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Greening Up — Believing In Change

One of the powerful lessons we have learned from the collective experience of the coronavirus pandemic is that governments are capable of acting swiftly, both in terms of regulations and spending, when they put human lives above all else.

“I wanted to change the world. But I have found that the only thing one can be sure of changing is oneself.” – Aldous Huxley 

We humans too easily turn wants into needs and now we are struggling collectively with the problem of excessive wants.

For many decades, human activity has been intensifying the negative effects on Earth’s water, air, soil, and climate.

These are the elemental building blocks of our lives and we are ravaging their gifts.

We keep searching for “the good life” not realizing that it is inconsistent with life.

Each of us – now or in the very near future – must find a way to challenge the logic of endless growth and the mindless consumption it generates.

Global stability depends on each of us being honest with ourselves in the here and now about what it means to be a human being.

Simply put, we must face reality and learn to live in balance with the one planet that supports life for ourselves and other creatures.

Thomas Jefferson said, "The earth belongs in usufruct to the living." He apparently understood that when you hold something in usufruct, you gain something of significant value, but only temporarily. The gains granted by usufruct can be clearly seen in the Latin phrase from which the word developed, usus et fructus, which means "use and enjoyment."

George Perkins Marsh – in his 1864 book Man and Nature – wrote “Man has too long forgotten that the earth was given to him for usufruct alone, not for consumption, still less for profligate waste.”

“If we lead lives where we consciously leave the lightest possible ecological footprints, if we buy the things that are ethical for us to buy and don't buy the things that are not, we can change the world overnight.” – Jane Goodall 

Each year, Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year.

Humanity currently uses 60 percent more than what can be renewed – or as much as if we lived on 1.6 planets.

Introduced in the early 1990’s by William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel, Ecological Footprint accounting measures the demand on and supply of nature.

During the last 50 years, humanity’s Ecological Footprint has increased by nearly 190 percent indicating a growing distort in the human-environment relationship.

The world’s population has increased 104 percent since 1970 while the average population size of vertebrate species has declined 58 percent in the same time period. 

One-third of the 4 billion metric tonnes of food produced annually is either lost or wasted. The world produces enough food for everyone and yet food deprivation still claims a child’s life every three seconds. 

Right now there are 30 million children growing up poor in the world’s richest countries.

“Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sakes and for our own.” – Cesar Chavez 

The term “carbon footprint” is often used as shorthand for the amount of carbon (usually measured in tonnes) being emitted by an activity or organization.

The carbon footprint is currently 60 percent of humanity’s overall Ecological Footprint and its most rapidly growing component. Humanity’s carbon footprint has increased 11-fold since 1961. Reducing humanity’s carbon footprint is the most essential step we can take to end overshoot and live within the means of our planet.

Since 1990, global emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have increased by more than 46 percent. 

“Globally the wealthiest 10 percent are responsible for half of all emissions, the wealthiest 20 percent for 70 percent of emissions. If regulations forced the top 10 percent to cut their emissions to the level of the average EU citizen, and the other 90 percent made no change in their lifestyles, that would still cut total emissions by a third,” Kevin Anderson, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, states in The Guardian.

Yes, I know, the last few paragraphs contain an awful lot of numbers. But I have included them because it is only after we see where we are we can duly ask ourselves if this is where we want to be.   

If we are to live within Earth’s biological limits, we will be required to make not only a major rethink in how we produce and distribute ‘things’, but also a shift in consumption activities.

All actors in society, from single individuals to policy makers, need to be involved in the co-creation of sustainable socio-economic alternatives. 

To that end, I propose we all engage in life-long sustainability education to help us trigger enduring life changes. 

"The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilizing ourselves with over-consumption is not the way." – Thich Nhat Hanh 

Hope Jahren was recognized by Time magazine in 2016 as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. 

In her new book The Story of More, Jahren illuminates the link between human habits and our imperiled planet in 19 chapters.

In the book’s appendix, she writes “Now after all you’ve read, I have one question for you: Do you want to live in a more equitable world with a brighter future?”

If your answer to the question is “Yes”, Jahren outlines a five-step plan of action.

Step one is to identify an issue to focus upon: the one you are willing to sacrifice for – Is it world hunger? Green energy? Extinction of species? Arctic warming? Public transportation? Organic farming?

Step two is to gather information on your habits and possessions to take stock of how your personal life is working against your values. How much meat do you eat? How often do you fly? How many miles do you drive? Where are your clothes made?

Step three is finding ways to make your personal activities consistent with your values. Pick out one change you can make. Fly less often? Eat less meat per week? Use more public transportation? Buy locally? Buy less? Give up more?

“I am only one,
But still I am one.
I cannot do everything,
But still I can do something;
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”

– From The Book of Good Cheer: A Little Bundle of Cheery Thoughts (1909) by Edwin Osgood Grover 

Jahren recommends keeping a journal as you go through the first three steps, cataloguing how it goes, recording numbers and outcomes. She says the last two steps are among the hardest.

Step four is analyzing your personal investments and making sure they are consistent with your values. If you own stocks that finance activities in direct opposition to what you are trying to accomplish in life, pull your money out.

Jahren says it is important to remember that every time you make a purchase you are investing in something.

“When you buy a cappuccino on the run, you are investing in the location of the café, how it treats its employees, the means by which it obtains coffee beans, the living conditions of the sourced milk cows, and the transport system that brought all those ingredients into your neighborhood,” Jahren writes.

