PRESS CONFERENCE: In April 2014, Joseph Boutilier embarked on a 5,000-kilometer, 5-month unicycle ride across Canada to promote unity for the climate. The trip culminated in Ottawa after rallies, events and meetings in dozens of other communities along the route.
People-powered change, on the ground and off the radar, is vital and inspiring. Here’s why government action is equally important.
Perhaps it’s premature to make sweeping observations about common Canadian supports of climate action, but I’m truly heartened by the diversity of ways in which un-championed environmental heroes are quietly committed to affecting change in their own lives. The stereotypical eco-chic, science-savvy, intellectual ‘environmentally-conscious citizen’ - like the radical 'environmentalist’ - is greatly outnumbered by individuals in unique circumstances who maintain equally unique, independent standards and convictions by which they diligently live.
When it comes to climate action, our government represents a lost opportunity to help us see the forest through the trees.
There’s nothing that screams ‘green’ about most of the folks who have generously invited me into their homes on the course of my unicycle journey for climate action. There’s nothing about their houses, their clothes, the brands on their backs nor the vehicles in their driveway that identifies them as advocates for climate action, but their passion for affecting change is clear in many ways more meaningful and personal. In just a week I have stayed with people who are atheists and Christian, anarchistic and democratic, socialist and capitalist. Their ideas for change range from the moderate of reducing the number of paper coffee cups they collect or new cars they lease, to the extremes of shunning toilet paper, plastic and foreign foods; while some see their own homes as the roots for societal shifts, others focus their attention further afield by lobbying political institutions. Their occupations, classes, beliefs and world views could not be further apart, but the things they share in common are also the most important: community spirit, sacrifice for the greater good, hearts set on a better world and the willpower to make it happen.
People often ask me why my goals for climate action are focused primarily on the federal government, when the most rapid and meaningful changes typically happen in grassroots society and smaller communities. I agree, and I encourage everyone to explore changes they can make – and encourage of others – to build a more liveable world by focusing on local opportunities. But I also feel like those considerations and decisions are always the most sound when they’re personal and individual, motivated by a clear understanding of the real scope of the issue, and I’m hopeful that’s already happening. But without leadership from our elected officials, without acknowledgement of the commitments we are making and an eagerness to represent our true priorities on the world stage, our efforts will be undermined by bad public policy. Minority interests will continue to dominate the global discussion while other governments are offered up a great excuse in our apparent complacency for their equal inaction on the climate crisis.
We might never agree on the best ways to curb climate change in our own homes, and judging and demonizing one another based on our lifestyle choices is a surefire way to shoot down local momentum for real change. But we can agree on some simple, smart policy changes that are critical to our future, and in the same way, our government should be able to agree on some simple standards that scientists worldwide have been supporting for decades.
Domestically, we can agree that there’s no need for $1.4b of annual taxpayer subsidies to wealthy oil companies who are perpetuating our reliance on fossil fuels (even Harper agrees, according to unfulfilled commitments to eradicate the subsidies five years ago). We can agree that emission targets – however strong or weak they may be – require policies and regulations in order to be effective, and that our government needs to take responsibility for the growing divide between our supposed-targets and our actual emissions. We can agree that we are being misrepresented at conferences like COP19, where Canadian government agencies worked with the NSA to spy on developing nations, failing to negotiate in good faith. Statistics prove that we can also agree, by-and-large (between 74-80%, depending on the year), that something like a fee-and-dividend policy could help our industries focus on emerging sustainable energy alternatives, and help those of us who are personally making green investments in our homes and lifestyles.
As with the true environmental heroes of our communities – our neighbours, shop-keepers, teachers and friends – the heroes of climate action in our political sphere do not – and will not – come in one shape, size, or colour. That’s why we need unity across the political spectrum, and clear, solid commitments to these unequivocal policy changes well in advance of the 2015 election. However you define it, we need unity for the climate.