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2009-12-09 - 10:17 a.m.

...why can I do?...

I read this morning that 56 newspapers in 45 countries published a unified editorial about the importance of the Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, currently happening in Copenhagen.

A copy of the letter can be found here.

I was pleased to read this, because the approach of these newspapers represents one approach that might actually succeed in making a difference.

It's pretty clear that trying to make people feel guilty about their lifestyles is not an effective approach to combating climate change. (Although admittedly, I've been guilty of this tactic myself!). Still, at the ripe age of 41, I've come around to admitting that the world will not volunteer to change. Change must be imposed via policies.

People can still exercise their opinions via consumer choice, but we've already seen that the market alone will not solve environmental problems because the environment does not have any value on the global market. You don't see shares in Spotted Owls going up or down. There is ample evidence in both the US and Canada that volunteer energy efficiency programs consistently fail to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. People make the classic dieter's justification, "if I drink a diet coke, then I can eat a brownie." Or in this case, "if I buy energy saver dishwasher and lightbulbs, then I can have a wine fridge, too." People continue to live their lives, perhaps stating that the environment is important to them, but all the while making consumer choices that support their lifestyles rather than the environment, in many cases because these are the only choices available to them.

So what do you say when someone asks, "what can I do?"

The first answer I give always provides small choices, such as "change a light bulb" or "drive less." Yes, these little things make a small, collective difference, but they are not going to change an entire, energy-intense economy.

I've come to believe that the more effective answer is to write to politicians. Tell them that climate change legislation is important to you as a citizen of your town, province, state, or nation, and that you will still vote to elect them if they support climate change/energy legislation. Our personal choices of turning off a light makes a small difference, but we need to be influencing our entire economies.

This is why I was pleased to read the editorials published by these 56 newspapers around the world. It was a loud, collective voice.

Right now there are two climate bills in the making, both in Canada and in the USA, giving us ample opportunity to make our opinions heard. In Canada, the Environment Committee agreed yesterday to pass Bill C311 (Climate Change Accountability Act) back to the House of Commons for its third reading there. In November, most Liberal MPs voted to extend the review of the Bill so that it will not actually reach the floor until January, well after the Copenhagen climate talks. But in any case, now is the time to answer the "what can I do?" question with, "write to your MP." This gives Canada a chance to say that their fossilized figureheads are wrong, and that Canada is prepared to meet the challenge of science-based targets for limits to greenhouse gas emissions.

The same is true in the USA. Members of the US Senate are working to produce a climate and energy bill that will cut carbon emissions 20 percent by 2020, from 2005 levels.

My read of the scientific literature says that this target is still not enough, and in watching the way the US legislature works, it looks like this legislation will probably get watered down and also remain off the floor until January.

But my hopeful soul says that this is a start, that a year ago, even considering a climate change bill in the USA would not have been possible. A year ago, the outspoken voices of the likes of Senator "global- warming- is- the- greatest- hoax- ever perpetrated- on- the- American- people” Inhofe of Oklahoma trumpeted louder than any other. At least the battle is being fought, and the issue is, at last, on the table where it should be.

So what can I do? I'm not Canadian. I don't vote here. But I can ask five of my friends to contact their MPs. I don't live in the USA, but my family does. I can ask them to make their voices heard, too. It's become clear that we need some legislation to start the ball rolling.

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