Nepali Times
Here And There
Road to ruin


TORONTO, Canada: I have gained at least one insight on this vacation, even as I miss the excitement back home in Nepal. I now know why North Americans hate the Kyoto treaty on emission of greenhouse gases. Note please that I say "North" Americans, not Americans, because we sneaky Canadians also oppose Kyoto but unlike George W, we don't come out and say it. On balance, I prefer Dubya's candour to Canadian hypocrisy but you won't catch me saying so in public. In fact, I became an opponent of Kyoto during my time in this vast continent without even trying.

It's simple really. Like most North Americans, I am spending huge amounts of time travelling in a car, burning quantities of relatively cheap petrol and filling the atmosphere with carbon dioxide and other lovely things. I've probably put 20,000 km on my personal odometer with more to come. The thought of the open road and an accelerator beneath my foot just thrills me to the bone. Observing the limits in the Kyoto accord would tie me down, restrict my freedom to roam, force me to do something suspect like walk, ride a bike or take public transport.

I'm not sure when the revelation first hit. Perhaps it was somewhere on the Great Plains, the decidedly non-Himalayan heights of the Rocky mountains on the horizon. Or was I twisting over the Precambrian shield and lake country of eastern Canada? Maybe it was I sat steaming in urban gridlock, tapping the steering wheel, sipping from a cup of takeaway coffee. Wherever my own road to Damascus may have been, the clarity of the insight was overwhelming. Vehicular dependency equals freedom, cheap petrol is a basic human right, cars are us! That's the North American motto and it's why we hate Kyoto. Most major oil companies are also based here, and we produce a fair bit of petroleum ourselves. Never mind that oil, like money, is a stateless global commodity. Somehow we see it as ours to do with as we please.

Of course, the fact that we generate a lot of our electricity from coal fired plants feeds our addiction to greenhouse gas emissions too. And then there are these long, cold winters and our propensity to heat every corner of our vast houses as to emphasise our wealth and stature as consumers. All these play into our opposition to Kyoto.

Environmental concern in North America, aside from the excellent work of activist groups like the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, is very much limited to aesthetics and doing little things that please us. The excellent women of WEPCO-back home in Lalitpur-would be pleased to know that we sort our rubbish, recycle and compost our organics. But ask us to limit consumption to save the planet and we roll down the car window and flip you the finger as we drive by.

Oh, I've tried to resist the allure of the open road. And I've been reading about coral bleaching and other deleterious effects of global warming. I've even tried arguing in favour of Kyoto with friends and fellow vehicle addicts. All to no effect. They see through me and they know that I've been converted. I am one of them and I Hate Kyoto.

Once normal life resumes in Nepal-riding my bike, walking the children to school, driving my small, clunky car just a few times a week-I know that I'll be chastened and regretful. The opportunity to consume vast amounts of the world's limited resources and poison the planet at the same time has receded until the next time I return to these shores. By then, I suppose Kyoto will be dead and the temperature will be rising. All because of people like me.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)