As the end of Environment Week approaches cynicism creeps in

As the end of Environment Week approaches cynicism creeps in

One Simple Act: As the end of Environment Week approaches cynicism creeps in


Environmental education and programs like the Government of Alberta’s One Simple Act are great…for what they are.   I will generalize and say they are window dressing to a dire and economically costly discussion that should be occurring in government, in media and across all sectors of the public.  Why so cynical? We all have to do our part don’t we?

Part of my cynicism lies in the absence of a broad and robust discussion about environmental consequences.   For instance, in a recent talk, Knut Alfsen, Research Director of CICERO (Center for International Climate and Environmental Research), outlined for an Edmonton audience how, due to the nature of carbon dioxide and sequestration in land and water, we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80% just to stabilize global carbon dioxide at a given level.   The consequences of such a shift for our economy and the global climate consequences around food production, food price and the potential for this to cause conflicts should make this as a central discussion and policy piece for the government and the public.  Around the same time as this talk the Government of Canada issued its most recent Climate Change Plan, starkly illustrating the federal government’s baby steps in managing greenhouse gases.

Provincially we have also seen little action in the realm of preserving herds of Woodland Caribou in Alberta (or other species at risk for that matter).  It appears reliance on the regional land use planning process to protect biodiversity is largely misplaced.  Similarly, a provincial wetland policy and review of water allocation in Alberta appears to be languishing in the political process.

Meanwhile, many environmental education and citizen engagement programs tend to give the impression that we don’t need to undertake deeper, more fundamental and costly shifts in how we do business.   We don’t call it like it is.  The area of the province covered by wetlands and the function those wetlands provide will not be maintained, greenhouse gas emissions will go up, and caribou will be extirpated from parts of the province.    Instead of focusing on likely environmental outcomes our discussions revolve around mitigation and management frameworks.  We rarely proclaim whether such approaches are likely to work or not.  (At its core this is about our culture of debate, or lack thereof).

And I guess that is where my cynicism really resides, not in what Environment Week or One Simple Act is trying to do, but what we aren’t doing and what we aren’t saying.  In the end, perhaps what we all need is a daily public environmental report card:  a blunt instrument to show us of how we, as governments, as industries, as citizens, are doing, and a reminder of how we rationalize our behaviours.

p.s.  I still recommend doing One Simple Act, or 10.




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  • Laura
    Posted at 08:48h, 14 June Reply

    I agree Jason. I think there is also a tendency to emphasize individual action to distract from the broader policy and collective action that is absolutely necessary. The reality is that if we all change our lightbulbs and switch to low-flow toilets this is a drop in the bucket and will not solve our energy overconsumption, GHG or water use problems without broader policies that are geared towards both individuals and industrial users.

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