Last Earth Day, my friend called and I told him, "it’s my special day.., you didn’t wish me a Happy Earth Day!"
He hit back, "every day is Earth Day!" and thus began our tradition of saying “Happy Earth Day” as the first greeting with every phone call on any day.
And to some extent, our little pattern is accurate. Environmental awareness, if not action, has become so mainstream that for more of the population, environmental consciousness is now built into daily behaviour. But as people have changed attitudes throughout the world, the threat of inaction by government and large industry still threaten us all with global catastrophe. (Wow, that sounded harsh.. wish it wasn’t true).
So today it’s back to the political again as was off to Jack Layton’s house to deliver a set of demands with City-TV and CBC tagging along. I was asked by the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition to join in delivering a call to action on climate change, which is being delivered by young people to political leaders across the country today. I haven’t looked into the other 'plant a tree for Earth Day' type activities happening in the area today, but this action is a good one to be a part of.
Other things are happening in my neighbourhood. At Queen’s Park was a rally to kick of a walk to stop a mega quarry in Dufferin County. One hundred kilometres north of the City lies an application by a US Hedge Fund to construct the second largest open pit mine in North America, on the edge of the Niagara Escarpment - would be almost half the size of the City of Toronto ripping out kick ass farmland.
At the same time in about the same place, a strategic action planned by youth is taking place. It’s U of T’s turn for a vote mob and it will be big, with over 1,000 registered on Facebook as we speak. A Happy Earth Day it will be for me if youth get out to vote. Young Greens have chalked lines to the same polling station and are also focusing on getting out the youth vote. Michael Erickson’s NDP campaign is having an advance poll party. Greenpeace is rallying against new nukes.
I’ve been involved in many these youth movements over the last few years, from Sustainable Campuses, Youth Climate Change, Young Greens and now the youth food movement. These have similar goals and sometimes similar people, and have been making a big difference – if not just a kick in the pants, energizing the broader environmental movements and organizations.
Sadly though, it's tough times out there for environmental advocates, but not for a lack of work to be done.
The federal government has done everything it could to rid environmental programs of funding, as reported before the election - but with little fanfare - in Canadian media. Expected cuts were to include a whopping 59% for climate and air pollution programs, the latter being a supposed environmental priority for the Tories.
That adds up to an overall 20% reduction in Environment Canada's spending and a 21% cut for Natural Resources Canada.
While spending cuts are easier to argue in deficit days, the cuts come at a time when barely anything is being done by federal government to reduce climate change, a crisis whose costs will outweigh any small savings of doing nothing, many times over.
In Canada's biggest province things also look bleak. After canceling potential offshore wind because of localized public opinion differences, Ontario's provincial government who has shown support for green energy is facing a challenge from a Party threatening the dismantling of the Green Energy and Green Economy Act. This comes with a base of support from Landowners who have traditionally butted heads with all government environmental policy, including Greenbelt legislation. The same Party under Mike Harris left a 40% cut to the Ministry of the Environment.
In Canada’s biggest city, a mayor has been elected who’s been guiding Council through priorities of tax and spending cuts, with perceived public perception that these issues are critical over pretty much all else. Meanwhile, area grassroots environmental and food movement organizations are growing like gangbusters. With a deep financial crisis, Council will have to find savings of hundreds of millions by next year, and we assume continued financial support for programs like the Toronto Environment Office, Toronto’s Food Strategy, Live Green or Tower Renewal.
These political leaders are all very popular. Harper and Hudak Conservatives could both win majorities. The federal political landscape is split up, and the other parties, according to a new Sierra Club survey, are slipping in their support for environmental issues. There may be a historic opportunity to elect the Green leader who has been involved in nurturing many of our youth movements and could have an impact. But with the NDP on the rise and the Liberals in free fall, where would a Conservative majority leave us?
The environmental movement has to up its game. We’ve reached the attention of many, except for those holding power. We need some deep discussions about where we’re headed and what will work from now on.
One hope is to eat our way out of the mess. The New York Times recently headlined, “Foodies Can Eclipse (and Save) the Green Movement.”
“But here's the good news,” read the article, “the two sides aren't really competing. As the food movement matures and grows, it could end up being the best vehicle available for achieving environmental goals.”
As usual, the advice I can provide is to get involved and learn. Work with like-minded folks and see the broader political context. Be strategic and have discussions – if we reach out and work together, we can win.
My past Earth Day articles, 2006, 2009, 2010
Federal Election Party Platform Environmental Report Card, Sierra Club of Canada
Our Generation, Our Future, Our Demands, Canadian Youth Climate Coalition
Foodies Can Eclipse (and Save) the Green Movement, Time Magazine