When the push comes to shove, we are all to blame

We no longer repair anything. If it stops working we throw it away.

To be clear, I believe in global warming — it is a serious problem and I really don’t believe we are doing nearly enough to combat it.

While a volcano may pop its cork every once in a while and put a bundle of CO2 and ash into the stratosphere, we are nature’s dripping faucet. We never stop, we just keep pouring the stuff into the atmosphere in an unending, maddening stream.

What to do about it is not at all that clear. Our biggest problem is that there are far too many of us on the globe, but I’m not all that willing to be the solution to that problem, either.

The bulk of the earth’s population consists of people who have long been exploited by the Western world and now want to experience the comfort and luxury of the West. Not surprising, but not particularly good for the earth, either.

Of course, we have all those individuals who are willing to gamble all our futures on the doubtful proposition that global warming isn’t real or that it doesn’t have anything to do with human activity.

That said, even those of us who acknowledge human kind’s contribution to global warming, have a pretty spotty record in giving up our own contributions to the situation. I was talking with a couple the other night who fit into the serious environmentalist camp but managed to appear at our locale in a ¾-ton truck.

They “need” it to get to wherever, regardless what it pumps into the atmosphere. They aren’t alone. I keep my nice hybrid Toyota running to keep warm in the winter when waiting somewhere. My point is that we don’t always want to do even the simplest things to mitigate our woes.

Think for a second about transportation – what if we cut our speed limits a lot? Whoa, wait for the letters. Natural Resources Canada says, “… at 120 km per hour, a vehicle uses about 20 per cent more fuel than at 100 km per hour.” That’s 20 per cent more pollution. Now, if you consider that the sweet spot for most vehicles re. fuel consumption on the highway is about 80 kph, well …

Are you someone who likes to keep that ski carrier or bicycle on your roof to prove you are an environmentally conscious, outdoorsy type? Then add 20 per cent (Natural Resources Canada) to the pollution that that ski-hill bound SUV pumps out. If you carry one or two kayaks in the summer, even worse.

Are you like me and idle your vehicle to keep warm while parked in the winter (note to self – might it not be better just to carry a blanket)? Then, what would you say if we were only permitted to own one petroleum-powered vehicle per household and any additional vehicles would have to be electric? Would you say, “Yup, that’s reasonable,” or would you launch a legal battle over personal freedoms?

What if we were actually required to use public transportation for many of our journeys? You know, I have lived here since 1977 and have never boarded a bus. How about you?

Maybe we could raise our taxes to provide free public transit for the common good? What about banning private vehicles from all our urban centres, shutting down all freeways, recycling all that pavement and charging per-mile fees on the remaining streets and with the savings in infrastructure costs, funding far more flexible public transit?

Are you planning on a vacation to Hawaii to sit on a beach and sip mai-tais? A Boeing 777 is considered energy efficient and burns 6.8 tons of fuel an hour and it puts that CO2 right up there at 13,000 metres (the 777 can carry up to 148 tonnes of kerosene). Maybe vacation at home?

I know, I know – it takes all the fun out of life, right? But, the point is, and it is a very real point, everything we do has a cost to the environment. In my parents’ generation, one car was the norm. Public transport was well used, train travel was common and holidays by car generally were short trips.

Ocean travel was by ship (very efficient mode of transport) but was not common for the masses. Still, people travelled the world, but slower and with far less impact on the environment. Destination weddings were for the Astors and Woolworths of the world. But, you know, my parents, common folk indeed, still had fun.

And, no, I’m not being nostalgic. From the industrial revolution to the middle of the 20th century we were appallingly ignorant.

We polluted without concern. We considered the earth’s waters to be our cesspools and our skies our personal and industrial vacuum cleaner. It wasn’t nice.

Today our vehicles are much, much cleaner than those of my parents, but there are just so many more of them that any gains are buried in volume.

We have made major advances in environmental standards, but that doesn’t absolve us. We have given up rail freight and express in favour of trucks that are infinitely more polluting.

We have torn up spur lines and vacated local train stations. We have forsaken local merchants and stores for online mega-retailers that are rapidly becoming monopolies.

We no longer repair anything. If it stops working we throw it away. If it’s out of fashion, we replace it. Governments seem unwilling to institute Right to Repair legislation that would encourage fixing the old, and consumer demands keep tech companies on a newer and better treadmill, not the other way around.

In 2017 the world threw away 45 million metric tonnes of electronic waste. Why?

“Why,” should be the mantra of our age, which brings us back to the original question what is each of us willing to do? We can point our fingers at one another, industries and governments, but when push comes to shove, like the soldiers in Buffy Sainte-Marie’s iconic anti-war protest song, it really is us who are to blame.

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