In the wise words of Kermit the Frog, “it [certainly] isn’t easy being green”, even with the best of ecological intentions. It seems that politics and economics will inevitably impede many proactive measures taken, despite society’s green efforts. This opinion was, in fact, shared by many of the participants that attended our first Café scientifique of the season, on September 30, 2011, during which we discussed “Is having a small carbon footprint compatible with our fast-paced lifestyles?”
Our guest speakers were Bruce Yateman and Bernie Couture, both green pioneers in their own right and involved with their projects EcoCorner and EcoCove.
After a catered meal, participants then watched Carbon Nation, an American documentary that discusses the impending climate crisis and proposes concrete solutions for positive change. Rather than adopting the traditional doom and gloom rhetoric, this film defines itself as an “optimistic discovery”, featuring various individuals—from entrepreneurs, to scientists, to farmers, to business tycoons, to the everyday simple folk— who have all suggested concrete and proven solutions to stop, or at least impede, the climate crisis.
After the film, our speakers and visitors began discussing the question at hand. An initial remark of one participant was that trying to “go green” and make a difference often felt overwhelming. “I do recycle and ride my bike as often as possible, but I wonder if this is really enough?”
And indeed bigger changes can only be implemented at the government level. In response to this, Bruce explained that specific demands must be made clear and made often to city councillors, MPPs or MPs.
“They need to stop distressing people about climate change,” he responded, explaining the damaging role governments and the media can play when reporting about the climate crisis. “We need to come up with specific methods to impose a change,” he suggested, “and not just tune out.”
Another discussion arose when a participant stated that he didn’t start to make conscientious ecological decisions until he had grandchildren. “I started making changes for them,” he said. “I wanted to do what I could to ensure the planet was healthy for their futures.”
To do so, he started taking the bus—indeed a valiant effort, especially when living in the suburbs. However, shortly after, the city cut his route, leaving him little choice but to purchase his own vehicle. Luckily, it was a hybrid; however, it seems many want to make a change, but when met with obstacles, will settle for what’s easiest.
And let’s face it: even those with the noblest of ecological intentions cannot afford to purchase a brand-new hybrid vehicle. In fact, it is a common belief that a certain degree of affluence is necessary to “go green”. The discussion pursued this path, as several comments were made stating that economics and convenience will, unfortunately, always win over consumer choice, and that many ecological products are not attractive enough because of their higher price tag.
“Many people don’t care or have the money to [make a change]” one participant explained, “because it’s easier to do things the old way.” Our speaker Bruce also shared this participant’s opinion, asserting, “Money talks and people will buy things that will save them money.”
But, in the end, convenience nearly always reigns supreme. Our other speaker, Bernie, then took the microphone and shared his thoughts. He prides himself on living in a very efficient home and has a very minimal heating bill to boot because he uses a wood-burning stove. Because his rural property is surrounded by forests, he can cut and split his wood with easy access.
“However,” he explained, “this is certainly not convenient and I don’t know of many people who could do this, let alone want to.” While this is an extreme method of reducing one’s carbon footprint, many people aren’t prepared to make even small changes, preferring comfort and ease, to making better ecological decisions. Bernie goes on to explain how people are sometimes resistant to even put on a sweater instead of turning up the heat, “because it’s not convenient”. It is indeed this mentality that our society must overcome.
Many other good ideas and thoughts also surfaced over the course of the evening; however, like all good things, the discussion did have to come to an end. I do believe participants went home with a better understanding of where the obstacles lie in the process of reducing one’s carbon footprint, and things they can do to overcome them.
And, ultimately, it will take both government and community support to not only initiate, but also continue these endeavours, a topic to be discussed at the upcoming Café scientifique in November.
For further information on how you can reduce your carbon footprint, please visit these sites:
Also, watch an extract from Carbon Nation on YouTube: