Walking Softly Upon the
Part Two: Strategies for a New
by Terri Smallwood
Africa, fires raging unchecked across the southern United States, small island
countries disappearing under the oceans rising waves. Atlanta, New
York, Halifax and Vancouver being forced farther and farther inland, at a
cost of billions of dollars to the taxpayers living there. A child in Minnesota
dying from a malaria infection. Polar bears losing their fight for survival
as the once-dependable Artic ice sheets retreat farther and farther north
and eventually disappear altogether. Millions of eco-refugees
fleeing to the urban centres of North America, where they live desperate
lives, short of water, fuel and food.
Is this horrible
scenario the plot of a futuristic sci-fi movie - the imagined result of a
sudden and unpredictable catastrophe? Or is it an accurate snapshot of a
future that mankind is slowly but surely painting for itself? The latest
reports regarding global warming and climate change would support the latter
view. Part One of Walking Softly Upon the Earth looked at the causes
of climate change and the scientific evidence that suggests mankind has been
quietly poisoning and permanently altering the delicate balance of the
environment for decades. Part One is here.).
Its an insidious
thing, climate change. Its difficult to comprehend that even a 1-degree
Centigrade shift in average global temperature can have far-reaching and
permanent effects. Its hard for the average person, watching mainstream
media, to make the connections between wildfires in Australia, melting tundra
in Nunavut, loss of rainforest in Brazil, an oil slick off the coast of Spain,
and the slowly rising global sea levels and temperatures. Its even
more of a stretch to take this type of diverse and almost anecdotal evidence
and extrapolate forward to a future as grim as the one described above.
Yet the science
is firm and unyielding - if the present rate of global warming continues,
the polar ice caps will be totally lost by mid-century. While there is some
dispute as to exactly what the world would look like at that point, there
is nothing to suggest that such an event could occur without causing
catastrophic, and possibly life-ending, changes on our planet.
apocalyptic view of the future is not cast in stone. Research conducted by
international teams of scientists has suggested that if current world levels
of fossil fuel emissions were reduced to 1990 levels, that would be enough
to stabilize the rising global temperatures and attendant effects before
the changes assume the characteristics of a runaway freight train. There
have been several attempts at international solutions to facilitate these
much-needed reductions. For the most part these conferences have produced
few concrete results, and even the much-touted Kyoto Accord has several flaws,
first among them its failure to persuade the United States, with all its
international influence, to come on board.
have had more success with finding environmentally friendly alternatives
to the burning of fossil fuels. European counties, and Iceland in particular,
have led the way in legislating great reductions in fossil fuel emissions
and conservation efforts of all varieties. Iceland generates only 0.05 percent
of its electricity using fossil fuels, and a whopping 83.3 percent from the
zero-emission source of hydroelectricity. Contrast this to the United States,
which produces over 70 percent of its electricity from the burning of fossil
fuels and close to 10 percent from nuclear sources. Canada is not any better,
because despite producing 60 percent of its electrical energy from clean
hydroelectric plants, it still leads the world when it comes to total fossil
fuel emissions from all sources, due in large part to the Canadian dependence
on the automobile and the rise of transport trucks for shipping due to the
deterioration of the national train system.
a cultural difference, but so far the type of political solutions that Europe
has embraced to combat the war on climate change have remained elusive in
North America. Perhaps its more than just cultural differences; perhaps
the flaw is the emphasis on free-market economies and the way governments
in Canada and the United States each have one arm tied behind their backs
when it comes to appeasing large corporations, which are traditionally powerful
opponents of any type of legislation that would require them to bend to
restrictive environmental laws. Large industries and those who head them
play a major role in financing the campaigns of most mainstream politicians.
Whatever the root cause of the lack of North American political will to legislate
its way to a cleaner future, the fact remains that if the government is unwilling
to make a decision for change, then the onus lies on the shoulders of the
people themselves. If North Americans wait for their governments to legislate
their lives into greenness, then the medicine is sure to come too late, and
when it does come, change will have to be swift and merciless. While the
notion of self-sacrifice is not a popular one in this me-first society, a
case could be made that small sacrifices willingly made now are preferable
to large-scale deprivation made by the force of circumstances in 20 or 30
But how does one
stop being a wasteful consumer, programmed by advertising to want bigger
and newer cars, in-ground swimming pools and a standard of living that rivals
even the most wealthy and powerful in some of the worlds less-fortunate
countries? As Robert Hunter, one of the founding members of Greenpeace, wrote
in 2030: Confronting Thermageddon in Our Lifetime:
is the banality of the way we destroy the world that stops us in large measure
from rising up in rebellion. How do you throw yourself upon your own light-switch
finger? How seriously can you take the struggle against the toaster in your
kitchen? Is there any romantic image to give emotional resonance to your
solitary decision to wait until the dishwasher is full before turning it
on? Can you see your thermostat as one of the trigger mechanisms in a doomsday
scenario? If you disconnect the electric garage door-opener and resort to
using your muscles to pull it up and down, have you really done something
like clashing shields against the would-be slayer of your descendents? Well,
in the fight to reduce carbon emissions can come in many forms. Looking at
the typical North American home, one can find several areas where small changes
can be wrought that, taken en masse, can equate to impressive emission
reductions. Hunters tongue-in-cheek description of the struggle to
break the wasteful habits that are part of the average North American lifestyle
is a fair appraisal of the often overwhelming task faced by new converts
to the green movement as they realize the problems they contribute to and
try to make positive changes.
