David Suzuki: Canadians must take personal responsibility for climate change

Well, 2008 was a wild ride, wasn’t it? Talk about ending the year with a bang! A global economic crisis, numerous elections here and in the U.S., turmoil in our own Parliament, and a worsening environmental situation—it’s enough to make you want to climb under the blankets and hope for the best.

At least there are some hopeful signs. But hope, unfortunately, is not enough. It’s going to take concerted effort on everyone’s part to overcome the looming crises the world is facing.

Let’s look at the bright side, though. The U.S. is swearing in a president who takes global warming seriously and who is listening to the scientists and other experts who tell us that the situation is outpacing our efforts to confront it. “The time for denial is over,” Barack Obama said in December. “We all believe what the scientists have been telling us for years now, that this is a matter of urgency and national security, and it has to be dealt with in a serious way. That is what I intend my administration to do.”

The president-elect also recognizes that creating green jobs in areas such as renewable energy is a good way to stimulate and rebuild the economy, perhaps even replacing some of the jobs lost in the auto industry.

Globally, although the UN climate change talks in Poland last month yielded no breakthroughs in laying the groundwork for a strong global agreement in Copenhagen this coming December, some progress was made, especially in areas such as reducing deforestation to reduce carbon emissions.

Also on the global front, the United Nations Environment Programme and leading economists have called for a progressive “Green New Deal”. The UN Green Economy Initiative is aimed at giving nations the tools to shift to green economies through measures such as creating employment in renewable-energy technologies, ensuring that the value of natural services is included in economic accounting, and encouraging sustainable urban planning.

“Transformative ideas need to be discussed and transformative decisions taken,” said Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and UNEP executive director. “The alternative is more boom and bust cycles; a climate-stressed world and a collapse of fish stocks and fertile soils up to forest ecosystems—vast, natural ”˜utilities’ that for a fraction of the cost of machines store water and carbon, stabilize soils, sustain indigenous and rural livelihoods, and harbor genetic resources to the value of trillions of dollars a year.”

Whether or not these initiatives and proposed emissions-reduction targets will be enough to avert catastrophe after years of stalling by governments including George Bush’s outgoing administration and our own government remains to be seen. Unfortunately, Canada still seems to be beating around the Bush. We earned the dubious honour of winning the Colossal Fossil award (as well as 10 daily fossil awards) at the climate change talks in Poland for doing more than any other country to impede progress. Canada also ranked second-last out of 57 countries, just above Saudi Arabia, on the international 2009 Climate Change Performance Index.

We could certainly use more far-sighted and imaginative leadership. But we can’t depend on the politicians—or on those business people who care more about short-term profits than long-term survival. We must remember that they are there to serve us and that if we speak loudly enough, they will listen.

We must also take responsibility in our own lives. A new report from Statistics Canada notes that individual Canadians are responsible for almost half the greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, through our vehicle and electricity use and the choices we make in the products we buy.

That shouldn’t make us feel guilty; rather, it should show us how much opportunity and power we have as individuals to make a collective difference through personal choices and small steps. Another Statistics Canada study showed that Canadians are making efforts to recycle, compost, switch to environmentally friendly electrical and plumbing products and vehicles, and more.

We can’t wait for the politicians to save the world, but we do have to hold them to account. And we must all get informed and involved. If we act now, we—and our children and grandchildren—can hope to lead fulfilling and prosperous lives rather than moving from crisis to crisis. But the window of opportunity is closing a bit more every day.

Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.