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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Green Inaction

There you have it, people: Canada has voted, and after the urgency of climate change seemed to have captured the imagination of a nation, we have settled instead for the party of lip service. Lumping together the one third of voters apparently happy with the Liberals with another third supporting the Conservatives, brings us a total of 67.5% of the population who voted for the status quo or worse. But what do you expect from Canadians? We are, after all, the world leaders in per-capita carbon emissions. Surely with that status come a whole host of bad habits, and bad habits are usually the hardest to give up.

Our collective stance on the Climate Change issue can be summed up by the photo-op that the prime minister went after when Greta Thunberg was in Montreal. Some more shrewd observers pointed out that it amounted to the leadership of the nation protesting against itself. Indeed, the whole problem of the success of the movement is that it is not a counter-culture. Much to the contrary, the movement is such a mainstream, even corporate phenomenon, that it is perfectly natural for the leader of the country with the worst per capita emissions on record, to rub shoulders with the poster child for the “revolution”.

Thunberg may deliver a good speech, with biting criticism, but if that discourse is co-opted by leaders she would otherwise be attacking, the whole ritual of protest becomes something of a charade. It then becomes merely a mechanism by which politicians leverage power. It’s an effective device for a populace that wants to hear promises that can never be kept. The election results confirm this; or worse still: maybe people really just don’t care as much as they pretend to with their forays into “climate activism”.

For the record, I think the most effective, meaningful action would come first in the form of imposed limits on extravagance – definition of which to be discussed, but not all that hard to imagine: the wealthiest can stand to sacrifice the most without feeling anything like the pinch that already has a hold on the struggling masses around the world. Instead, what we’ll be treated to is more likely to be forms of austerity affecting the lower-middle and working classes, or worse: hand-waving, scapegoating, foot-dragging and more lip-service.

Luckily – outside of the official, political sphere, there is, and always has been a directly effective way to reduce carbon emissions, and that is on an entirely personal level, to not burn fossil fuels; to avoid doing so as much as possible, and to think twice about alternatives whenever you do… It may not seem like the answer that will save the world because it’s not, and it won’t – at least not on a dime. But this is how new habits are formed. Habits of thought are especially useful if they translate into habits of action – or if you will, habits of inaction. After all, if the carbon we release into the atmosphere is a by-product of economic activity (consumerism) we might simply need to dial some of that back. Maybe it’s a question of not booking that next flight, or of not upgrading that flat-screen TV, or simply not turning the key in that ignition. Ask yourself what else could be done instead? That’s when new habits may just emerge.

If there is a real sea-change afoot, it’s going to be a question of will, and of good will: a cultural transformation that sheds outdated habits of thought and embraces new measures of success. A combination of leading by example, making do, and doing what you can.

It’s like Miles Davis said to John Coltrane:

"Try taking the fucking horn out of your mouth."

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