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Greening Up: We Are the People

So, people, politicians and profiteers, listen up; climate change, global warming, or whatever we call the transformation our planet is undergoing is not fake news.

“Life isn’t perfect, of course, but we all know it’s how you react to things that counts.” –     Landon Donovan

The story of climate change needs a rewrite.

The narrative we’ve been hearing and reading about since the late 1980s has fallen on too many deaf ears and blinkered eyes.

Despite warnings of increased drought, heavy rainfall, forest fires, melting ice, species relocation, rising seas, and declines in food production, the climate change chronicle is perceived by many as fiction.

An Abacus Data poll released November 1st reveals only 40 percent of Canadians feel climate change is “a very big problem”; for 34 percent it is “a moderately big problem”; for 19 percent it is “a small problem”; and for 8 percent it is “not a problem at all”.

When 60 percent of Canadians express any reluctance to do something about carbon emissions, then politicians are disinclined to impose carbon taxes, stop fossil fuel subsidies, encourage energy conservation, or fund renewable energy projects – all actions which would reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming.

But then most politicians are not prone to taking bold steps to protect the planet as they prefer to assist corporations desirous of plundering the Earth’s resources in the name of growing the economy..

So, people, politicians and profiteers, listen up; climate change, global warming, or whatever we call the transformation our planet is undergoing is not fake news.

First, the bad data, but stay with me as there will be good tidings. Honest.

The facts support those 40 percent of Canadians who believe the country is facing a very big problem:

“Changing the climate, increasingly not only the average temperature of the planet but also the acidity and level of the oceans, and destroying the food chain are actions that cannot be in the interest of our lives.” – Dipesh Chakrabarty

Then there is our participation in the bigger picture.

We are the people who have failed to stem the worst loss of life on Earth since the demise of the dinosaurs.  Cristiana Pașca Palmer, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, says the world has two years to agree on a deal to draw up ambitious global targets by 2020 to protect the insects, birds, plants and mammals that are vital for global food production, clean water and carbon sequestration. Ecosystem loss is a “silent killer” says Pașca Palmer and as dangerous as climate change.

We are the people who have stood by and watched as over half the world's population of vertebrates, from fish to birds to mammals, have been wiped out in the past four decades according to the 2018 edition of the Living Planet Report.

We are the people who are warming the oceans with human-generated heat and carbon dioxide causing species relocation and endangering fishers’ livelihoods and human seafood diets.

We are the people who are unmindful of the rapid pace of climate change in our own Yukon Territory mountains.  The rate of warming in the north is double that of the average global temperature increase, concluded the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in its annual Arctic Report Card, which called the warming “unprecedented”.

We are the people that created an artificial lake filled with black, barely liquid toxic sludge at the Baogang Steel and Rare Earth complex in Inner Mongolia dubbed the worst place on Earth. Baogang’s mines and factories supply the “rare earth” minerals that can be found in everything from magnets in wind turbines and electric car motors, to the electronic guts of smartphones and flatscreen TVs.

In a recent article in the journal Nature Climate Change, the authors found 467 ways “which human health, water, food, economy, infrastructure and security have been recently impacted by climate hazards such as warming, heatwaves, precipitation, drought, floods, fires, storms, sea-level rise and changes in natural land cover and ocean chemistry.”  

 “We’re living at a time on Earth when human’s survival on the planet is in jeopardy. We’re not living in balance with the natural world, we’re breaking virtually every ecological law there is on the planet.” – Rob Stewart, director of Sharkwater, Revolution, and Sharkwater Extinction

We the people are witnessing something we are all implicated in. On the issue of climate chaos, we the people cannot be onlookers. We have set global warming in motion and scientists say we face the possibility of ecological catastrophe.

Rest assured, we'll get there if we, as a human society, do nothing.

The task before Canadians then is to change how we react to the evidence of climate change.

We the people are citizens and citizenship comes with legal rights, privileges, obligations and duties.

One of the privileges of citizenship is participation in a community, to work together at thinking.

It is only by working and thinking together that we can get close to answering the many mysteries of life.

“To bring about real change in our global ecological situation our efforts must be collective and harmonious, based on love and respect for ourselves and each other, our ancestors, and future generations.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

In his book Why Can’t We Be Good?, the American philosopher Jacob Needleman writes that “the work of thinking together is only a step toward the power to be good, but it is a real step and therefore of immense value”.

Needleman goes on to say people are beings “created for right action” and that we are “meant to step into the stream of human life and create causes, create effects: to be, to know, to love and to do in the human world.”

True democracy requires that people make informed decisions, guided by the best available evidence, freed as far as possible from the bullying and badgering of special interests. We have to reinvent how we think to even begin to comprehend the world we now live in

“Once we can get people to visualize in life-like realism the impact of their behavior on their future selves, it leads to profound changes in how they behave.” – Barry Ritholtz

Now for the good news.

