Join Date: June 30, 2004
Location: Van Island, BC
A convenient truth: A small idea to fight climate change
Okay, climate change is a given â€“ we, the public, are way ahead of the politicians on this one.
But if we're the culprits â€“ and there's not much "if" there, according to every recent, reputable scientific study (let's just cast aside, once and for all, those funded by the petroleum industry) â€“ how do we fix it?
Notice, there's no "they" in that sentence.
Hoping for leadership from politicians who measure their term in office in three- to five-year increments is whistling in the dark; it takes statesmen, visionaries, maybe wild-eyed loonies to effect that kind of change.
And to do it on a global scale? Forget it.
So maybe we're looking for leadership in the wrong place. Maybe looking in the mirror is the right place to start.
After all, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth not only got two Academy Award nominations, the documentary has become a bona fide hit. And in the two countries most excoriated for contributing greenhouse gases that trap heat in the atmosphere â€“ Canada and the U.S. That means it wasn't just politicians in the audience.
But are we able or willing to make the kind of changes it will take, in the short timeframe demanded of us, in order to avert a climatic tipping point?
Tall order, for sure.
Sure, most of us are willing to make little changes, buy a few spirally, low-energy light bulbs, consider a smaller car, ride rapid transit more often, turn down the thermostat when we're at work.
Problem is, that's not enough.
Read British journalist George Monbiot's Heat for what it'll take: radical change in how we all live, reaching right down to the fundamentals of our daily lives â€“ housing, transport, air travel (you can pretty well kiss that goodbye).
Monbiot is hard-headed, cites peer-reviewed science, and is blunt in exposing chimeras like ethanol (do we really want to feed cars and trucks instead of the poor?), heavy oil (it takes vast amounts of energy to extract), wind (great when and where it blows, but few of us live there), and solar energy (how do you get that electricity from sunny places to cold, damp ones that need it?).
He is not the only writer to see trouble on the not-so-distant horizon. What sets him apart is his prescription. It is rigorous indeed â€“ and it will take far-sighted politicians to steer the juggernaut of our economies to, as he suggests, a war footing akin to that of World War II. There may be a good supply of Rosie the Riveters amongst us, but one sees precious few Churchills or Roosevelts (or even Stalins) out there.
So here's a suggestion.
What if you, your neighbour and I had a realistic idea of the "carbon cost" of everything we buy?
What if that enticing fresh asparagus in the dead of winter tipped you off, not only by its price and small-print country of origin label, but with a front-and-centre "carbon cost" label, that it arrived at your local grocery story after being flown in a greenhouse-gas-emitting aircraft from Peru?
Would you settle for Ontario-grown, in a can?
What if that low-cost, organic cereal let you deduce through its "carbon cost" label that its main ingredient was grown on a factory farm in an underdeveloped country on the other side of the globe where labourers are paid dirt and ancient tractors spew murk into the sky?
Would you look for grains grown on the Prairies?
What if, when you filled your vehicle's fuel tank, the "carbon cost" labels told you the real environmental price â€“ not to mention the social one â€“ that was paid to grow the corn that went into the ethanol that made your fuel somehow "green"?
Would that help you shop for the car you need, instead of the one you think you want? Or take the bus?
Can we, as ordinary, everyday consumers, make appropriate choices given appropriate information? Could a groundswell of consumer awareness really take the world by storm?
It has happened.
A bit of 20th century history here: Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the genesis of the modern ecological movement, was published in 1962. Soon after, Americans saw Carson's passion on televised congressional hearings. A decade later, DDT was banned in the U.S. In 2004, the Stockholm Convention banned the use of that pesticide worldwide.
What that means is that you and I recently got to see photographs of a bald eagle hunting over Toronto Harbour â€“ in a newspaper, instead of paintings in an encyclopedia.
Another example: in the early 1980s, scientists had begun to worry as they observed data from a global network of ozone-monitoring satellites, balloon and aircraft-borne instruments, and ground stations. It showed that, at certain times of year, the ozone layer that protects the Earth's surface from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays was thinning over the South Pole.
The press picked up the story, people pressured politicians, and by 1987, the UN's Montreal Protocol and its subsequent amendments began to control the chlorinated fluorocarbons that were depleting atmospheric ozone. The protocol and its amendments ordered industry to develop and use safer substitutes.
If all goes well, NASA predicts that by 2050 the ozone layer will have returned to its 1980 level.
So individual awareness has been shown to bring about change, through individual shopping habits, through the pressure that brings political action, and through the potent lever of peer pressure.
Yet another example: 25 years ago, offices were smoky dungeons; today, lighting up indoors would ignite a chorus of condemnation; it's against the law. There are cigarette-free zones outside building entrances â€“ not only so smokers freezing outside don't litter or molest others with second-hand smoke, but so they themselves don't suffer abuse from proselytizing non-smokers.