Sea change in environmental understanding

The New Year is often considered a time to reflect on the past and look ahead to see what’s coming in the near future. Over the holidays, I had time to reflect on some recent events and I think what’s coming next may be “good for the environment.”


Science Matters by David Suzuki
The New Year is often considered a time to reflect on the past and look ahead to see what’s coming in the near future. Over the holidays, I had time to reflect on some recent events and I think what’s coming next may be “good for the environment.”
Why the quotation marks? Well, early in December, I spent a week in Montreal for the international climate negotiations. It was an amazing experience and I was fortunate enough to be able to speak with a wide variety of people, from delegates and dignitaries, to business leaders and citizens on the streets.
It was a busy time. There were peaceful protests and rallies. There were tough discussions behind closed doors. There were holdouts and those who attempted to derail negotiations. There were even a few confused souls standing out on street corners, handing out pamphlets insisting that global warming was some sort of hoax. Yes, the conference had a little of everything.
But I also experienced something I didn’t expect – a sense of common purpose, a recognition of just how serious climate change really is. And the beginnings of a recognition that it’s not really an environmental problem at all.
That certainly wasn’t the case in 1997 at the negotiations for the Kyoto Protocol. While delegates from most countries at that conference went to Kyoto to look for ways to solve the growing international problem of global warming, Canada, the U.S., and a few others went in with the attitude that it was all a trade negotiation – as though the point was to haggle for the lowest possible commitment and the largest number of loopholes.
The 2005 conference in Montreal was very different. Yes, there were still those seeking the best deals, and some countries tried to prevent progress, but this time Canada played an important role. And rather than hinder progress, many industry groups sought to bring people together and get a strong commitment from our political leaders.
Consider this: in Montreal, we actually had some of the world’s largest corporations attending and asking governments to set targets and timelines to help them reduce climate pollution. Suddenly this little “environmental” problem was on their radar screens as a priority – and an opportunity. Does this mean that we have turned the corner to a new global consciousness? Or that in 2006 we will finally see an energy revolution away from fossil fuels towards sustainable energy sources?
For now, that’s just wishful thinking. Such a transition will take a long time indeed. Together, the people of our little planet consume tens of thousands of litres of oil every second. It simply boggles the mind to think about how thoroughly embedded we are in a fossil-fuel culture. But fossil fuels aren’t our only sources of energy, and energy, not necessarily oil, is what our economy needs.
So our oil-dependent culture will be around for a while, but the change we are seeing in worldview right now is vital if we are to adequately address global environmental challenges. What we are finally seeing is the recognition that environmental problems are not things that occur out there, in the environment. The environment is not a place we go for boating in the summer and for skiing in the winter. The environment is our home and we are a part of it. That means environmental problems are social and economic problems too.
It also means climate change is not an environmental problem. It’s a human problem, and one that will affect all facets of our lives. Given this reality, the old line of doing something because “it’s good for the environment” seems almost quaint and outdated. Solving global environmental challenges isn’t good for the environment; it’s good for us.

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