Changing consumer behaviour will help the environment, but without strong leadership from business and government we won't get far.
By Adrian Duyzer
Published January 24, 2007
(This article has been updated)
As environmental issues percolate to the surface of the Canadian consciousness, people in positions of influence and authority are starting to voice concern about the environment. But it doesn't take a climatologist to recognize many are just blowing smoke.
Lee Prokaska's January 16, 2007 editorial in the Hamilton Spectator entitled Environment political fad says, "political posturing on the environment will get us nowhere."
Ms. Prokaska sees encouraging though "anecdotal" evidence that more people are "increasing what goes into the blue box and green bin", "buying energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs" and "running the dishwasher in off-peak hours". She advocates "[r]ebates for for buying energy-efficient appliances" and supports the federal Conservatives' tax credit for public transit passes.
I share Ms. Prokaska's support for recycling programs and fluorescent lighting, but this is an extraordinarily weak-kneed editorial considering that we are facing civilization's greatest challenge since the Cold War.
It's weak-kneed because instead of calling for - no, demanding - environmental legislation from city council, the province and the federal government, this editorial passes the buck onto consumers.
Of course, consumer behaviour is certainly a large part of the problem. That needs to change, which is why environmentally conscious Canadians have been telling their fellow citizens for years the same thing as Ms. Prokaska is saying now.
They had to, because governments and big corporations weren't listening. In an atmosphere of self-centred vote- and profit-driven indifference, environmentalists were forced to focus on grassroots initiatives that targeted consumers directly.
That approach is insufficient, however, and environmentalists have known that all along. Citizens can't build wind farms to produce clean energy. Citizens can't force big corporations to stop polluting. We can't build railways and we can't stop developers from carving up more farmland for strip malls and subdivisions.
These are all things that require government to take an active role. The Spectator is telling us we need to buy fluorescent lighting, but we know that already. If the Spec was serious on this issue, they would demand that government ban the sale of incandescent lighting outright, except where special circumstances make that unfeasible.
The same goes for creating a firm urban boundary, advocating major investment in public transit instead of tax break panaceas and canning the Aerotropolis boondoggle.
The time is right for strong leadership on environmental issues. In Hamilton, bylaws prohibiting idling and pesticides for cosmetic purposes are good first steps that have earned the support of Mayor Eisenberger.
Hamiltonians need the leadership of the Spectator for these and other environmental issues. I applaud The Spectator for creating the Poverty Project, their "three-year commitment to examine the true causes and costs of poverty" in Hamilton.
Charting a bold course on the environment will be tougher due to advertiser influence. The Spectator is a platinum partner of the Hamilton Halton Home Builders Association which constantly - and often successfully - lobbies the city to expand urban boundaries and rezone greenfields to enable more sprawl development.
Other advertisers whose business practices are environmentally unfriendly or just plain unsustainable are sure to exert pressure as well.
It will take real leadership to shrug off these influences, but I'm confident the Spectator can do it. I challenge the Spectator to pick up the gauntlet and start informing our citizens about climate change and the perils of government inaction on the issue.
After all, the Climage Change Project has a nice ring to it. Ms. Prokaska, what do you think?
Update: When this article was first published I mistakenly referred to Ms. Prokaska as if she were a man. My sincere apologies to Ms. Prokaska and RTH readers for the error. - Adrian
Editor's Note: As editor, I should have caught this, so I owe Ms. Prokaska and RTH readers an apology as well. - Ed.
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