Welcome to 2008. If you had told me at the beginning of last year that 2007 would be the breakout year for the environment, I probably wouldn't have believed you. Yes, 2006 had An Inconvenient Truth, but 2007 saw the environment become a true media darling.
As great as this has been, we mustn't forget that news is a fickle beast and, by definition, "new" doesn't last very long. That means we need to keep the interest moving forward or we could lose the momentum we've built up.
We've come a pretty long way in two years. In 2006, people started paying attention to the environment again. It was like society woke up from a collective environmental slumber, looked around with bleary eyes, blinked and asked, "What's going on?" And people started to look for answers.
In 2007, the media got on board. Environmental stories made front-page news all year long. Books about the environment became best-sellers. Magazines from home design to celebrity gossip suddenly had environment pages or "green" tips. Eco-this and Enviro-that became commonplace. My local newspaper, the Vancouver Sun, actually invited me to be guest editor and has seen a newfound interest in environmental stories.
But for those of us old enough to remember back a couple decades, this might seem like déjà vu. In the late 80s and early 90s, the environment was also a top public concern. Governments poured money into environment ministries. Corporations developed environmental stewardship platforms. Municipalities across the country rolled out blue-box recycling programs.
And the people cheered. Problem solved! Now they could go back to worrying about more manageable individual priorities like paying bills, going to work and providing for their families. Of course, we all know now that the problem wasn't solved by a long shot. But we lost a decade of potential progress because people slipped into complacency. And who can blame them? No one wants to deal with something as big and complicated as our global environment.
The thing is, we don't have a choice anymore. Leading scientists have been telling us for decades that we are on a very dangerous path. The good news is that it is not too late to change the route we are on. There are alternative ways to live that are in balance with Earth's life support systems. But getting on a new path requires real change.
So what does "real change" mean? For governments, giving money to an environment ministry only to have its mandate trounced by the ministry of natural resources, energy or finance won't cut it. For corporations, token efforts like a "green" building design or energy efficient lighting won't cut it if your bottom line is still profits at the expense of the environment. For individuals, using re-usable bags instead of plastic, or carrying a re-usable coffee cup will do little if you're still driving to work every day.
If it sounds like a challenge, that's because it is. Real solutions are never easy and there will be lots of arguments. We will also make mistakes. But the only real failure will be if we don't try at all. We've only got one Earth, so we can't very well just wait and see what happens if we continue with business as usual. That path may look easy now, but in the near future it will make things very, very hard.
So what does this all mean?
It means it's time to dig deeper.
We already have the public's attention, but now we need to get serious about solutions. We know how hard it is to be environmentally responsible. Many of our daily decisions are not good for the environment because they are easier and often cheaper to make. Still, challenge yourself, challenge your neighbors, challenge your friends and co-workers to make Canada a global warming problem-solver, not a problem-maker.
Large-scale changes also require corporate and government leadership. But here, too, individual action can have great power. Politicians and business leaders know the public is concerned, but they are slow to respond unless really pushed. If you really want to make a big difference in 2008 — push them. Push them hard. Change is underway. Real change is happening. Let our leaders know there's nothing that can stop it.