This is a guest post by blogger Lyon
When Ellen joked during the Oscars this year: “For those of you watching around the world, it’s been a tough couple of days for us. It has been raining. We’re fine. Thank you for your prayers,” California really does need your prayers. They need them for more rain as the state is in a severe drought. I wonder if members of the Academy or those watching worldwide knew that those storms Ellen was joking about would have a minimal effect on the drought or that there even was a drought in California.
Climate events aren’t usually big news in western media. They aren’t the Oscars, they aren’t the Olympics and they aren’t the appalling violence on the Euromaidan this February. This doesn’t mean that climate-related news aren’t important or even historic. Carbon Concentration in the earth’s atmosphere passed 400ppm in 2013. In the media, a nice round number is easy to present for an audience to digest yet the world barely took notice when we reached 400ppm. Media focused on the same cycle, industries kept growing and consumption kept increasing. To those other than scientists, a 400ppm measurement of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere can be quite an abstract figure. Nevertheless, even with record breaking cyclones such as Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan scientists are reluctant to state that it was directly caused by Climate Change. The deniers that materialize to disseminate scientific misinformation do nothing to help. I hope people know that despite all the work in developing internationally binding legislation and mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the annual UN Climate Conferences, global GHG emissions are still not decreasing overall. I wonder if people in Greater Vancouver realize how much of a dry winter (a dry year, even) we’ve been having. Every time I hear someone complain about the lack of snow on the North Shore for skiing or snowboarding no one ever frames it as a climate event. They might be thinking about it, but it’s not seen as an important observation to state aloud.
There is a major discrepancy between the action we need to take to stop catastrophic Climate Change and the action that we have taken now. Something that I don’t see in the actions that environmentalists such as Bill McKibben have taken or scientists such as James Hansen advocate are actions that address fundamental systemic issues inherent in the Climate Change problem. Our global economy is based on growth, in fact infinite growth. This means we need to keep consuming in order for the economy to function. In order to produce goods for us, industries need energy and the energy sources they use largely emit greenhouse gas emissions that are causing Climate Change. Our Earth possesses finite resources and, climate change aside, even the global economy cannot run this way forever. Our governments and us (most of us) have accepted this system, it’s normal, it’s mundane and why would we have to think twice about it? We don’t typically have a candid view of the various industries that manufacture our smart phones, the sweatshops that sew our clothing or the monocultures and concentrated animal farming operations that produce our food. And why should we? Advertising from corporations that sell us these products don’t have to frankly show us environmental or societal impacts of their operations. That sexy new winter cardigan you bought can become quickly unfashionable, that distracting smart phone you have becomes increasingly obsolete with each new product release and your new favorite song, movie or video game will be forgotten in a year’s time. All these products are a necessary part of our lives; we believe we can’t live without it all. Nothing is wrong. Just keep calm and carry on.
With a population of only approximately 35 million, Canada is the world’s 8th largest emitter of CO2. Must be the cold winters, eh? Well maybe, that and our relentless unconventional fossil fuel development racing to the bottom for lower quality, more polluting substances such as bitumen. As climate change affects people in poorer nations more severely because many live on subsistence agriculture, it’s our responsibility to decrease our GHG emissions and to set an example for these countries not to industrialize on the same path as we did. I acknowledge that fossil fuels are inherent in our daily lives. That abundance of produce and all those products you see stocked on store shelves arrive or were assembled with parts spread all over the globe. Artificial fertilizer requires natural gas in order to be made. Fossil fuels are also used frequently in manufacturing processes and the creation of products such as plastic. Many countries still use coal burning plants to produce electricity (even ours). Despite how much it is a part of us, we still have to change. Taking small steps and doing actions like eating only local food for a day is an effective way to work towards the big stuff. So is being mindful of how advertising is influencing our thought patterns and behaviour or how much we are personally contributing to climate change to shrink our ecological footprint. Volunteering (EYA), participating in campaigns (Beyond Coal) and getting your voice heard are more outgoing actions to take.
It is getting worse and not better. Rich countries still don’t want to deliver aid to poor countries where they will get the worst for a problem that we are responsible for. Our parks have been cleared for further fracking and crude/LNG pipelines. Then again, this system is not intractable. In late November of last year, hundreds of students were called through social media to protest the suspension of the signing of a government association and trade agreement. Less than two weeks into the peaceful protest, riot police violently dispersed the crowd of mostly students that had skipped classes to protest in sub zero temperatures. With that, people had had it. Hundreds of thousands of people of all ages, different ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds showed up to occupy a square to show an autocratic, corrupt and oppressive government that they weren’t afraid to stand up for political change. Eventually the square became a war zone that cost the lives of 115 people, mostly civilians. These mostly unarmed protesters were willing to hold their ground against military rifles. That was when it became international news, when most of us learned of #Euromaidan or Independence Square located in Kiev, Ukraine.
President Yanukovych has fled to Russia, an Interim government has been established that promises elections in May. The Interim government has also signed core elements of the EU agreement. In a short time, the movement have begun to shift the country towards a more democratic future. Moreover, the Berkut riot police force that was used in the protests have been permanently disbanded. On the other hand the Crimea has been occupied by the Russian military but there is always hope that it will be a part of Ukraine again in the near future.
Youth can spark massive movements that fundamentally change society despite institutionalized power and oppression.
Do we have to wait until the guns start firing and the square starts burning until we begin to pay attention and act?
The people didn’t when their children were being beaten in the streets. And we don’t have to wait for the public’s support to claim a bright future that isn’t violent or apocalyptic like the one in The Road.
We aren’t narcissistic social media addicts, extreme consumers or lazier than our parents.
We are the future!