Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Change is Upon Us, Part 1: Living in a Time of Transition

Climate change is happening. We are warming the globe by burning the fossil fuels which power our industries. We are warming the globe by burning oil in our cars so that we can travel to our jobs, to the shopping malls, to the soccer fields and recreation centres. We are burning coal, natural gas and oil to heat our homes in the winter and to power our air conditioners in the summer. We are burning fossil fuels when we reach for that box of corn flakes or that head of lettuce at the supermarket, because fossil fuels were burned to fertilize the crops, and to power the farm machinery which harvested our food.

The buying and selling of consumer products created by our industries drive economic growth. Wealth is created for all: by the people who make the products; by those who buy and sell (through mark-up); by the shareholders who own the corporations which profit; and by the people and corporations which produce the energy needed to fuel the economy. The creation of wealth is not only deemed to be a desirable goal for individuals and businesses, it's an integral component to the continuing success of our economy. When wealth is created, so is demand; when the creation of wealth slows, so does the demand for products produced by our industries, which leads to economic reversal.

Without a doubt, our society has benefited significantly from the burning of fossil fuels. Our standard of living has never been higher, and our quality of life seems to be pretty good. Most of us are employed, and sure, we may be working a little harder to pay the bills which always seem to be going up, but in general, we're pretty happy. We live in a country where we don't often fear for our personal safety (or that of our family). In general, while there will always be something to complain about, it seems that things are relatively ok. When we look around the world at what's going on elsewhere, the idea that we have it pretty good in Canada is affirmed.

So what if our climate is changing as a result of our economic activities? Is that really such a big deal? Humanity has adapted before; we've stared down every other significant challenge we've faced, and we've figured out a way to come out on top. Why should Canadians be worried about climate change? Why should we heed the calls of those who would have us forgo the benefits we continue to derive from the burning of fossil fuels? Why should we change?

The answer, of course, is that we have to. We don't really have a choice in the matter. Change is upon us. We are going to be changing in so many ways over the next few decades, whether we want to or not. Rather than asking “Why change?”, a better question would be, “How best can we manage change?”

Oh, wait a moment. I may have barged a little too far ahead here. Please let me back up.

Change is upon us? What does that mean? Why am I being so insistent that change is going to happen, whether we want it to or not?

Throughout the next week or so, while the Green Party's Fred Twilley and Elizabeth May are attending the United Nations COP-16 climate change summit in Cancun, Mexico, I'm going to be exploring why I believe that there will be some very fundamental changes heading our way over the next decade or two. I'm going to back up my assertion that “change is upon us”, and begin to address the question of “How best can we manage change?”

The international community has come together for the next 10 days or so in Mexico to attempt to answer that question as well. Whether they will be able to make progress in doing so remains to be seen, but I believe that the international community has a very good understanding of the nature of the changes which we can expect to encounter as our years go by. Our national leaders may not be forthright in telling you about the sorts of changes that we can expect, but I believe that they nevertheless understand that we are living in a period of transition. They are already planning for the changes which they know are coming. Yet because they are not engaging the average citizen in discussions about how best to manage change, we run the risk of heading into a future where our concerns, issues and well-being is sidelined in favour of the rich, multi-national corporations which will benefit from decisions being made by our government today.

Why are we allowing this to happen? In some respects, it's because we don't really have a good understanding of what sorts of changes we can expect to occur in the next few years. We continue to believe that tomorrow is going to be a lot like today, and that our lives will go on as they seem to have always gone on. We are not expecting massive and fundamental changes, because we are not hearing about them. When the discussion of change works its way into the mainstream, it is often downplayed. Look at the way in which discussions about climate change are addressed in the media. For some, it would seem that there remains a debate as to whether our climate is actually being altered as a result of our industrial processes. And so time is lost on the real discussion which we should be having regarding what we're going to collectively do about climate change is put off for another day.

Global warming isn't the only threat to our society, however it is the most pernicious. Other threats, such as the end of cheap oil, poverty and homelessness, food and water shortages, terrorism and war, are going to be exacerbated by a changing climate. That's why taking real action to reduce our carbon emissions is so very important. However, taking action to reduce our emissions isn't going to be easy, given the path that we are on.

I joined the Green Party a number of years back because I was impressed that the Green Party had taken a close look at the real issues facing our well-being over the next few decades, and had developed comprehensive and connected solutions. Rather than looking at issues in silos, such as “the economy”, “health care”, and “the environment”, the Green Party acknowledges that issues are interconnected, and therefore so must be any viable solutions.

The other political parties in Canada still don't seem to understand this, in my opinion. That doesn't necessarily make their ideas or proposed solutions bad in all cases, but it does raise the question as to whether all consequences of their decisions and proposed decisions are being thought through. When you start at the point where you place issues into discrete boxes, and you develop solutions without considering other impacts, you're setting yourself up for unintended consequences. When you start from the point of connectivity, there's a better chance that holistic solutions can be developed.

The one problem with holistic decision-making, though, is being able to explain why a certain decision might be better. In many cases, a holistic decision might actually appear detrimental, until it can be explained appropriately and understood. Unfortunately, politicians work in a sound-byte world where only the thinnest of ideas have much hope of finding resonance with an increasingly distracted populace. For me, this reality partly explains the Green Party's lack of success at the ballot box. Greens have good ideas, but we have not been successful at explaining them.

In Part 2 of this series, I'll be looking at how the end of cheap energy is going to initiate change over the coming decades. In Part 3, I'll look at our food supply. In Part 4, I'll discuss how climate change, expensive energy and food shortages will lead to significant risks to our security, and how that is liable to change our democratic institutions and ultimately impact our lives.
Tomorrow will not be like today. We are entering a period of transition, from the oil age into something else. We still have an opportunity to influence where we take our future, but we've got to start talking about it, and taking action.

1 comment:

Jenn Jilks said...

Money beats all. Outsourcing to places where they overfish.
It's a sad state in this world.