Sustainable is Attainable

The recent Copenhagen Climate Summit proved that the Canadian government has almost no concern with climate change. But that doesn’t mean that we should all just give up and accept that our grandchildren will be living in a starving world where even Canadians feel the effects of food scarcity. If the government is not going to make the necessary commitment to sustainability, then Canadians can make that commitment for themselves. Here are some of the ways that Canadians can contribute to sustainable development:

Eat less meat, especially beef

Did you know that livestock accounts for 18 per cent of human-made greenhouse gasses? In addition to C02, cattle produce methane, which has 21 times the negative effect of C02 on the atmosphere. Also, given that it takes 15 kg of grain to produce one kg of beef, meat production is highly inefficient. Although a vegetarian diet would be ideal, even a moderate reduction in meat consumption could have a huge effect on the environment. According to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, approximately 15 million square km of farmland could be freed up if the world’s population shifted to a low-meat diet of no more than 2.4 ounces of beef (about 1 small serving) and 11.5 ounces of chicken or eggs per week. The freed up farmland could be used to grow crops, and would provide much-needed carbon-consuming vegetation.

Stop buying things you don’t need

Environmentalists have this cool formula that they like to break out to explain how damaging our consumer culture really is. It goes like this: Impact = Population × Affluence × Technology. This means that human impact on the environment is dependent on population, consumption per capita and the environmental impact per unit of consumption. Considering that the West only has 20 per cent of the world’s population, but consumes 80 per cent of its resources, I’d say that puts a lot of onus on us Canadians to change our habits.

Many people are under the impression that by rejecting the values of their parents — prestige, power, materialism and tradition — they are avoiding the trappings of a consumerist society. Unfortunately, companies catch on quickly and there is now a whole host of products geared directly to individuals looking for an “alternative” to the mainstream. It is not enough just to recycle your four-month old cell phone when you upgrade to an iPhone. Sustainable living requires real sacrifice, and one of those sacrifices is not to rush out and buy the newest of something just because you can, or because you want to demonstrate how cool and different you are.

When you do spend money, try buying second-hand. Garage sales and thrift stores have a lot of great, cheap stuff, and since fashion is in a perpetual cycle of repetition, you’ll likely find something better and cheaper than if you bought it from American Apparel. Also, try making yourself what you might have originally bought. There are a huge number of homemade recipes for making anything from carpet cleaner to facial moisturizer, all with what you’re likely to have at home in your fridge.

Work with other people to change government and corporate policy

Civil society plays a vital role in holding both government and the market accountable for their actions. NGOs, community groups, clubs and voluntary associations all have the power of associated individuals with a common interest. Joining an organization that advocates sustainability — even in a small way — gives that organization greater power and resources to affect change. You needn’t make a big commitment either.

For example, since its creation in 2006, Bike to the Future, a local group focused on cycling advocacy, has gone from being a simple forum on cycling issues to one of the most effective lobby groups in Winnipeg. Through partnerships with other organizations and effective advocacy, Bike to the Future has been able to convince the municipal government to commit $20 million in funding for bikeways and paths in Winnipeg, including a possible bike lane along part of Pembina Highway. Although certain Bike to the Future members have taken on a larger role in the organization, many other members need only commit to membership fees and to attending meetings. Although this commitment is small, it adds strength to the argument that Bike to the Future speaks for a large group of citizens who want their concerns met.

Both government and corporations ultimately rely on citizens to function. If the government believes an organization speaks for a significant population of voters, it has no choice but to take that organization’s concerns seriously. The same is true for corporations. If a corporation believes it will increase profits by adopting green technology, it will do so. By taking part in boycotts of polluting products and companies, individuals can make themselves heard.
It isn’t difficult to make changes to your life to have a real effect on global sustainability issues. Small changes to what you eat, how you buy, and how you spend your free time can mean the difference between a future too terrible to imagine, and one you can be proud to leave your grandchildren.

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