You can’t imagine how thrilled I was to see the turnout and international response to Greta Thunberg’s Climate Change Strike. What an amazing young lady. I only wish I had had that much confidence at 16 years of age. I don’t think I have that much confidence now, at 61 years of age. The fact that Greta has managed to make the world take notice is a testament to her ability to inspire people.
Up until last week, I believe that most people felt helpless when it came to climate change because they felt as if they are up against governments, big business and the global economy. Three things that are entwined together in ways that the average person would have difficulty keeping straight. What I do know, in simple terms, is that elected governments do try to work for the average person, little people like you and me. The people who ticked their names on the ballets. However, governments are also in power to work for business people, whose mandate is to make a profit. Profits often take priority over everything else, including the environment. Not only does this group pay taxes, they also employ a lot of little people like you and me. The economy, both regional and global, relies on government fiscal policy and business’s use of human resources, physical capital, natural resources and technology to combine together to create successful economic development and growth. I hate to tell you, but economic growth is a necessary evil. Although we all like to be idealistic, neither you nor I would want to be in a country where economic development and growth is failing. Think massive unemployment and inflation. There would definitely be a lot more demonstrations and possibly riots. Governments are basically in a catch-22 situation. Especially when no one, companies or individual taxpayers, wants to pay to reduce climate change.
What does all this have to do with the climate change strike? It’s simple, governments are wary of crowds. They don’t want a lot of people filling the streets implying that they are not doing their job. So they will try a little harder, but they honestly can’t turn oil and gas off and something else on until that something else has the ability to provide the same economic benefits and lifestyles that most little people and business investors are used to. That would create another situation that could fuel demonstrations and riots. Ideally, as more climate friendly solutions are implemented, more climate unfriendly processes will be abandoned. But there are no black and white solutions.
In as much as I admire the strike because of the attention that it brings to the current climate situation, you just can’t march then expect the government to take the baton and run with it. Individuals need to take some of the responsibility for climate change. They need to step up and do more. By more I don’t mean another strike or march. I mean make better choices. And by better choices, I don’t mean go plant a tree, which is a nice idea that we all can do but will have no immediate effect on the problem. It will take about 30 years before a newly-planted tree is mature enough to effectively help reduce climate change. During the same time, other trees will still be cut down to feed our desires for housing, furniture, palm oil and paper just to name a few. What I mean is that individuals as consumers need to actively protest with their wallets. Actively support the businesses, big and little, that are greener. Actively purchase products and services that are climate and environmentally friendly.
I will freely admit that I did not march. This doesn’t mean that I don’t care. It means that I don’t manage well in crowds. I have cared for almost forty years. Just about every decision I make is weighted with my concern for the environment. Conscious decisions like whether on not to use certain products such as nail polish and polish remover, most of which are very toxic. Not to mention the environmental impact of their actual production. Other products, like certain everyday soaps and cleansers, perfumes, paraffin scented candles, actually any scented candles, disposable cutlery, anything containing micro beads. The list goes on and on. I used cloth diapers in the 90’s, lugging two diaper pails down two flights of stairs every other day in order to wash them when most people used disposables ones, which ended up in landfills. In the late 80’s, I purchased holiday printed fabric and made gift bags to replace Christmas wrapping paper and ribbons. I still use them. When The Doc and I moved into our house twenty-one years ago, we replaced the old woodstove with one that was EPA approved. This stove double burns, meaning it burns both the wood and the gasses emitted by the wood so that they are not released into the air via the chimney. Just this year, we have almost eliminated single-use plastics with the exception of certain packaging where we have no other choice. None of these decisions were difficult to make. I present them as examples of what can be done.
Because I live outside the city, I have a habit of ganging up my errands for a single trip to reduce my usage of fossil fuels. When making conscious decisions, we can’t ignore our use of fossil fuels. You would think the residents of a country as beautiful and pristine as Canada is would care enough want to keep it that way. Not so. Canada has the worst fuel economy in the world. Do you want to know why? Canadians, like Americans, love to buy big heavy gas-guzzling vehicles. A recent report by the International Energy Agency shows that Canada’s vehicles have the highest average fuel consumption and carbon dioxide emissions per kilometer driven.*
*For more information: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2019/05/when-it-comes-to-vehicles-canada-tops-the-charts-for-poor-fuel-economy?fbclid=IwAR21Okf0kFQwbp1haf_D8S2HiaRwXmEBZ5TLI73xHy8dxq1yR_Siyf_ki-8
It is not government or big business that is (pardon the pun) driving this issue, it is consumers. If consumers didn’t demand these large gas-guzzling vehicles, then the North American auto industry wouldn’t build them. You just need to compare the size of vehicles used in Canada and the U.S. where SUVs and pickup trucks just keep getting larger to vehicle sizes in Europe, where smaller cars prevail. Personally, I’m embarrassed.
