Tag Archives: environmentalism

Changing the World Isn’t Easy. Unless You Make it Easy

By Jason Menard

Here are two statements that, through my experience, I’ve found to be true: “There are many things we can do to make the world better”; and “People (substitute the word society if you want to be kind) are lazy.”

Because of the latter, many things that comprise the former don’t get done. And until society’s advocates wrap their heads around the reality of the latter, they’re doomed to frustration and failure.

Some may take offense to the word lazy. And that’s OK – feel free to substitute the word of your choice in that sentence. You can use complacent, set-in-their-ways, apathetic… it all comes down to the fact that people don’t want to change – even if that change is good for them. Continue reading

Trying to Be Green is Making Me Blue

By Jason Menard

I recently signed up for the One-Tonne Challenge, but now I’m feeling like the weight’s all on my shoulders, and there’s no way to get it off.

Simply put, trying to be an environmentalist in this area (and this era) is making me blue. And with the appearance that doing the right thing and trying to be green costs too much green may result in our environmental efforts failing before they’ve even had a chance to get off the ground.

For years, we’ve been bombarded by environmental doomsday prophets (Hello, Mr. Suzuki) who have waxed poetic about the declining state of our Earth. Everything we do is bad, and there’s no hope for our poor planet. Wow, there’s a way to rally the troops and move forward.

What environmentalist have ignored for too long in the fight is that the very armies they’re trying to conscript are lazy. We have grown accustomed to a lifestyle and we’re consumed by pursuit of the pocketbook. We’re not going to revert to an agrarian, self-sufficient lifestyle, without the modern comforts and amenities, so stop asking. We’re not going to give up our cars and walk to work unless it makes sense to do so.

So, the true challenge of the One-Tonne Challenge, and of similar environmental activities, is to make it make sense.

Instead of dreaming of Utopia, environmental activists have to exist in reality. Tugging at our heart strings hasn’t worked so far – so make a play for the pocketbook. The green army may be lazy, but it is easily roused when it’s time to fight for its own interests.

The city in which I currently live, London, ON, is plagued by an ineffective and impractical public transportation system. Even if I wanted to take the bus, it’s not feasible for me to do so. But, instead of focusing on improving the quality and level of service, the City prefers to focus its efforts on marketing. What the City appears to be forgetting, and to keep in the environmental vein, is that no matter how pretty the marketing package is, when you’re promoting compost it’s still compost.

I have been a vehicle owner for well over a decade. Yet, when I was living in Montreal I was an avowed proponent (and rider) of the city’s public transportation. Why? Because it made sense. A trip across the island to where I worked took 15 minutes. A trip by car, down the Expressway and through downtown traffic, could take upwards of an hour and a half. For the cost of a metro pass, roughly $50, I could get anywhere I wanted, unimpeded by traffic. When compared to the amount I’d have to pay in fuel costs, parking fees, and wear and tear, the decision was a no-brainer.

The economics made sense, the environmental benefits were secondary. But now, the tables are turned. A 10-minute car ride (roughly eight kilometers) would take me well over an hour by bus. No matter how much I want to help the environment, it’d be nice to see my family once in a while too.

If we’re to make a change, we need to change the economics of environmentalism. It shouldn’t cost more for my wife and daughter to travel to Ottawa by train than by car, but it does. A round-trip for two on our nation’s rail carrier set us back about $400. That same trip, along with the ability to travel around, visit the city, and even head to Montreal, would cost us under $200 in gas by car – and my son and I would be able to come along.

Is there any sense in advocating for the use of a service when the service inconveniences us? We need to stop thinking that people are going to choose what’s best for the environment over what’s apparently best for themselves. As a society we’re willing to sacrifice some comforts in the name of altruism, but our environmental benevolence only goes so far.

So how can this work? How can we leverage economics to benefit the environment? Take the example of energy efficient light bulbs. At first, we can look at their price and suffer some sticker shock as they’re so much more expensive than their incandescent cousins. But a $5 energy-efficient bulb, which could last up to seven years, turns out to be much cheaper over the long run than the department-store standards, costing $2 a pack, but needed to be replaced anywhere from seven to 15 times over that same time frame.