An excellent online
tool has been created recently that assists in demystifying the environmental
effects of the habits of any household. The Mountain Equipment Co-Op, a
Canadian-based consumer cooperative, has added an Ecological
Footprint calculator to its website. The short test calculates the
impact an individual or family has on the environment by analyzing the particular
households normal eating and driving habits together with housing-related
energy usage. The data is converted to what is called an Ecological
Footprint, a composite of the number of hectares of resources it takes
to sustain that lifestyle. More telling, the tool takes that figure and converts
it to the total number of planets it would take to sustain the entire population,
if each person on the planet had the same lifestyle as the test-taker. Even
people already trying to live green might be surprised. This
authors lifestyle, which includes vegetarianism, a small home, and
a highly fuel-efficient vehicle driven as little as possible, is relatively
simple by North American standards. Yet it would take 4.64 Earths to support
the entire population at her standard of living. The test takes approximately
five minutes to complete and is a highly useful and motivational tool to
encourage change in people not yet certain of their personal drain on the
planets resources. The test is at:
at a typical North American home shows many areas where individuals, once
awakened to the need for change, can make simple and effective improvements
in how much energy is consumed by the household.
florescent light bulbs. Theyre readily available, save energy and last
longer than conventional bulbs.
convenience of using your dishwasher. If that is not possible, only do full
loads and use the economy setting. To save energy, stop the machine after
the rinse and open the door to let the dishes air-dry. Remember to check
and compare energy ratings before buying any appliance. Energy ratings tell
you how many kilowatt-hours of energy the appliance will use per month.
of which processes are energy intensive and which are not. Up to 90 percent
of the energy used for washing clothes goes to heating the water. A warm
wash and cold rinse will work just as well as hot water on nearly all clothes.
Hanging clothing outside to dry, or inside in a dry, warm room, also saves
energy. If that is not possible, clean the dryers lint trap after every
load to keep the air circulating efficiently.
heating fuel by turning down the heat at night and when no one is at home
- or install a programmable thermostat. In the winter, change furnace air
filters once a month. The heater uses more energy when it is full of dust.
Make sure your home is well insulated against heat loss and periodically
check insulation. (Local building supply stores can be great allies in the
search to find new and innovative ways to keep your home well insulated).
Keep drapes and shades closed at night in winter and during the day in summer.
replacing your furnace. Newer, high-efficiency gas furnaces can be as much
as 40 percent more fuel-efficient than older, oil-burning models. While this
option may not be feasible for everyone, it is an option that benefits both
the environment and your pocketbook, as a new furnace will dramatically lower
the household heating costs.
cars if possible. Walk, cycle or use public transit whenever possible. If
public transport is not available, try initiating a carpool with neighbors
or colleagues, and commit to leaving your car at home a few days a week.
Work from home, if the option exists.
water-saving devices for taps and showers. Energy-saving showerheads can
save up to 20 percent of total household hot water usage. A faucet aerator
will reduce the flow without reducing the water pressure.
Not only does fresh, locally grown produce taste better, it has had to travel
a much shorter distance to get from the pasture to your plate, using far
less fossil fuel than the strawberries imported in December from half a world
items is the most energy-efficient method of reducing your household waste.
Reuse glass jars for food storage. Buy a reusable coffee mug and insist that
your local coffee shop fill it. Use dishcloths instead of paper towels. Take
your own bags to the grocery store. Find out if your local daycare centre,
primary school, church school or childrens hospital uses the cardboard
cores of toilet paper rolls, old magazines, greeting cards, newspapers, etc.,
for crafts - and make a habit of collecting and donating such reusable items
to them. Encourage family and neighbors to add their reusable items to the
not reusable, find out of its recyclable. Communities differ on what
items they accept for recycling, but in general facilities for aluminum cans,
glass and newspaper are readily available throughout North America. Larger
urban centres may offer more services. Households in Toronto, for example,
can recycle tetra-packs (e.g., juice boxes and milk cartons), along with
plastics like pop bottles and six-pack rings.
to change, people can find countless resources, both online and in their
local communities, to assist them with identifying specific areas of waste
in their lives and finding strategies for combating them. Utility companies
will often provide information on how to reduce consumption, and most local
or state/provincial governments have departments or branches that deal
specifically with the environmental challenges specific to the local climate
and conditions. Activist groups like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club have
volumes of online resources and offer opportunities to participate in
awareness-raising campaigns, petition drives for legislation, and sometimes
boycotts against polluting companies or products. Most large cities also
have local environmental offices, where volunteers are often welcomed.
The process of
change is difficult, and yet it can be highly rewarding. Often, there is
a direct financial benefit to conserving water, gas and electricity in the
home. Certainly there is very little discomfort in putting into action any
of the tips given above. It is a persistent and dangerous myth that going
green has any sort of negative impact on ones lifestyle. Yes,
people need to reshape their lifestyles and rethink their habits of consumption,
but this in no way ought to imply a drastic reduction in their standard of
On the other hand,
the impulse to continually add more consumer goods to ones treasure
trove of personal possessions ought to perhaps be subject to second thought.
Around the world, people are coming to the realization that humanity has
mismanaged and abused the abundance of Mother Earth. The burning of fossil
fuels is the biggest threat to environmental sustainability, but it is by
no means the only one. Over-fishing, habitat loss, toxic waste, deforestation
- all these things and more result from humanitys insatiable appetites
for more and better consumer goods. If adults today do not take the bull
by the horns and begin curbing these unnatural appetites, then nature will
ensure these appetites are curbed for them.
What type of world
awaits our children and grandchildren? Waiting for a political solution is
fence-sitting of the worst kind. Individual action now, accompanied by concerted
consumer pressure on government and industry, will go a long way to assuring
the sustainability of our future. It is not a hopeless crusade. Individual
action, grounded in love and respect and brotherhood, has effected many important
changes in our world and will continue to do so. As Robert Kennedy so eloquently
said, Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the
lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple
of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy
and daring, those ripples of hope build a current that can sweep down the
mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.