“It’s admittedly a bewildering challenge, but it’s useful to think about which of the five things on that list conforms to your values and which ones do not,” she adds.  

At this point in the change process, you now have something valuable – personal experience.

Step five involves attempting to move your institutions – be it your bank, your child’s school, your place of employment, or your place of worship – toward consistency with your values. 

Jahren suggests setting up a meeting, relating your experience, struggles, and hopes while listening to the institution’s response. Follow up with a letter. Keep going back and keep advocating for the things you believe in.

“It takes time and perseverance, but people (even politicians) and their institutions can change,” says Jahren. 

 “You cannot change what you are, only what you do.” – Philip Pullman 

As Rebecca Solnit writes in a recent essay, “The death of George Floyd was a match that lit a bonfire.” 

She then says “for a national and international uprising against anti-Black racism and police violence to achieve such scale and power, many must have been ready for it, whether they knew it or not.”

Greta Thunberg has also lit a bonfire demanding political action on climate change. She was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019. 

Polly Higgins (who died last year of cancer) started a movement to have ecocide declared an international crime after she asked herself “how do we create a legal duty of care for the Earth?” 

Wangari Maathai became a force for positive transformation when she founded the Green Belt Movement, winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. 

“In the course of history, there comes a time when humanity is called upon to switch to a new level of consciousness, to reach a higher moral ground.” – Wangari Maathai

The multiple, cascading crises of today provide the ultimate challenge we humans have ever faced. 

One of the powerful lessons we have learned from the collective experience of the coronavirus pandemic is that governments are capable of acting swiftly, both in terms of regulations and spending, when they put human lives above all else.

I have placed my faith in our collective ability to accept the truths that are beyond bearing. By doing so, I am affirming the best aspects of our humanity. 

I have faith that we can change and are able to save ourselves. I believe we are ready for that challenge.

I invite you to join me in that belief. Let us move forward together. 

As Jane Goodall says “We are the ones who can make a difference.”

“If we can refrain from overestimating our likelihood of failure, then neither must we underestimate our capacity for success.” – Hope Jahren

Michael Jessen is an ecowriter living at Longbeach near Balfour, British Columbia. He is the author of more than 800 articles on climate change, sustainability, waste reduction, and simple living. He can be reached by email at zerowaste@shaw.ca

RESOURCES

David Suzuki’s latest column concludes with two questions: “Can we relearn what humanity has known since our beginnings that we live in a complex web of relationships in which our very survival and well-being depend on clean air, water and soil and biological diversity? Or will we celebrate the passing of the pandemic with an orgy of consumption and a drive to get back to the way things were before?”

Living in the Future’s Past is a film by Susan Kucera, produced and presented by actor Jeff Bridges. It asks the question: What kind of future would you like to see? Bridges shares the screen with scientists, profound thinkers and a dazzling array of Earth’s living creatures to reveal eye-opening concepts about ourselves and our past, providing fresh insights into our subconscious motivations and their unintended consequences. Living in the Future's Past shows how no one can predict how major changes might emerge from the spontaneous actions of the many.

The Global Footprint Network has an online footprint calculator so people can calculate their own personal Ecological Footprints and curriculum lesson plans for elementary, secondary, and university students.

Earth Overshoot Day 2020 lands on August 22, more than three weeks later than in 2019, according to Global Footprint Network. The date reflects the 9.3% reduction of humanity’s Ecological Footprint from January 1st to Earth Overshoot Day compared to the same period last year, which is a direct consequence of the coronavirus-induced lockdowns around the world. 

There are steps you can take to #Move the Date of Earth Overshoot Day.

Find solutions to #Move the Date around how we design and manage cities, how we power ourselves, how we produce, distribute and consume food, how we can help nature thrive, and how empowering women can lead to smaller, healthier, and better educated families. 

The article Protecting the planet: a proposal for a law of ecocide is downloadable. 

A 2019 interview with Polly Higgins explaining ecocide is available on YouTube.

As Greta Thunberg says, “We need to change the rules.” You can become an Earth Protector and stop the current legally permitted mass damage and destruction of nature and make it an international crime. It will cost you only a little more than $8.00 Canadian. Jamie Hunter and two others have started a Go Fund Me page to help high school students become Earth Protectors. They hope to raise $1,000.

The editors of Up Journey have compiled a list of 45 things you can do to change the world.

The 2035 Report, authored by the University of California, Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and GridLab, demonstrates that the United States can reliably hit 90 percent clean energy by 2035 without increasing customer bills from today’s levels. Hitting 90 percent clean energy would inject $1.7 trillion of private investment into the economy over 15 years, reduce wholesale power prices 10 percent, and support more than 530,000 renewable energy jobs each year compared to existing policy.

On June 30th, Corporate Knights Inc. released a comprehensive report challenging the government and business to act boldly coming out of COVID-19 to Build Back Better by accelerating actions for a green recovery – a plan that would create or maintain 6.9 million green jobs. It presents compelling original evidence to support a $109 billion investment by the federal government over the next 10 years to trigger total investments of $790 billion, mostly from the private sector, setting Canada on a path to a resilient, net-zero economic recovery.

An inspiring book to read is The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac. 

Politicians and policy makers should read Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy by Hal Harvey, the CEO of Energy Innovation, a San Francisco-based energy and environmental policy firm. Since its inception in 2012, Energy Innovation has delivered high-quality research and analysis to policymakers around the world and across a range of jurisdictions to help inform their energy policy decisions.

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