Eco movement sparks global makeover
Welcome to the holy shit club.
You might want to scoot over, because there are a lot of us here. We may not wear green name tags, but if you ask, 80 per cent of Canadians do call themselves environmentalists. We’ve changed some light bulbs and said no to the checkout clerk dangling plastic bags. But while some insist the revolution’s now rising up around the planet, polls keep telling us we’re stalled somewhere between furrowed brows and fervent action. Are we ready to make that leap and kick off the deep sea change that’s needed to stave off a coroner’s inquest on the planet?
From a global vantage point, the green scene is like a silent tsunami. Even those working within the movement haven’t grasped the scope of the momentum behind them, says California-based green guru Paul Hawken.
Hawken (author of Blessed Unrest: How The Largest Movement In The World Came Into Being And Why No One Saw It Coming) started tabulating all the organizations working on enviro and social justice issues worldwide and was floored. He found a whopping 2 million orgs, involving 100 million people who every day wake up focused on redefining our relationship to the planet. As a force, they’re nameless, leaderless and fractured across the space, so you’d never know, as Hawken says, that “it’s the largest and fastest-growing movement in the world.”
The luminary is convinced we’re in the middle of a grassroots sea change, from a world created by and for privilege to a world created by community.
Still, there may be a tide of people already off their chairs and cleaning local creeks, forming solar buying clubs, and jostling their politicians, but getting the rest of us to make that leap off the couch, to have that “aha” moment when we’re moved to play out our hopes for the world, is the next major challenge.
Call a few pollsters to help take our collective pulse on the prospect of a green call to arms and it’s clear there are duelling realities at play.
Canadians will open their wallets to organic goods, they say ($1 billion worth in 2006, to be precise), but “we’re just not prepared to pay a personal price,” says Vector Research prez Marc Zwelling.” Especially when you name that price, like, say, a 25 cent per litre gas tax, a sizable surcharge on our hydro bills, London-style congestion charges. We’re not ready to vote green either (doing so could lead us back to that pesky personal sacrifice issue). And what we need to get us past the psychological hump, besides generational change, says Zwelling, is crisis – one we can see, touch, smell and run from screaming.
Others say it’s all about how you frame it. York U marketing prof Alan Middleton says if we can link a purchase or behaviour change to our personal health metre, we see tangible reasons for sacrifice. Selfish? Maybe, but it’s more that people have trouble connecting to environmental issues unless a nephew has asthma, a sister’s got chemical sensitivities or our mother’s survived cancer.
Zeroing in on the need to reach out and touch someone, activists are trying new tactics to help bridge that disconnect and motivate real change.
“The thing to do right now is to show that other people are doing this as well,” WWF climate campaign manager Keith Stewart explains. “That’s what Earth Hour (when nearly a dozen major cities around the globe will turn off the lights for an hour) is really about, so you actually see the skyline of Toronto go dark and see that other people are concerned” – even though you can’t physically eyeball the greenhouse gases saved.
It’s also why websites like The Good Life (www.thegoodlife.wwf.ca) aren’t just interactive tracking devices; they let you see how many other people have signed on to the very same greenhouse-gas-saving actions across the country. (See Netizens For Nature, page 29 for more on green tracking.)
One thing has become clear in recent trawlings of Canadian opinion, says Stewart. “Once you’ve taken some action to reduce your own impact, you feel a lot better about demanding that somebody else do something.” So weatherstripping your windows and and stringing a clothesline might just be the key to getting the guts to demand more from our politicians.
And more we want. Says Environics VP Keith Neuman, “Canadians would like to see their country be a role model.” So far, it ain’t happening.
A fact doubly troubling now that we’re heading into an economic downturn and the feds have yet to take cues from our collapsing manufacturing sector to bolster a green economy. If we did this right, say activists, and repositioned the environment as an economic issue, we’d stimulate the kinds of green jobs blooming by the hundreds of thousands in bellwether economies like Germany. And environmental consciousness might for once survive the forecast economic downturn.
But where the feds leave us hanging, cities around the world are stepping in to fill the void. Activist-turned-councillor Gord Perks says we’re finally cluing in to the “think globally” part of the nearly 40-year-old bumper sticker, realizing that decisions about where we live and how we get to work have global consequences
. And municipal governments are jumping in as ringleaders in a movement growing from the little guy up.
“Look at the C40 group of cities in every corner of the globe that are miles ahead of where federal governments are,” says Perks. “That’s where the action is, and that’s where the hope is.”
Hope. It seems like a loaded word amidst so much humanity bashing but Hawken is steadfast: “We’re now seeing human beings rise up and respond to the salient issues of our time – and they’re not American Idol or the latest muscle cars from Detroit.”
We may be at the stroke of midnight for the rest of our lives, but there’s good news, insists Hawken. “We won’t recognize ourselves in 10 years’ time.”