There is no reason for Canada to be a climate laggard. Really aggressive programs targeting building retrofits and non-automotive transportation can be job creators and export opportunities.

The blueprints for achieving these opportunities have been offered to us for years but we’ve hardly paid attention: Less is More, Efficiency Canada (May 2018); The Economic Impact of Improved Energy Efficiency in Canada, Clean Energy Canada (April 2018); Job Growth in Clean Energy, Pembina Institute (November 2016); One Million Climate Jobs: A Plan for a Sustainable and Equitable Economy, Green Economy Network (July 2016); A Green Industrial Revolution: Climate Justice, Green Jobs and Sustainable Production in Canada, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (June 2012).

The Expert Panel on Sustainable Finance– appointed by the federal Ministers of Finance and Environment and Climate Change – released their interim report on October 24th in which they stated:

“climate resiliency and clean growth will become one of the defining economic opportunities of the 21st century…  How we position our country within that context will in many ways determine our longer-term economic and employment trajectory.”

Natural Resources Canada recognizes the value of investing in energy efficiency, stating in an October 9th news release: “Federal investments in innovative energy-efficient projects drive economic growth, contribute to our clean energy future and create quality jobs for Canadians.”

On the global scale, a major report released by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate finds that we are significantly under-estimating the benefits of cleaner, climate-smart growth.

Unlocking the Inclusive Growth Story of the 21st Centuryhighlights opportunities in five key economic systems – energy, cities, food and land use, water, and industry. It demonstrates that ambitious action across these systems could deliver net economic gains compared with business-as-usual and:

  • Generate over 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030, equivalent to today's entire workforces of the UK and Egypt combined. 
  • Avoid over 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution in 2030. 
  • Generate, through just subsidy reform and carbon pricing, an estimated US$2.8 trillion in government revenues per year in 2030 - equivalent to the total GDP of India today - funds that can be used to invest in other public priorities or reduce distorting taxes. 

The recent New Climate Economy report estimated that a global widespread, full investment in a clean economy transition would lead to a net $26 trillion in benefits by 2030.

“Job one is to keep this planet habitable. I’d hate us to lose focus on that.” – Ellen Stofan, former NASA chief scientist

The story of climate change is not about fear or guilt. It is a tale of hope and opportunity.

We must up our concern for the living planet yet be cognizant that we may have altered so much of it that it will never “be great again.”

Our new narrative will evolve from the values we treasure – community, friendship, equality, wisdom, justice, honesty, and freedom.

We can create a kinder world, one that champions empathy, understanding, respect, self-acceptance, independent thought and action.

Campfire Convention is a British-based community of progressively-minded people who believe that individually and collectively we can shape a better, fairer world.

Our individualistic and competitive culture is not meeting our needs and we must adapt. Campfire Convention has developed a manifesto and statements of values and principles that can guide us. The 16 principles come from George Monbiot’s book Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis, a wonderfully optimistic book that demonstrates how we can change our lives.

We need to bring our government under public control to ensure it belongs to all citizens equally. Our current winner-take-all electoral structure deprives the majority of effective representation. First past the post means we are governed by the wishes of an unjust and self-interested minority.

Once we mobilize the socially-minded, empathetic, and altruistic masses, we will realize how powerful we all are and what is possible.

Even the special report on global warming prepared by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stressed that whether we head for 2°C or for 1.5°C, the obstacles are mainly political; they are not technical or economic.

Mark 12:31 – Love your neighbour as yourself.

The place where we can achieve the most is locally, working together with our neighbours. We the people must provide mutual support to each other and our economic life. We have many examples already in use and proven: shopping locally, local currency, and local marketing of local products.

Let’s agree to solve the local problems that most need solving, and those we are most capable of solving, however small or humble those problems may seem to be.

“The only local protection against an enveloping and destructive national or global economy is a local economy as diverse and complete as the local land and people can make it.” – Wendell Berry

In addition, each of us must commit to using our Earth with care. Our daily lives must be an exercise in conviction. Our actions must be driven by our ideals. What we actually think and believe must be how we live.

There really is no “environment”. The world is something that we are part of and we share its destiny.

If enough of us choose caring over not caring, then our neighbourhood culture will change. That is the starting point to changing the world. We must make that choice while it is still possible.

We are the people who can do it. It is a struggle that can saturate our hearts.

“To protect the future of young people, we must act boldly and must act now. We must take action… in our home, in our businesses and in the vehicles we drive. Each of us is the activist and the innovator.” – Kate Sears

Michael Jessen is an eco-writer and sustainability consultant. He lives at Longbeach near Balfour, BC. He can be reached by email at zerowaste@shaw.ca

Author’s note: If you agree with the facts of climate change, please pass this column on to friends and relatives, especially those who may still believe that this is a minor problem.