Stop Everything

Rebecca McNeil

It’s easy to forget in a world of swirling priorities and frequently changing news stories that the foundation on which we all base our work is reaching a dangerously fragile point. Last year, in the wake of a seemingly overnight recession, we were reminded that at any moment the rug can be pulled out from under us and our collective energies and focus must immediately shift to a pressing issue.

The same can be true when we think of our environment. True, these issues have been surprisingly resilient as they remained on a public agenda throughout a recession, countless political scandals and despite the many distractions of everyday life. But within this broad term “environment” lies a plethora of topics: sustainable food, air pollution, public transit, local wine, clean water, waste reduction, recycling, conservation... and beyond that social concerns like housing, rising debt, AIDS, community-building, queer rights, war and corruption. The energy of environmental and progressive movements along with the attention of the public are constantly being pushed and pulled in a tug of war for precious resources and media so they can stay afloat on the public and political agenda and hopefully some progress will be made.

But is there a large, scary elephant in the room that environmentalists and the public at large are tending to forget about in their day-to-day priorities? Upon finishing my undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies I began working in the land-use planning/agricultural sector and have moved on to work on projects that engage youth in environmental education and work to protect rights of citizens to participate in public action. Important stuff, at least I think.

Every once in a while though, I have my system shocked with the reality that we are reaching those scary numbers: the dates that climatologists predicted we have until we reach the point of no return; the number of chances we have to make a serious commitment to this undeniably and globally-permeating problem; and what scientists have defined as 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere as the tipping point. We’re told we have until 2015-2017 to stop increasing and begin to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere. And we have only one international framework that provides the chance of getting us there. We have all learned by now that this is the issue to end all issues, and if we can’t get ourselves out of this mess, all our other hard work will have been in vain.

But who wants to talk about climate change? Let’s face it, it’s abstract, number-based and there are lots of concepts and jargon from cap and trade to COP15 that exclude most of us from the discussion, leaving it to some political PR rep to tell us which systems are good for us.

We have allowed ourselves to feel distant and unsure from this issue and be told by our economic experts that we cannot afford to put any serious investments into it. The same folks that couldn’t predict the massive, world-reaching recession last year don’t foresee a problem with climate change. Okay. Perhaps I would have greater confidence if our own Conservative Federal Government website didn’t have an entire website displaying potential impending emergencies brought on by climate change such as “floods, damage of fresh water resources, food scarcity, drought” and other such goodies. We young people have also been telling ourselves that it’s okay not to engage in politics as long as we’re doing good things in NGOs and international development. Meanwhile, our Government sits back and enjoys the free ride.

And while I’m very happy to see that people in Toronto are now being charged a nominal fee to reduce plastic bags, you can buy local produce at many of your community grocery stores, municipalities are banning bottled water from public buildings, and other such victories, I worry about this dark cloud looming over us. And I can’t help but wonder if perhaps we should all just stop what we’re doing and try to get this one, very important thing right.

Rebecca McNeil lives, works and plays in Toronto and can be reached at: mcneil.rebecca@gmail.com She wonders, if a global climate crisis does ensue, making our environment practically unlivable, if she will have wished that she had spent the past six years baking pies and playing the piano instead of working on various environmental and social issues.

With three months left to define an international agreement in Copenhagan, young sustainability activists Rebecca McNeil and Darcy Higgins launch Stop Everything, a new column engaging in political strategies for change in tackling the climate crisis. They'll follow the youth climate movement in Canada and others as they work to cap greenhouse gas emissions and change society, and show you ways you can be involved at this most critical juncture.
Find, discuss and learn at: Sustainability is Step One


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