Action Without Perfection

After any online story about the environment, Internet trolls love to suggest that environmentalists are hypocrites – that you can’t, for example, be against new oil pipelines if you drive a car. While the trolls almost certainly failed their logic class in high school, I think a lot of people intuitively feel that way – that you can’t push for change if you’re not ‘perfect.’ This slows the change we so desperately need.

To explore the logic let’s look at some similar cases. Could you be against child labour in the garment industry if you wear clothes? Could you fly to the Toronto City Airport and be against its expansion? Could you use toilet paper and work for more sustainable forestry practices? Of course!

We bear some responsibility for where the things we use come from, how they’re made, and whom they hurt, and that means we need to work to eliminate or minimize the harm.

We know from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that to avoid great harm fossil fuel consumption must be almost entirely phased out over the next 35 years. And it can be! What can individuals do?

One strategy would be to do everything possible to reduce personal fossil fuel consumption. We could join solar-powered nudist communes, walk everywhere, give up toilet paper, and eat only sprouts. From the moral high ground we could tell everyone to join us. If one in ten Canadians followed us, demand for fossil fuel would drop, the price of fossil fuel would drop, and some other Canadians would increase their consumption.

I’m not knocking reducing personal consumption, just pointing out that as a political strategy for fighting climate change it won’t work. A much better strategy would be to join the movement to push politicians to do their job – which is to protect citizens.

We need to push politicians because individual citizens can’t make the structural changes we need to reduce our collective fossil fuel consumption dramatically. I can’t create an excellent free public transit system in Thunder Bay or raised bike lanes down Memorial Avenue. I can’t implement a carbon tax or end the $3 million dollar a day federal subsidy to fossil fuels. We must force politicians to do these things and more.

If we wait, the transition away from fossil fuels will be expensive, the misery will be great, and the outcome uncertain. If we move strongly now, we’ve got a good chance of creating a lower energy, clean, post-carbon future. Thunder Bay could lead in this.

Don’t apologize for driving, eating, or wiping. We can use energy and push to transition society away from coal, oil and gas. Will you help?

Paul Berger