What NEEDS to Happen
We live in a growth driven, carbon fuelled economy that is destroying the ecosystems that we depend on for survival. If we’re going to survive, civilization needs to make a shift from fossil fuels to sustainability. Anything unsustainable should be made illegal.
Shrink the Economy
Talking about a shrinking economy as if it is a good thing is taboo. That is not without good reason; as we saw in the last few years of the global financial crisis, an uncontrolled shrinking economy drives people into poverty by reducing the number of jobs available and by reducing wages and security for remaining jobs. While everyone should be willing to change their lives to save the planet, a shrinking economy puts most of the burden on poverty-stricken people. Long-term sustainability requires the transition to a steady state economy where production does not exceed the earth’s carrying capacity. Since the landmark 1987 UN Commission Our Common Future, From One Earth to One World A/42/427. Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development rich counties are called on to lead the way themselves as well as to support developing nations as they adapt to avoid the worst polluting paths to development—through financing, technology and knowledge transfer.
To cut our greenhouse gas emissions, we will have to use less. The poorest people in the world today are suffering from collapsing fish stocks, drought, desertification, food and water shortages, and rising sea levels – all symptoms of a dying ecosystem.
The first group to use less should be the people who use the most: industries and consumers in developed countries. We then have to invest in changing the way countries develop, so that they do not create the same environmental disasters that developed nations have created. This can be accomplished if wealthy nations and corporations loosen patent laws and allow developing nations access to our new clean energy technology. Specialists in fields including ecological economics and degrowth economics are currently studying how this can be done. There is another way of doing things, and many other societies know this. In the constitution of the Iroquois
Confederacy, it says:
In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self interest shall be cast into oblivion … Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground — the unborn of the future Nation.
Internalize Environmental Costs
Big Oil and other corporations profit while causing huge destruction to the earth. They need to pay for the real cost of doing business. Right now, governments pay corporations billions of dollars in subsidies and tax credits annually that keep up the business-as-usual approach for growth. The Institute for Sustainable Development estimated that the oil sector received 2.84 billion dollars from the Canadian government in subsidies in just one year. While this is the norm, it is impossible for green energy alternatives to be competitive.
So what can and should be done?
Stop setting “voluntary” targets that no one meets. According to the IPCC:
Voluntary agreements between industry and governments are politically attractive, raise awareness among stakeholders, and have played a role in the evolution of many national policies. The majority of agreements have not achieved significant emissions reductions beyond business as usual.
Asking corporations to voluntarily stop making huge profits while passing the buck on our air and water is not working. Instead of giving money to polluters, governments can impose penalties that hit the heaviest polluters the hardest — taxing pollution into extinction by making it more expensive. This will ensure that people seek out green energy, which will then be more affordable.
Subsidies and tax credits should go to developing alternative, carbon-neutral energy. Old polluting industries can be replaced with new, low-carbon factories that use energy efficiently and capture or clean their emissions.
Carbon consumption and waste should be taxed heavily. Public transit and green building should get tax credits.
Public research into clean energy needs to be financed properly. Despite everything that we have learned about the causes and consequences of climate change, half as much money is put towards furthering our knowledge today than in 1980. Stop Big Oil’s tax cuts: fund clean, green energy through seed money.
What YOU Can Do
Join a Campaign and Support Organizations
Here is a list of organizations with mounting effective campaigns. Their goal is to promote burning less fossil fuel and to end tax breaks for big polluting industries. How can you help?
- Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (CPAWS)
- Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC)
- David Suzuki Foundation
- End Fossil Fuel Tax Breaks
- Fossil Free Canada
- Friends of the Earth (FOE) Canada
- The Conservation Council of Ontario (CCO)
- The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)
- Volunteer Outside
Influence Government Policy
Support a carbon tax and get rid of subsidies to harmful industries. Some places like Alberta have a low, subsidized carbon tax that does not reflect the true cost of operations or the cost to the environment. Others have none at all. Write/email your MP and MPP to ask for a carbon tax or penalty in your province and across Canada. http://www.parl.gc.ca
Support public transit. Take the bus, subway, commuter train, or streetcar, and fight for improved, affordable services.
Write/email your Mayor and Councillor. Tell them how you use public transit and why: it’s greener, cheaper, and during rush hour in many cities, it’s faster. Tell them that we need more public transit to make living affordable, easier, and sustainable. Also mention that public transit should be more supportive to families and those traveling with strollers and wheel chairs.
Support green building. Often price is the most important choice when a new public building is designed, but the price of building does not take into account emissions and the lifetime of the building. Ask to have that accounted for.
Encourage your city to build green. Support spending a bit more for a building that is built sustainably, with certification from LEED – a group that monitors sustainable building.
Make Smart Consumer Choices
Choose less stuff and more life. It’s not just about turning off the lights when you leave the room; the changes we need to make in our lifestyle means having fewer rooms to begin with. We own more clothes than ever, live in bigger houses with fewer people, spend more time in cars, in front of TVs, computers, and screens, and throw away more stuff — including a quarter of the food we buy. This is the result of consumerism. You may have heard that “Every dollar you spend is a vote,” but every dollar you don’t spend is more powerful, demonstrating an equitable lifestyle that prioritizes people over stuff.
Be part of the reusing economy. Vintage, recycled, upcycled, used — whatever you want to call it. You can find virtually anything used whether it be in stores or online, and usually much cheaper than new.
Buy something once. If you do decide you need to buy something new, save up for something of high quality so that you keep it for as long as possible.
Take public transit. In your home city, take only public transit — or bike or walk.
Travel smart. When travelling, use public transit as an opportunity to discover new places and new people, instead of hiding inside a rented car. Instead of owning a car, borrow one when you really need it. Many cities now have Car Share companies that let you rent one for a short time, too. Take a train or bus instead of an airplane whenever possible — they don’t put emissions into the upper atmosphere.
Insulate your home and use energy-efficient appliances. Look for products endorsed by Energy Star.
Offset your carbon footprint. If you can’t afford to buy carbon offsets, you can volunteer your time planting trees or working with a local environmental group. If you decide to purchase carbon offsets, here are some companies with the best independent ratings. These companies use the money you pay for carbon offsets to fund sustainable energy and energy efficiency projects, mostly in developing nations.
Reduce beef consumption. Eat less meat and instead, consume more foods grown locally and sustainably. Producing beef for food has a surprising environmental cost: it releases prodigious amounts of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The huge and largely hidden impacts of industrial meat production are well documented and analyzed in many scientific publications in recent years. According to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the meat in our diets emits more greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, and nitrous oxide, than either transportation or industry. Emissions from livestock constitute nearly 80 per cent of all agricultural emissions. Raising livestock is a huge contributor to climate change, resulting in the emission of methane from fermentation, nitrous oxide from excreted nitrogen, and chemicals from nitrogenous fertilizers used to produce the feed for the many animals often packed into “landless” Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) (Lesschen et al. 2011; Herrero et al., 2011; O’Mara 2011; Janzen, 2011; Reay et al. 2012).
More info: http://www.unep.org/pdf/UNEP-GEAS_OCT_2012.pdf
According to a report in Scientific American, producing half a pound of hamburger equivalent to a patty of meat the size of two decks of cards, releases as much greenhouse gases as driving a 3,000-pound car nearly 10 miles! In North America, most people consume too much protein. According to Canada’s Food Guide, only 2-3 servings of meat or meat alternatives are recommended daily. However in 2005, the Food and Agriculture Organization found that the average Canadian ate more than 3 times the protein needed. Overconsumption of meat is also linked to heart disease and certain kinds of cancer.
Eat green. Find out what’s grown in your area and eat that a few more times a week. Buy organic food or food that doesn’t use oil-based pesticides and fertilizers. Replace meat with more efficient beans, lentils and grains. Beef production generates greenhouse gases that contribute more than 13 times as much to global warming as do the gases emitted from producing chicken. A 2011 study from McGill University found that replacing the land we use to grow food for animals, with plant food for humans could increase global food output by 50 percent. For more ideas on actions you can take, check out: Transition Network.