Canada Second Last in Individual Environment Choices
Canada is ranked second last (just ahead of the U.S.) among 14 countries for individual actions and choices in terms of environmental impact. I find the comments interesting. The article itself says plainly that people in developing countries, whose impact is far smaller than for people in rich countries, feel more guilt over their environmental impact. You can see the truth of this in the comments. The vast majority of people commenting are angry Canadians complaining how they do the best they can, or they worked hard for their house/car/crap. Maybe they’re conservatives, in that case. (Apparently conservatives are happier (by far) than liberals because they rationalize inequality. If you’re poor, you deserve to be poor, for example, because you’re lazy or xyz.) What I also find interesting about the comments is how obvious it is that many of the people commenting obviously either did not read the article or did not understand it, because the rankings are meant to isolate individual action, not taking into account government or companies. (I’m not so sure China would be number 1 in that case, considering the state of their environment, due to corrupt government and careless, purely profit-driven corporations.) It’s obvious that poorer nations would rank better on many things because poorer generally means less impact. If you don’t own a car, you can’t drive one to work everyday, and you’ll also likely not choose a long commute. You may also still live in a rural area and grow your own food. You may not have a dryer or even a washing machine that will heat your water to warm it up. You’re also more likely to repair things rather than throw them away and buy a replacement. Some people complained that public transit isn’t available in their area, and neither is recycling or other waste minimization options. The study may well have provided for that though since that’s related to government policy in most cases. Even if there’s no public transit, people generally do have a certain amount of choices when choosing where to work and live, and thus how far they commute.
As an aside, I’ve already alluded to the fact that how big a person’s impact is depends on how much they can afford, or how many resources are available to them for consumption. This also goes for land area. I’m tired of the argument that certain cultures are more wasteful or selfish than others when it really has a lot to do with history and geography. People in “new world” countries have more space and resources open to them because they’re less densely populated than other countries. If you have more space, you don’t have to worry as much about pollution or water or energy shortages. Europe has much more expensive water, and energy in certain areas is limited enough that consumers cannot use certain high consumption appliances during peak hours (for example, you might not be able to wash clothes around noon because the electrical socket the washer must be hooked into is a high powered one to handle the washer’s needs, and at certain times of day, those types of sockets aren’t fed power). Densely populated areas must make efforts to reduce their waste through recycling and reduced packaging laws or manufacturer responsibility legislation so that they don’t run out of space to put their garbage. Once you get started down this path, once you realize you need to conserve and regulate, it’s a lot easier to keep going down that path, which may also explain why some places are so much greener than others. They’ve got into the habit of it, and now it’s easier to keep going. There is also the historical context when it comes to how European people managed to use their relative strength at a certain point in history to colonize most of the world and have hung onto and controlled the resources of the rest of the world virtually ever since (but some countries are finally starting to gain back some power, in spite of political and economic organizations and systems that are geared to keep the rich rich and the poor poor). There may be a cultural aspect to this, although there is the argument that it’s inevitable that this type of resource and space hungry “culture” would come to dominate in any scenario where the species is driven to reproduce and survive at any cost. If even one group of this type exists within a species that can expand (has the means to do so), they will war against and defeat all pacifists or self-limiting groups they come across until they’re the only ones left. Alternatively, pacifist or self-limiting groups can take on the dominating group’s ways and defend themselves, but ultimately, to survive, if they have not obliterated the dominant group or there are others, they will have to remain dominant (at least until they’ve killed off or assimilated all others, and then you’re still left with the same problem of dominant expansionists rising to the top and converting everyone else at the individual level). And that is why all the more traditional, indigenous, harmonious, self-contained cultures are succumbing to “Western” culture. Imagine what kind of conditions it would take to turn back this tide of consumerism.
My deeper point or grievance here is that I increasingly understand why “environmentalists” sometimes make policy makers and other powerful people frustrated. Policy and intent can be powerful change-makers, but there are other factors at work. An obvious example is public transit, which you can’t run if communities have become too spread out to even remotely begin to cover operating costs, at least not for long. You also can’t make people take public transit, so even if a good-in-every-way transit system is put in place, it will not last if there are not enough riders because the costs won’t be covered and it’s difficult to justify the use of taxpayer money for an underused service (especially if you’re a politician counting votes). More and more people are speaking out against the idea that we can solve climate change with hybrid cars, but I still don’t think enough people are saying or thinking that it’s only been recently that people have begun to travel as far as they do as often as they do between communities and that in the future it’s probably going to become as rare as it was in the past (unless there really is some hidden invention corporations and/or governments are “hiding” from us until the last minute so they can continue making money off of the old technology and fuels until times get desperate). You can see in environmental circles in real life and online that there is a lot of cheer leading and armchair opining and figuring going on, but sometimes there’s not a lot of realism. People can also be very militant if you mention any obstacles to their “vision” of how to get things to go down their chosen green path. I guess what I’m saying is what runs through a lot of my thoughts: look at the actual environment. Not the green “thing” we’re trying to save, but the setting, the historical context. That is an incredibly big driver of the output (i.e. the situation we have today). People give too much credit to government policy and lobbyists and corruption, when there are other things to consider. Before you start cheer leading and raising funds and awareness, it’s a good idea to figure out what’s really practical (are we really going to be taking trains for hour long commutes and even longer distance holidays, or is it more likely we learn to live within 50 km of home for most of our lives?) and what the obstacles truly are.
What I really see as I look at the big picture is a gap that environmentalists are trying to bridge before humanity’s global civilization project falls into the abyss. The gap is how much breathing room we have before we use up so many resources and so much of our environment (damage it so badly that it’s uninhabitable, or its ability to support as many people and life as it currently does is greatly reduced) that mass suffering really begins (there is a huge up tick in deaths, wars, social unrest and lawlessness because of energy, food and or water shortage problems and population stops growing and begins to decrease dramatically). I don’t know if there’s enough time in that gap to push through the changes needed to prevent this kind of ugliness. And then, on the other hand, it may be that “the market” really will take care of our problems, because as various goods become more scarce and thus expensive, we’ll have to use less of them and adjust to a more environmentally friendly lifestyle, and all environmentalists’ efforts will be dwarfed by the inevitable, unavoidable power of economic and physical scarcity.
You may wonder why if I’m so cynical or some ways fatalistic about the future and the environment, why I bother to try to tread more lightly. It’s two things. It’s a focus on myself and what makes sense in ways to prepare for an uncertain future and also what helps me develop as a person and makes me feel like I have purpose (growing food vs. push paper in some insurance office?) and it’s the principle of it, which is maybe saying the same thing. It feels right. Green really is like a religion in that way. So, not only do I see why environmentalists can be annoying and unrealistic, but I also see why the church has been scared and associated environmentalism with paganism or worshiping idols or putting “the Creation” over “the Creator”. And yet, the world is not black and white, so there is generally room for people and ideas to work together.
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