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Human Activity and the Environment publication

Canadians recognize the importance of a clean and healthy environment. We understand that the capacity of the environment to supply materials and absorb wastes is finite. But to be effective at reducing our collective impact on the environment we need systematic, accessible and relevant information. Without this basic information, we are unable to understand and respond to environmental change.

The annual Human Activity and the Environment (HAE) publications meet this need with a collection of environmental statistics brought together from many sources. The goal is to paint a statistical portrait of Canada's environment with special emphasis on human activity and its relationship to natural systems–air, water, soil, plants and animals.

Each annual issue of Human Activity and the Environment begins with a feature article (Section 1) covering a current environmental issue of concern to Canadians. The in-depth article provides data and analysis which complement the information presented in the Annual statistics compendium that follows.

The Annual statistics compendium of the Human Activity and the Environment report serves as a general reference for environmental statistics in Canada, pointing readers to available data on environment-human interactions. Divided into three sections, the compendium is organized using the state-pressure-response framework, in which information is classified as measuring the state of the physical environment at a point in time, the pressure placed on the environment by human activities, or the socio-economic response to environmental conditions. The current report includes 101 data tables, 14 charts and 7 maps, along with data highlights that briefly describe notable developments in relation to human activity and the environment to help the reader navigate through the data holdings.

Feature article

Section 1: Food in Canada

The feature article, Food in Canada, begins with a brief historical perspective on fishing and farming in Canada and moves on to explore the impact of the food system on the economy, environment and society. It illustrates how the contribution of the food system to gross domestic product and employment has shifted over the past forty years, and investigates the impact of primary food production on land, water, air and climate. The article concludes with a characterization of what is on the Canadian table, and the greenhouse gas emissions and energy-use associated with household food purchases.


  1. Spending on food and non-alcoholic beverages from stores resulted in production of almost 46,000 kilotonnes of greenhouse gases, equivalent to 6.4% of total greenhouse gas emissions in Canada in 2003.
  2. Almost one-quarter (23%) of these food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was attributable to the production of fresh and frozen meat, while fish products contributed 2%.
  3. In 1964, the food system was responsible for 9% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 12% of employment. By 2004 this had decreased to 4% of GDP and 5% of employment
  4. In 1964, primary production from agriculture and fisheries contributed 28% to food-related GDP. By 2004 this share had decreased to 13%. In contrast the relative contribution of services, including transportation, food services, food retail, and marketing, increased from 38% to 56%.
  5. In 2006, spending on fuel per hectare by farmers who used no tillage was about one-third that of spending by farmers who used conventional tillage. This reduction in fuel use also reduces air pollution and GHG emissions.
  6. While there are many requirements that must be followed, in general organic agriculture avoids the use of chemical fertilizers and synthetic pesticides. In 2006, over 15,500 farms, or 6.8% of all farms in Canada, produced organically grown food products.
  7. In 2007, an estimated 38% of solid food available for retail sale was wasted, the equivalent of 183 kilograms per person. A decrease in food waste would reduce negative environmental impacts associated with food production, processing, distribution and services.

Annual statistics: an evironmental data compendium

Section 2: Canada's physical environment

This section presents information and statistics on Canada's physiography and climate. Physiography, or physical geography, is the study of the physical features of the earth's surface. This section covers two of the key elements that make up Canada's physiography: land cover and hydrology.

Climate can be defined as the average weather that occurs in a specific area over a period of time. Humans rely heavily on the regularity of climate patterns for almost all of their activities. Climate is measured using various weather elements as indicators. These are presented in this section of the compendium.

Section 3: Pressures on Canada's Environment

This section begins by presenting information on the driving forces that shape the relationship between human activities and the environment—namely population, economic conditions and transportation. The section then examines one of the main sources of impacts on the environment—natural resource consumption—by presenting data and highlights on agriculture, fisheries, forestry, minerals and energy. The section concludes by looking at the impacts human activities have on ecosystems, focusing on air, land, water and wildlife statistics.

Section 4: Socio-economic response to environmental conditions

This section explores the way governments, businesses and households try to respond and adapt as environmental conditions change. This chapter describes activities and practices aimed at minimizing or reducing the harmful effects of human activity on the environment.

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