almost three in 10 Canadian households use bottled water as their main source of drinking water.

High-income households are more likely to do this, with one exception: if a household contains at least one university educated member it is less likely to use bottled water.

Electronic waste, such as old computers, is a growing environmental problem that appears to be stumping Canadians.

Almost one-quarter of households with old computers or other electronics dispose of them at special waste depots or returned them to the supplier, but one in five puts them in the garbage. Most people simply don’t know what to do with electronic waste and hold on to it.

The transportation sector accounts for about 24 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions — and nearly 54 per cent of these emissions are due to passenger transportation, according to federal government figures.

In 2006, 83 per cent of Canadian households had at least one motor vehicle. Just over one in 10 had three or more.

Almost 60 per cent of Canadians travel 20,000 kilometres or less their vehicles in an average year, while 12 per cent travel more than 40,000 kilometres.

As far as commuting goes, nationally, in the warmer months of the year, 57 per cent of all people who work outside of the home usually travel to work alone in a motor vehicle; in the colder months, this proportion increased to 64 per cent.

Among Canada’s urban centres in the summer, Saskatoon, Abbotsford and Windsor have the highest proportion of people travelling alone in a motor vehicle to work. Victoria and Ottawa-Gatineau have the lowest proportion.

On the social scene, according to the Canadian Conference Board’s consumer internet barometer, published this month, many Canadians are making sites such as MySpace and Facebook a daily priority — or rather, it is a priority multiple times per day.

Among household members, those ages 12 to 17 are more likely than their siblings to be daily users, with 57 per cent saying they frequent social networking sites at least once a day.

Women are more likely to frequent these sites than men, which is consistent with the fact that women use the internet more than men for personal communication.

In other social trends, Canadians in 2004 consumed more than 940,000 kilograms of fair trade coffee, compared to just 21,500 kilograms in 1998 — an increase in sales to $649,000 million from just $28.2 million.

The trend in that direction continues to increase by leaps and bounds, but still lags behind Europe, which in 2005 sold $950 million worth of fair trade coffee and has seen a rate of growth of 20 per cent per year.

Canadians’ consumption of organic produce is a another skyrocketing trend but the country has yet to reach a 10 per cent organic buying rate, which is the goal organic growers have set to achieve by 2011.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, in its study Canadian Food Trends 2020, predicts that Canadians will continue to pay slightly more for organic foods and will avoid meat to a greater extent than before as well as offending chemicals in foods such as hormones and preservatives.

We will continue to strive towards a healthier diet, avoiding trans fats and attempting to combat Canada’s obesity statistic, which is one in two adults and one in two children. But our progress will be slow, the study predicts.

 Juliann Fraser is a writer living in Whitehorse.