We need to start changing the narrative away from ‘climate change’ to the real underlying cause of problems facing our planet which is climate pollution.

Whether you believe that green house gasses and global warming are caused by human factors or not, the reality of our time is that we are poisoning our planet to the point where all life here will eventually become unsustainable.

The pollution of our air, water, land, biodiversity, and the degradation of the mechanisms that support the sustainable renewability of these resources are creating an situation where, without extraordinary and heroic measures, our quality of life, public health, and economic opportunity will continue to erode.

Some argue we are not there yet and may never be. Some argue we are already past that point. Regardless, the fact that our society is even having the conversation implies that something meaningful is happening and needs to be addressed.

Fear of Change

One part of the problem is that that people are fearful of change. As evident by Catherine McKenna’s recent experiences since taking over as Minister of the Environment, some people are simply too weak to be able to admit to themselves that the status quo is no longer sustainable. They lash out in fear because they feel that the new opportunities afforded by change will only apply to the rich and well connected.

And to a large extent they are right to feel that way. Our politics is replete with examples from both the Conservatives and the Liberals where the little guy gets screwed as their industry is devastated, while those in power promise to ease the transition but never really do. In the end, the gap in wealth between those at the bottom and those at the top continues to grow, feeding back into the coffers of those seeking re-election supporting what seems to be a never ending assault on the lower and middle classes.

It is no wonder that in an age where bullying and extremism have been given voice by those in leadership not being held to account for their words and actions, then why should anyone else be held to account. All this does in perpetuate a culture of fear, increase the divides that separate opportunity for rational conversation, and provide agency to those who feel as if intimidation is an acceptable form of self-expression.

Path of Least Resistance

Another part of the problem is that the challenges, and solutions proposed to those challenges, are often not reflective of the path of least resistance. If you want people to change from one pattern of behaviour to another, you have to set-up the initial conditions for change first before introducing measures to encourage adoption.

People need to see themselves in their new circumstances. When people feel their reason for being, livelihood, safety, or security are threatened with the promise of ‘trust us, we will make everything better later‘, the evidence is that those promises will never materialize. All these promises do, justifiably or not, is perpetuate the perception of barriers being put up, rather than opportunities being created.

Government is under the mistaken impression that its primary purpose is to support new methods of innovation and economic viability. While this is partial true, a large preponderance of government should be focused on lowering barriers to resistance as part of a meaningful transition from one state to another.

As an example, if you want Alberta to give up, or scale back, on its tar sand resource and development programs you need to do two things 1) give it something of greater value in return, and 2) target the benefits of that value to people on the ground whose lives will be turned upsidedown as compared to the wealthiest corporations and individuals.

Wealthy individuals and corporations are very adapt at figuring out how to relieve people of new found wealth. They don’t need the government’s help to disadvantage lower and middle income earners who are already ill-equipped to weather a radical transition of the status quo.

That doesn’t need to mean bailouts or handouts. Rather, government, industry, and community leaders working together to drive innovation and economic opportunity before nixing older methods of economic activity. The path of least resistance needs to be applied to all elements of the transition from the dismantling of the old infrastructure to the creation of the new.

The goal should be an end-state that expands the economic pie for everyone rather than cutting bigger slices for those who already have a slice which is far more than their fair share. Everyone wins that ways.

Changing Paradigms

The last key part is changing the dialogue in describing the problems to be focused on the substance of the problem rather than the buzz words being used in the popular media. Climate Change is a buzz word. The problem here is in fact not climate change. That is simply a sign of the underlying symptom. The problem is lack of efficiency in recycling and reusing the by-products of our industrialization.

Plastics, paper, exhaust, heat – we are a throw away society where we waste as much or more in marketing, packaging, and transporting goods and services as is consumed as part of the good or service itself.

For example, black plastic is considered to be non-recyclable. In essence it is a single use item which requires more energy to produce, transport, and dispose of than the food items that they often contain. Yet they are really cheap to make (a.k.a the path of least resistance). The actual cost of these items doesn’t take into consideration their disposal, breakdown, and renewability which would drive the cost of these items up massively if all that were to be taken into consideration.

We consume these items because, as consumers, we have little other choice. The decision is made for us by industry and as our personal consumption choices are also based on the path of least resistance, we simply accept what we should not accept.

It is not good enough to change the conversation at the local level. While consumers have some power to effect change, that power is only relevant in large numbers. Government and industry are the primary driving force towards real sustainable change most of the time.

What is needed are a group of industry and governmental leaders willing to take on a transparent and publicly accountable leadership role in finding alternatives to simply throwing the waste by-products of our consumerism into landfills, oceans, or pumping it into our air.

As is evident by the advancing of the Global Overshoot Day now occurring in July, and world population expected to peek at almost 11 billion by 2100, the challenges we face today can only be expected to get worse rather than better if we don’t change the way we think about the problem, our methods of production, and the fragility of those resources that have led to the quality of life we have now.

The bottom line is this: If people expect their way of life to continue unchanged, change is inevitable unless we take control of our future.

— Kevin Feenan

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