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Trucking & Climate Change

By Marek Kasuski

Climate change and extreme weather are never far from our radar. Turn on the television or radio and you’ll hear much of California is ablaze with wildfires that have wiped out dozens of communities and caused 80 deaths at the time of this writing. Nearly one thousand people are still unaccounted for. Flooding, the melting of polar ice caps, and more recently and closer to home, the polluting of Ontario’s lakes continues unabated. According to this province’s Environmental Commissioner Dianne Saxe, raw sewage continues to flow into our lakes and rivers at an alarming rate. In a recent Report the provincial watchdog says the provincial government is doing little to stop it.
The Report says that raw sewage has flowed into southern Ontario waterways some 1,327 times with about half of those leakages coming from 60 old municipal drainage systems that still combine raw sewage and storm water. Laws are on the books to punish polluters, mainly municipalities, but Queen’s Park is not taking the initiative to enforce those laws. Not surprising since municipalities are constantly struggling to stretch their operating budgets. Saxe, however, says this trend can be turned around. “The failures described in this report, they’re not inevitable. Small changes can better protect Ontario’s water, wetlands, woodlands and wildlife. My report offers sensible solutions, many cost relatively little, and would yield big rewards,” she said.
The financial cost of climate change and extreme weather has more than doubled in Canada over the last decade. And while there are still some naysayers who deny the effects and even existence of global warming, there are many who are responding in meaningful ways to counteract the damage of our profligate practices. Not least among them are Small and Medium [business] Enterprises (SMEs). These make up 99 percent of all businesses in Canada and produce more than half of the national private sector GDP, according to research conducted at the University of Waterloo. The Study from the University goes on to credit SMEs for the vigour with which they are undertaking solutions to environmental problems.
Among SMEs which have a proven track record in leading the charge for meaningful change is the trucking sector.
Black smoke discharged from diesel engines is a thing of the past thanks to a series of regulations eliminating nitrous oxides and diesel particulate matter. By way of comparison trucks from 20 years ago produced 35 times more nitrous oxides and 60 times more diesel particulates.
Trucking has gone much further in this regard with, for example, the introduction GHG (greenhouse gas) regulations. Phase II GHG emissions are even more stringent, beginning with the 2021 model year for over the road heavy duty trucks and engines. Emission standards for trucks and trailers up to the model year 2027 will become even more stringent, reaping fuel efficiency benefits of up to 25 percent. The Phase II regulations apply to trailers with new standards while taking into account technologies on trailers such as trailer skirts and other aerodynamic appendages, low resistance tires, and tire pressure monitoring systems.
Other predictors of the trucking industry’s migration toward clean burning alternatives is the growing demand for natural gas fuelled trucks in the US and Canada. In Canada, The Canadian Trucking Association (CTA) continues to take a leading role in advocating for low carbon burning engines, while taking into account the realistic limitations of existing infrastructure. In a Report CTA president Stephen Laskowski noted that “Although low carbon technologies like natural gas and electric engines have less operational, infrastructure and supply chain challenges for short-haul trucking, governments must be made aware of the technological impediments for long-haul fleets.”
Laskowski’s reference to electric vehicles is worth noting as this is yet another meaningful stride in industry improvements. Electric vehicles are competing for market share with diesel fired engines, particularly in the urban delivery segment where trucks can return to docking stations for recharging at day’s end. And while more electrified vehicles are gaining prominence in the medium duty market, plans are underway for their use in the long haul segment in an effort to reduce the carbon footprint through the whole industry. The Tesla Semi Truck is a case in point, even promising superior acceleration and torque to its diesel fired counterpart. And Peterbilt will bring its own electric class 8 to market in 2019, partnering with Meritor and Transpower to provide electric drivetrain systems for two truck models.
Yet even if married with the necessary infrastructure, once fully developed and installed at charging stations across the country, electric vehicles will still leave a carbon footprint considering that 39 percent of electricity comes from burning coal.
All said, the trucking sector isn’t perfect, but it has made admirable strides in working toward a substantially reduced impact on the environment. New technology diesel trucks alone have removed 26 million tonnes of nitrous oxides from the atmosphere and 59 million tonnes of carbon dioxide. Add to this the myriad changes in recent years – reduced idle times, low resistant tires, aerodynamic improvements, GHG emission reductions, transition to alternative fuel powered engines – then commercial trucking can rightfully take credit for doing its share in stemming the ravages of global climate change. Trucking for other corporate players is a good act to follow.

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