Wednesday, December 20, 2006

On the Environment and Climate Change

Usually, I'm more than happy to leave these issues to the experts. But because a whole lot of people are self-proclaimed experts on everything that has to do with the environment, I figured it wouldn't hurt for me to throw my hat in the ring.

Keep in mind, I don't approach things the way an expert would. I don't know anything about kilotonnes or greenhouse gases or anything like that. But you don't get to be an aspiring executive without being able to anticipate how people will react to the information presented to them.

The environment is a big issue in Canada right now. The public is upset about the perceived lack of commitment and leadership shown on this issue by decision makers and those in power. The Conservative environment minister, Rona Ambrose, is under a lot of scrutiny, and it is rumoured that she could lose her position. Some reports have blamed her, others her department. So it's probably a little of both.

But really, what kind of progress could be expected? This is a huge issue, so huge that it is beyond the realm of comprehension of most human beings. Certainly mine. But I think that two crucial missteps were taken on the environment issue, missteps that, if they were addressed, could help to make the issue a bit more digestible in the future.

1) Environmental issues, more often than not, are expressed in terms of climate change. The problem with this, is that not even everyone in the scientific community can conclude that the climate is changing because of human intervention, and if it was, how large a role our actions have with respect to the environmental changes occurring around us. Furthermore, climate change, to most Canadians, means that our winters get a little milder. Most don't really see that as a problem. So if we're going to make headway on the environment, we have to express the issues in terms that everyone can rally behind. Instead of being all about climate change, why not express our concerns in terms of concrete, undeniable statements? For example:

"The pollutants we release into our atmosphere affect the air that we breathe, the water we drink, the soil we farm, and the animals we raise for consumption. We owe it to ourselves and to future generations to take concrete steps to find out which products and which industries do the most harm to our environment, and either help them clean themselves up, or find alternative products that do not produce the same negative effects." I don't think you can find anyone with a theory that can counter that.

For the record, I don't fully believe in climate change. Somehow, I have trouble coming to grips with the fact that in 150 years, humanity could irrevocably alter a series of ecosystems that have grown and evolved seemingly on a whim for hundreds of millions of years. Yes, we spew a bunch of pollutants into the air. So do volcanoes. So do decaying forests. So do dead animals. I'm not saying we're not playing a part. I'm just saying that we could be responsible for 90% of the environmental change in the last 150 years, or 9%, or 0.9%, or 0.00000000009%. That's why we need to take climate change out of the equation, and limit our arguments to the water we drink, the air we breathe, etc. That makes it seem a lot more real and concrete.

Sometimes, the best way to tackle a huge problem is by taking small bites out of it. Work with one industry here, one there. The argument is that we've been screwing up our environment for 150 years. I don't think there's a magic bullet that will repair it in five. Talking about magic bullets, my second point is this:

2) There is heavy support for the Kyoto Protocol, but find a person who can describe how the protocol can be implemented in reality. I don't believe such a person exists. The Kyoto Protocol gives guidelines and suggestions without coming up with answers. In essence, it attempts to bury emissions in red tape.

I do not support the Kyoto Protocol, because it just sounds like so much watered-down, double-talking corporo-political nonsense. Find me a real solution.

Businesses should really be jumping on the bandwagon now. If the issue is such a hot topic in political spheres, people running the corporations should know that any product that has positive effects on the environment or that produces less pollution than its competitor while remaining at a competitive price point will be a hot seller. And yet, there still aren't enough hybrid cars to meet demand, and the technology, after initial rave reviews, hasn't progressed as much as we would have expected. The technology is there to build houses that are energy neutral, that is, they create enough energy (through solar panels, thermic heating, etc.) to return energy to the electrical grid and ease pressure on the dirty coal plants powering our energy-consuming excesses. Why aren't there full subdivisions of these houses on the market yet? If there's a tax credit for modifying one's house to be energy neutral, why isn't this advertised?

The environmental campaign, just like many others, needs intelligent leadership at all levels. Not people standing out on the street and yelling or writing inflammatory editorials based on half-truths, just a bunch of people with the necessary motivation and resources to tackle the problem. We also need to be patient with these people, and understand that the solutions won't come tomorrow, next year, or the year after that. In return for our commitment to patience and aversion to glory-grabbing headlines, we should expect to see slow but steady progress along the way.


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