Some Earth Day reflections on climate politics, recession, food and good reads

"If the climate was a bank [the U.S.] would already have saved it."
- Hugo Chavez

Earth Day always leaves me wanting to get back to the keyboard to "pen" a few thoughts. Last year, I wrote that solutions exist and that a good society needs to take them up to make a significant difference.

Cleaning up our act

Earlier today I spent time picking up litter in Grange Park in Toronto, somewhere I often have lunch and enjoy immensely as an inner-city park. The Green Party of Ontario organized it, and it was the second cleanup I helped with this week. I used to not be a fan of these types of activities on Earth Day because they can give the impression that litter is a serious environmental issue, rather than focusing on the deeper changes we need. I want people to realize those decisions that will make a difference - getting out of their cars, reducing home energy use, increasing their consumption of healthy vegetables and pulses - not just focusing on largely aesthetic factors. I now realize that clean ups are more of an issue of community integrity and pride, important to go along with strictly "environmental" activities. And how can we value keeping the atmosphere clean if we can't even keep trash out of our backyards?

But we still sandwich in the park clean up between other work, because working on poltical organizing, communications and Green policy development are actions that have the possibility to motivate large scale shifts. It is in politics, along with education and writing like this,g where I enjoy putting my efforts.

Cycling home, the line of cars I and a few others pass reminds me of the causes of declining global trends harming the Earth's life support systems of the atmosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere. Recent global struggles on climate, and biodiversity even more so, have been wildly unsuccessful due to a plethora of reasons including failures of political and economic systems and an environmental movement unable to capture the change it desires.

Recession and a Carbon Tax

Global recession has caught the attention of the world well stronger than the climate and other earth crises, because the recession is affecting the developed world and is noticeable right now in people's day to day. Most people don't look down the road, and many don't have the ability to make decision based on tomorrow because of the needs of survival. As the recession has diverted much attention away from the Earth, governments such as the French are pulling back from effective policies like carbon taxes because of declining public support. In Canada, a significant policy presented by Stephane Dion was turned down by the public due to a Conservative Party who saw fit to simplify and vilify a strong opposition proposal, and an NDP who forgot about inter-generational and global equity.

The irony is that the recession has slowed economic growth, making good on energy reductions that governments have been unable to achieve. A recession if it continued, and it perhaps could due to rising oil prices, could bring down atmospheric carbon and prevent the climate going out of control.

But the economy need not be like this. In preparing an economic system that uses low fossil fuels, we could create good new jobs in clean energy, sustainable agri-food, transportation, arts and culture. Governments and industries haven't grasped this possibility, some are only testing the waters, like the McGuinty government in Ontario.

It is due to these broad failures that I now believe we will pass 350 parts per million of CO2, what scientists have said is humanity's safe level. Others have argued this level is not safe, and will mean suicide, especially for small island states. I'm not sure this debate matters, because without a complete change in trends, or deep recession, we will fly past 350 and rise not two degrees, but perhaps four or five by the end of the Century. This is my opinion based on observations over the last few months and years of political and scientific trends.

Changing my tune

This doesn't mean though that we should stop working to reduce our emissions. First, we can't predict with certainty what will happen, and reducing emissions as fast as we can could stop runaway climate change. Second, although deep environmental and societal impacts are inevitable, the lower the temperature increase, the lower those possible impacts to life. But it also means we need to shift energy not just to mitigation, but to adapting to climate change, because we know it is happening.

Starting this Earth Day, I will be advocating further on adaptation - something that environmentalists haven't been talking a lot about, in hopes that we can stop everything. The environmental justice movement has brought about attention, the strongest in the form of the need to pay for climate debt to the developing world. Obviously, such a proposal has run into stumbling blocks. But the work to be done in adapting to climate change - and a world full of weakened ecological systems more broadly - is work that we now must realize if we are to figure out how to grow and distribute food, conserve water, live and move around in times with increased heat waves, droughts, flooding, storms, species loss and diseases. We don't know how the planet and human systems will react to these pressures - we can only plan and be resilient for what might come.

Focus on Food

I have worked lately on saving farmland in the proposal for a Markham Foodbelt. Farmers have wanted to make money on their land - and now believe that selling to developers is the only way to do that. Even in the GTA we have forced those unable to make money into supporting environmental degradation, instead of endorsing policies to keep our best land, produce local food and support those growing it. And yet it will be land just like this that will keep us resilient to a change in climate when oil prices are high and ecological damage becomes more apparent.

I enjoy working on food system issues because they relate to the environment, but also to the kind of living we need to create in order to support while enjoying healthier food, supporting small scale economies and reducing our input of CO2 while adapting to new realities.

These are some areas I will continue to work on and I hope you'll join me. This work will be very community-based, with trust that those in communities throughout the world are doing similar work. The global struggles must continue, while movements for change innovate to not just depending on failing international governance to get us where we need to be, but also working on direct actions and broadening the number of people supporting political efforts.

Doing the clean up last weekend, an elementary school aged girl who was helping me was looking at the garbage, asking why people would throw all of this stuff on the ground.

"This one's recyclable," she stated matter-of-factly. "I know that because my school's an Ecoschool."

Children and youth certainly have different mindsets even from when I was growing up - I am constantly surprised by the level of awareness. Many have hope that as they grow up things will change. Past generations have indeed left the planet in a mess. My hope that a future generation will change things isn't 100%, but with a broad-based knowledge of the problems, some have always said that only massive awareness will make things better.

With that said, I applaud those cleaning the parks, educating youth, communicating change, being change and challenging change.

Happy Earth Day

Recommended readings:



Eating sans funds

Stay tuned in to this blog, one of the most interesting things I'm reading - real experiences of Torontonians (many of them happen to be writers), seeing what it's like to eat on social assistance.

Thanks folks for giving a voice: