Outspoken Cortes Island environmental activist Tzeporah Berman can think of at least two things holding our society back as we approach Earth Day on Wednesday (April 22).
“I was thinking the other day that we now have an overdeveloped consumption muscle and an underdeveloped civil-engagement muscle,” Berman told the Georgia Straight by cellphone on April 13. “When I was a kid, we volunteered. My parents were engaged in knocking on doors for political parties and volunteering for community groups, and being a part of a strong community was part of our upbringing.”
Berman, executive director with PowerUP Canada, took part in a day-long PowerUP conference in Vancouver, which was focused on finding solutions to today’s environmental quandaries. Berman said there is still time to avert a full-blown climate crisis, but she added that the window for action is closing.
“There is no question that we need to change our lifestyle,” she said. “But it’s not enough to change our light bulbs; we need to change our laws. The majority of our emissions are coming from industrial sources. The largest projected increase in emissions in Canada is going to come from the tar sands. So I think it’s critical that we all engage with our elected decision makers.”¦We can’t solve global warming alone, but together we have a fighting chance.”
Berman said she believes there is “enormous change afoot”, especially if we look at U.S. president Barack Obama’s environmental policies.
“The Obama administration is committed to a large scale-up of renewable power, to a cap-and-trade program, and initiatives that link strong climate policy to green stimulus and green jobs,” she said. “That’s a huge sign of hope, I think, for all of us. I think that this is the question I am asking: ”˜Are we going to see complementary and similar policies from the Harper government? And are we going to see people in British Columbia in this [May 12 provincial] election vote for the candidates that show some climate leadership?’ ”
UBC community and regional-planning professor Bill Rees, inventor of the “ecological footprint” analysis, told the Straight in a previous interview that he is old enough to remember the importance of homegrown food handpicked from his grandmother’s farm, and he can relate to using resources sparingly.
However, Rees said recently that the postwar period is responsible—largely through the advertising industry—for transforming modern society from “conservers to consumers”.
“We’d come through the rationing of the Second [World] War and the Depression before that and people were happy living on very little,” Rees said by cellphone. “But we had all of this idle machinery and underemployed labour as a result of the end of the war. To put all of that capital to work, the advertising industry had to turn us from being essentially conservative in our consumption patterns into turning consumption into a way of life.”
Rees pointed to four things that will precipitate change: catastrophe, coercion, pricing, and education.
“Pricing is marvellously effective at changing people’s behaviour,” he said. “If you think of energy use, there have only been two times in the entire history of industrial civilization in which per-capita energy use declined.”¦In the late 1970s, or early 1980s, there was a period of five or six years where the steep uptick was almost completely reversed. So we had an equally steep downturn in per-capita energy consumption for a period of years. And it was simply because of very high energy prices.”
Rees said the other time was 18 months ago, when gas prices hit $1.50 a litre. “We’re still seeing the ramifications of that with the collapse of Detroit and so on,” Rees added. “The SUV is dead.”
Now instead of bailouts, Rees said the governments should be raising gasoline taxes and introducing resource-depletion taxes to account for market failures in the fossil-fuel sector.
He is also keen to ratchet up public consciousness ahead of Earth Day.
“I’ve spent 40 years of my life trying to do that.”
More on Earth Day 2009:
Sow the seeds of change
Doctored crops stir Latin American debate
B.C. deserves better environmental policies
Confronting a climate crisis
Software has a hard impact on the planet
Courier firm sets example with hybrids
Take politics out of the Agricultural Land Reserve: agrologist
Critics say Premier Gordon Campbell is wrong on Gateway Program
Public meetings to begin on growth plan