A Commentary from Niagara At Large publisher Doug Draper
“If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the pollution.”
My father painted those words on a makeshift sign for me 43 years ago this April, I joined a few of my classmates at Centennial Secondary School in Welland, Ontario in a picket outside the gates of a polluting Union Carbide plant.
It was April 22, 1970, the very first Earth Day observed by tens-of-millions of people around the world, which was pretty amazing given that there was no internet or social media or fax machines, for that matter, to transmit a rallying call from here to countries as far away as New Zealand and Australia within a matter of minutes.
“If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the pollution,” was one of the messages citizen groups like ‘Friends of the Earth’ sent out for that first Earth Day, and it one that seems more relevant today than it was 43 years ago given how badly most governments have let us down on the environmental file.
Back on that first Earth Day, I wasn’t quite 18 years old and along with many of my peers, was driven by ideals and a hope that if enough people pressed governments to take action to address the pollution of our water and air, our growing dependence on fossil fuels, the loss of good-growing and other green spaces to urban sprawl and the vanishing of other species on this planet, our governments would take effective action.
For the most part they haven’t, nor have many baby boomers from those days that went on to assume leadership positions in government and industry.
Consider the following line; “Scientists are becoming worried about increasing CO2 because of the greenhouse effect, with its possible repercussions on the world climate.”
That line could have been written within the last 10 years, yet it is contained in the official “Environmental Handbook” for that first Earth Day in 1970. And where are we on that issue, which thousands of scientists around the world warn could add up to the greatest crisis humans and other living beings face as the calendar years of this 21st century march on?
Where we are in Canada is that we have a Conservative government run by Stephen Harper who, in his earlier days. worked for Imperial Oil in Alberta, that has had a record for many years in opposition and government of questioning whether human activities (most specifically, the burning of oil and other fossil fuels) have anything at all to do with climate change . Indeed, there are members the federal Conservative Party, going back to its earlier days as the Reform and Canadian Alliance Party, who continue to question whether there is any such thing as climate change at all.
It has only been more recently, as the U.S. administration of Barack Obama begins to wonder if it should have anything much more to do with tar sands oil from Alberta when there are millions in its own country opposed to the XL Keystone pipe for carrying this stuff to refineries in Texas, and when the Harper government has bailed out of the international Kyoto accord on climate change and has been systematically dismantling its environmental rules and programs, and has been vilifying environmental groups as “enemies” of its oil industry friends.
If we haven’t already, I think Canadians have to come to terms that our federal government does not take climate change or any other environmental issues seriously. It is simply not in the Harper government’s DNA to take climate change or any of the science around it seriously. If this bunch was in power five centuries ago when Christopher Columbus was sailing to the Americas, they would probably go on denying that the world is round for another 100 years. And they go on planting doubts about the climate change time bomb we are facing because they know that if they can keep the debate down at that level, they are buying their oil industry pals time to carry on with business as usual.
Having noted that, things are not that much farther ahead in the United States where going back to the Reagan administration of the 1980s, little interest has been shown in climate change or any other environmental issues, especially during the years when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney and their oil buddies were running the place. As important as it is in one sense, it is also disturbing to note what a big deal The New York Times and other American media made out of current U.S. President Barack Obama finally stating, in his second inaugural address this past January that climate change is real and must be addressed.
So where does that leave the rest of us? Should we give up hope or come to terms with the fact that governments are not going to do much of anything unless we force them to as voters, and that we have to be a big part of the solution ourselves?
I had the privilege this past March to once again speak to a group of young students, not much older than I was when I participated in that first Earth, at a Brock University course on “community engagement” (how great there is such a course) led by a fine professor, Mary-Beth Raddon.
My talk was on environmental issues and I more or less said to these young people that it is their future in the sense that we baby boomers will be cutting out in a few more decades, and they should not allow it to be stolen from them by governments and other interests that want to move ahead with growth at any cost to the life-sustaining resources of this planet.
I had the image of that sign I held 43 Earth Days ago flashed up on the screen in the lecture hall and was pleased to hear back from Mary-Beth that in their feedback on the talk, the message; “If you aren’t part of the solution, you are part of the solution,” struck a chord.
So let me leave it like this.
It is up to you and I to do to (solve the challenges we face and to) lighten the burden on the precious on this one and only planet we know of that can support life as we know it in this universe.
It is up to us to do what we can as individuals, in our homes, our neighbhourhoods and communities to be part of our solution.
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