And what about energy use at home? Depending on where you live in North America, much of the electricity is still produced using some form of fossil fuels. There is nothing that irks me more than seeing how much power people waste, no matter how this power is produced. There is no need to have every light on in the house. Turn off the lights when you leave a room, and teach your kids to do it too. And why is there a TV on when no one is watching it or playing the attached video game system? Turn down the heat at night or install an automatic thermostat to do it for you. You certainly don’t need to burn fossil fuels when you are snug under a warm blanket or duvet.
Another other hot-button item is plastics, and for good reason. The major raw materials used to manufacture plastics are oil and natural gas. Let me repeat this: the major raw materials used to manufacture plastics are oil and natural gas. These raw materials go through a process that converts them into hydrocarbon monomers such as ethylene and propylene. Monomers are molecules that can be bonded to other identical molecules to form a polymer. Additional processing creates a wider range of monomers and different combinations of these create a wide range of plastics. Now all this is way over most of our heads, and we can only imagine the environmental impact of these processes, especially in countries with lower environmental standards than we are used to. China, for example, where a lot of our plastic products and toys are imported from. Manufacturing is an environmentally messy business.
Not all plastics are recycled. I would venture to say that most plastic isn’t, so it will literally last forever in our landfills and oceans. Think about this the next time you purchase some plastic trinket that may get used a few times before someone gets bored with it and discards it. And the next time you use plastic cutlery and toss in it the trash. And at Christmas… do kids really need ALL those plastic toys? Especially the ones with the tiny plastic accessories that are misplaced in a few days or a couple of weeks. And do we really need to run to Walmart or Michaels every holiday (not just Christmas) and purchase those new, cool plastic decorations that are so cheap that people feel ok tossing them in a year or two to buy newer ones? There is a price for new and cool that is so much greater than the numbers next to the $ on the tag. I am not saying that we give up plastics entirely. There are a lot of good and necessary uses of plastic, but we can certainly reduce how much of it we purchase.
My point is that consumers actually have more power than they think and possibly more power than governments when it comes to influencing businesses. If governments raise taxes or place too many restrictions on businesses, the business will relocate to less restrictive jurisdictions, taking all the little-people jobs with them. Consumers, on the other hand, need to stop being sucked in by the marketing campaigns that are designed to make us feel inadequate if we don’t own or use certain products. The number of people who have purchased Keurig coffee makers, without considering the environmental impact of all those plastic pods absolutely astounds me. If the demand for all the junk that is environmentally harmful is reduced to the point that producing it is no longer profitable, businesses will have no choice but to change their business models. And if we buy less and buy wisely, we can afford to support companies that offer climate/environmentally friendly products and services and still have more money in our wallets. Of course, this all depends upon consumers making conscious decisions.
Even as I write this, barely scratching the surface of this issue, I know that it will not happen quickly. It probably won’t happen in my lifetime, which could be another thirty years if I am lucky. I don’t have Greta Thunberg’s ability to inspire. The Keurig example alone says it all. It tells me that there are more people who don’t care than who do. Some of these, may be the nicest people in the world, but they just don’t think, and it is going to take a lot of time and energy to teach them how to. Others are self-righteous blowhards who would rather die than change. Either way, all of them would vote out any government that tries to implement policies that will alter their comfortable status quo. And they have the numbers to do so.
The world will still be here with or without the predicted effects of climate change. It just won’t be the world we know today. My home province of Nova Scotia could end up being an island, one that is prone to hurricanes and other weather phenomena. The only thing we can do is adapt to whatever changes come. Human beings have an amazing ability to adapt. In the case of Nova Scotia, people may have to move away or build a big bridge, which would only happen if someone is willing to pay for it.