There are very real cost advantages immediately displayed – not to mention the reduction that comes from lowered electricity usage and hydro bills.

Don’t tell me how much greenhouse gas we’re emitting by idling for over 20 seconds – tell us how much gas and money we save. Don’t tell us how bad pesticides and chemical fertilizers are for the environment, show us how much cheaper it is to go natural with mulching and compost – and how our lawns can look just as good.

For us to succeed at the One-Tonne Challenge the burden of environmentalism has to be taken off of our hearts and placed squarely where it will have the most impact – in our pocketbooks.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Environmental Paralysis

By Jason Menard

The old adage states that you have to walk before you can run. So doesn’t it go without saying that we need to be shown a little affection before we can fully go out and hug every tree we see?

A recent study predicted that, due to global warming’s effect on Himalayan glaciers, southeast Asia and China could be facing a devastating lack of drinking water within 50 years. We’re now also being told that the devastation caused by hurricanes in the American South-East is partly our fault, due to increased water temperatures caused by – you guessed it – global warming.

It seems that no matter when a natural disaster strikes, there are always willing environmentalists ready to jump on the pulpit and start wagging their fingers at us. It’s a morbid game of “I told you so,” and it does nothing to help the actual problems that exist in this world. While some environmentalists feel we’ve been burying our heads in the sand and ignoring the problem, the reality is that we’re weighed down by the enormity of the issues.

In general, people want to do the right thing. We all want to leave this world a better place for our children and grandchildren. We all want to save the environment, breathe cleaner air, and make a commitment to a greener life.

However, we find it hard to move when the weight of the entire world is on our shoulders. For years, environmentalists have been stating that we need to make drastic, wholesale lifestyle changes to save the world from human-inflicted doom. But, instead of sparking us into action, statements like this end up overwhelming us with fear and paralyzing us into inaction.

Worst-case scenarios don’t help. They only serve to make us feel powerless to make a difference – they make our efforts to reduce, reuse, recycle, and be better global citizens seem insignificant.

The Utopian world that the most rabid environmentalists see as being the solution doesn’t exist. Our society isn’t set up for it. We’re too dependent on fossil fuels. We’re too enamoured with convenience and disposable items. To cut society off cold turkey would paralyze it.

So, what we need to practice what we preach. If one message has come forth from the assortment of telethons and fund-raisers we’ve been exposed to over the past little while is that every small action adds up. Individually we can only do so much, but when our actions are multiplied exponentially by all Canadians, and then all the citizens of the world, the impact we can have is astounding.

But we don’t hear that. We never hear the positives of our actions. Our current efforts at living a better and greener lifestyle have been met with a collective, “Yeah, but…” from the environmental community. As earnest and honest as they may be when forecasting global doom and gloom, what our environmental advocates are missing is that we, as average citizens, need positive reinforcement. We need to be encouraged with tangible results for our actions. And we don’t need to be chastised for the sins of our society’s past.

No matter how small the effort we make as individuals may be on a global scale, we need to know that it’s having an effect – even if it’s an infinitesimal impact. That way, when we see the results of our actions, we’ll be encouraged to do even more. When our baby steps are acknowledged, it will give us the drive to work ourselves up to a full-scale run.

We need that organically grown carrot dangled before us to make us strive for greater things. We’ve seen what power society wields when it comes together in a common cause. Whether it’s been Tsunami relief efforts, or the overwhelming funding coming in for those impacted by the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, we’ve seen how each and every dollar counts. Yet, nowhere has there been a person chastising us for not donating enough. Simply put, every dollar counts.

That attitude of communal support and encouragement needs to be extended to the environmental world. Instead of doomsday predictions and earnest declarations of impending doom – no matter how true they may be – the point remains that to mobilize our society you have to engage its belief in the fact that it can make a difference. Just as every dollar counts, so too should every recycled can and every time you choose to walk to the store instead of drive matter!

Because, when we’re told that all of our current efforts have gone for naught, it makes us want to throw up our hands in defeat – and that’s when we all lose.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved