Sustainability. Has the word lost its meaning? And if it has, does it even matter?
If our species continues on a path of business as usual, our planet is not going to be a very comfortable place to live.
Yes, this is old news. It’s just a simple truth that when it comes down to it, the planet and the environment don’t feature as top priorities in most people’s decision making. Even with such alarming things as the fact that the North Pole has recently been 21 C above average or that current trends indicate that we can expect a 50-per-cent reduction in species across the planet by 2100.
Whether or not we like the word, the need to shift into a more sustainable way of life is no longer an option; it’s a necessity. We must find ways of meeting our present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet theirs.
So, who is it that will lead us down this path? Many of us were buoyed with optimism following the last federal election. One of the first actions of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was to get Canada back on track to fight climate change by ratifying the Paris Accord and committing to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030.
Yet, a little more than a year later, his government has given approval to a multitude of big fossil-fuel projects, including pipelines and LNG, that will lock our economy to the extraction of fossil fuels for decades to come.
If Trudeau believes he is “green,” then he is suffering from a typical case of cognitive dissonance, and he is not alone in this. Our leaders, whether in government or in business, are simply tinkering at the edges of our existing system. Yes, they are working towards being more sustainable, but they are not making the change anywhere close to quickly enough. Yes, pipelines and wind turbines can co-exist, but these things are not compatible with our global pledges. We’ve made both international and domestic commitments to cut our carbon emissions, and we are either going to do what it takes to get there, or we are not. If we are backing pipelines and other fossil-fuel infrastructure, we simply will not meet the commitments made in Paris.
While the economy hangs over our heads like a nasty threat in so many conversations about making the changes necessary to stabilize our climate and keep mass-extinctions at bay, we don’t hear nearly enough about the business case for green investments. Globally, clean technology – meaning any technology that lessens the impacts of our current way of doing things or meets our needs with fewer impacts or sometimes even positive ones – is the fastest-growing sector of the global economy. If we actually want jobs then renewable energy and clean technology is the way to go.
This is because $1 million worth of oil and natural gas output directly creates 0.8 jobs, and $1 million of coal produces 1.9 jobs. Compare that to building retrofits for energy efficiency (seven jobs per million), mass transit services (11 jobs), building the smart grid (4.3), wind (4.6), solar (5.4) and biomass power generation (7.4).
But we can’t afford to wait for the government or rest of the economy to catch on. If we do, we are allowing ourselves to be swept along with a tide that is headed somewhere none of us want to go. As Tom Robbins says, “If you fail to pilot your own ship, don’t be surprised at what inappropriate port you find yourself in”.
Of course it feels overwhelming and often futile to exert your individual effort towards being sustainable when even our elected governments are not onside. But your choices do make a difference, and beyond the standard “reduce, re-use and recycle” mantra, there are ways to make a real impact. Here are my top three:
- Move your money to places that support the vision of the world that you ascribe to. Bank accounts, investments, pensions, loans, credit cards and mortgages are provided by a multitude of organizations that support the transition to a sustainable world. Examples include credit unions and socially responsible investments.
- Spend your money on products and services that do not exploit the natural or human world. Buying local can result in dollars spent in the local economy being amplified by 220 per cent (called the local multiplier effect) but have as little impact as 30 per cent if a product or service is purchased, manufactured or sourced from across the globe.
- Reduce the energy consumption of your home. Bowen in Transition is currently offering free, mini energy audits on Bowen Island until the end of February. LED lights, draft proofing, identifying insulation problems are examples of measures that all result in energy, money and carbon savings. Typically a house will save around 30 per cent of energy consumption with an attractive return on investment of 20 per cent or more.
Regardless of your political inclinations, I would urge you to commit to these actions in 2017. Every one of us wants a safe and healthy environment, clean food, clean air and a world where kids are safe to play and grow. “Sustainability” is not about having less, it is about having more of what we all really need – more of the things that make us humans truly happy.
Jae Mather is a member of Bowen In Transition, a board member of Board of Change and director of the Carbon Free Group