Wednesday, April 18, 2007
It has never been more clear to me that history really does repeat itself. With each passing day I feel more and more like I’m living back in 1990. In April of that year, I was at an Earth Day celebration in Washington, D.C. Tom Cruise was there, Cindy Crawford and Richard Gere were there, R.E.M. and the Indigo Girls performed, politicians from all parties were vying for spots on the mainstage, vendors and eco orgs were out in strong numbers, and hundreds of thousands of people filled the National Mall & Memorial Parks for the annual tree-huggin’ love-in. I couldn’t help but be inspired…
Fast forward to 2007 -- the environment is the number one political issue; you can’t scan the headlines of a daily paper without reading about the environment; Vanity Fair, Canadian House & Home, Wish, Chatelaine, Post City Magazines – have all published “green” issues. Hollywood actors are super-visible advocates for the environment and interest in their green lifestyles dominates the entertainment media. Rock stars are touring in biodiesel buses and offsetting their carbon emissions. I can’t help but be inspired…
I keep finding myself comparing these two points in time.
Journalists are now scouring their rolodexes – oh that’s so 1990 – I mean their Blackberrys, in search of green products, tips, services, and facts about the environment and, thankfully, my phone is ringing off the hook. One question that I am repeatedly asked is “Have you noticed a spike in business in the last 6 months?” Well, no, I haven’t. Don’t get me wrong, business is very strong and it has been for the past 3-4 years. Which leads me to conclude that Grassroots customers, and people in general, are way ahead of the media, and even further ahead of the politicians.
So, as inspired as I am that the (LED-powered) spotlight is shining brightly on the environmental movement, I have to ask -- WHERE is the political will in this country to effectively adopt a truly green agenda? The Stephen Harper Tories are scrambling around the country, flipping through the Green Party playbook for ideas and introducing watered-down new program initiatives that are strikingly similar to programs they previously gutted; see Energuide/ecoEnergy for more information. They are looking even more disorganized than the Liberals did on the environment. Speaking of the Liberals, could someone wake up Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and tell him that it isn’t 1960 and that Nuclear power is not the answer to a clean energy future? Billions of dollars in cost over-runs, insurmountable debt, constant maintenance, and no safe way to store the waste that never breaks down – this is what he’s investing public money in? Let’s focus on demand-side management (eg., conservation measures) before we mortgage our grandchildren’s economic and environmental future on a proven boondoggle.
Why don’t our elected representatives see that we want change? We want clean air to breathe, we want clean water to drink, we want clean soil to grow our foods, we want clean energy to power our energy-efficient homes, and we want clean communities to live in. If we use Grassroots as a social barometer, it would be safe to say that we are all beginning to make changes in the way we live our lives. We are all choosing to be more environmentally responsible in our lifestyle choices. Unfortunately this grassroots movement hasn’t made its way to Queen’s Park, Parliament Hill, or the White House.
Not only do we want change, we want to be able to count on strong political leadership to take us there: politicians who lead, not follow; innovators, not imitators.
We are all capable of taking action to help fill the leadership gap – we can use our power as consumers, voters and volunteers to sustain the green momentum and change the political, social, and environmental landscape forever. We just might be able to prevent the current groundswell of support for the environment from fizzling out like it did in the mid-1990s. Here are some ways to help keep THAT part of history from repeating itself.
*Engage with your elected representatives. Send emails, write letters and call your municipal, provincial, and federal politicians and let them know what you value and ask them what they are doing to support your values; tell them what you would like them to do. And hold them accountable! They are followers – give them direction.
*Get involved in your community. Volunteer. Pick up trash. Reduce the amount of waste you put on the curb. Compost. Re-use. Recycle. Use public transit, walk or ride your bike whenever possible.
*Speak up and be heard. Help forward the green agenda by writing letters to the editor, emailing broadcasters, producers, and programmers. Write a blog. Join or start an environmental awareness group or committee at your school or office.
*Request more environmental reporting – why isn’t there an environment section in every newspaper? There are sections dedicated to sport, business, fashion, lifestyle and entertainment; why not more environmental content?
*Get involved in a political campaign. Help elect people that support a green platform.
And if you live in Ontario, remember to remind the McGuinty government that you want to see concrete action before the fall election.
*Run for political office. If your current representative isn’t supporting the environment, put someone into office that will – YOU.
As I interact with our customers everyday I am inspired by the great things they are doing in their lives to help make our communities stronger and our environment healthier. I remain positive because I see the change that is occurring each day. Significant changes have been made at the grassroots level and we are starting to see those changes being adopted by businesses and the media, so eventually the politicians will follow. Our challenge is to sustain the movement and inspire political will and keep the environment as the number one political issue forever. We are closing in on the tipping point and without continuous support for the environment we will fall back the way we did in the early 1990’s. History doesn’t have to repeat itself -- here is an opportunity to learn from the past, don’t ignore it.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
-Charles Dickens – A Tale of Two Cities
Monday, April 9, 2007
As much as I wish Grassroots could carry on business without relying on a motorized vehicle, the fact is that we have to shuttle more items around than we can manage with a bike trailer. The decision to use a van brought with it some serious thinking about how to minimize its impact. So, I bought a used van instead of a new one, use it as efficiently as possible by pre-planning loads and routes, started purchasing carbon offsets to neutralize the environmental impact, and run the thing on natural gas.
Natural-gas-powered vehicles are rare on the streets of Toronto, and places to refuel are in short supply. Often, when I’m filling up the tank, I end up chatting with someone who is either refueling their own natural-gas-powered vehicle, or who wants to know what I think about the stuff. What with rising petroleum prices, supply issues and increasing awareness about emissions, most people I talk to are really interested in learning about alternatives to using “regular” gas.
But a few months back, a guy filling up his van from the same pump looked at me and said, “It’s not really worth it, huh?” He kept talking and told me he thought having to use a natural-gas-powered van was useless and inconvenient (it was his employer’s truck), and we would both be better off driving petroleum fueled vehicles. I said I wouldn’t go that route, because even though petroleum and natural gas are both non-renewable fuels, natural gas burns much cleaner and pollutes less. I told him I actually sought out a natural-gas-powered van for the lower environmental impact. He thought that was pretty funny, told me I wasn’t making a difference, my contribution was so miniscule that it wasn’t worth it, etc. I said I figure we should always be looking to make the most environmentally responsible choices possible. Seriously, I wasn’t looking for an argument, but I get really frustrated when I talk to people who refuse to see their own potential, or the power they have to inspire others through their actions.
So I took a deep breath and smiled, and asked him if he had kids, or grandchildren – and he said he did. I asked him if he thought maybe it was a good idea to try to lessen his impact on the environment – if only for his grandchildren. I told him I honestly believe the thoughtful actions of individuals can add up to major environmental improvement. Didn’t matter -- he was just as firm in his belief that there is no way one person can make any difference at all.
This exchange lasted maybe 5 minutes, but it stays on my mind. I wanted to share this story, because I know a lot of you probably wonder from time to time if your efforts to live more sustainably are making a difference. I don’t know how to measure it, and I don’t know how to reassure you, but I do know this: you will never make a difference if you don’t try.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
-- Margaret Mead