Thursday, 7 February 2013

Guest Writer - Climate Change - ERin

 From ERin

“Why is your generation so passive when it comes to climate change?”

Recently, this question was posed to me while I was in lecture. The person who posed the question, Jim MacNeil is a well know Canadian consultant, environmentalist and international public servant. MacNeil was a lead author on “Our Common Future”, a well known report that came out in 1987 from the World Commission on Environment and Development (or the Brundtland Commission). The report defines the term “sustainable development” and discusses how we as a society can develop sustainably as opposed to the unsustainable development practices of late.

During the lecture, he argued that our generation (20 something’s) did not seem to be interested in enacting change. He referred to the loss of sea ice in the Arctic in 1997 which was recorded as the record low. This question really affected me. Were we, as a generation apathetic towards climate change and the environment?

Some of the reasons that people in the class suggested for our passiveness included:
--- Today is not the same as the 1960’s- the 60’ was filled with different social movements, feminism, and environmental movement spurned on by Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring”
--- The world is far more connected today due to the Internet- there is a dilution of information; there are so many different causes that people can only care about so many!
--- People are more interested in the economy and bettering themselves through economic development
--- NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) For the most part, climate change does not seem to affect us directly
--- Climate change is far too seems like it is too large of a concept and we as a generation are too few to be able to enact and change

I agree with some of the points raised by my colleagues, but do you think we are indifferent towards climate change? I look forward to your opinions!


Anonymous said...

Part of it may be that we constantly hear about it, and that has dulled our reaction to it. We have been "desensitized" to the issue. Being a "50 something" we started to hear about climate change and it was a new and worrying thing. However over the years there has been so much conflicting information that its hard to know what to believe. I think as a generation we (the 50 somethings) just try and do the little things that make sense to us - reducing our own carbon footprint - and don't tend to think of the big stuff. Your generation will have to deal with that, we'll be long gone.

Christine Sweeton said...

The professor is wrong! Firstly “did not seem to be interested in enacting change” is hardly an accurate measure of whether our generation (20 somethings) is passive or apathetic towards an issue or not. How would you measure engagement? How would you identify one age group as more or less passive, apathetic, or indifferent towards it? I would like some numbers to back this up. I am sure that data could be obtained from surveys asking peoples opinion on the matter, then compare age categories. My bet is that age doesn’t matter as much as education level, but I don’t have any stats at the moment to back that up.

Secondly, I wanted to expand on your first point about the ‘movements’ and I agree that there less people engaged in ‘grassroots’ style attempts at social change. I think it is because our generation does not really believe that these type of things have any great effect. (This might stem from your second point about the internet, which has changed the landscape of the political process, protesting, as well as the exchange of information about environmental issues.) I think that change must come from above – put into legislation. I don’t want to waste my time trying to change the course of a government that has goals that are different from mine. I don’t want to spend my time trying to get individual citizens and corporations to care more about climate change and encourage them to make environmentally responsible choices because they should. I just want them to do it because they have to – legally. Then everyone has to do it.

This point connects to your third idea that people are more interested in ‘economic development’ and I would argue that it is more basic than that – whereas the economy is a complex and confusing concept, money is simple. People want more money; companies want to make more money. This is where change comes from – charge a Carbon Tax already! Put environmental restrictions into law and have the government lead by example in making an effort against climate change and start forcing the rest of the country to do the same.

Christine Sweeton said...

This is where I think our generation’s passion lies – when it counts, we try to vote in people and political parties that will makes these types of changes, changes that we believe in. Based on numbers taken from the Abacus Data Poll, the largest private research done at the time, from the 2011 Canadian Election the general public voted in the following way: Conservative (37%), NDP (32%), Liberal (18%), BQ and Green (7% each). Note the difference when you look just at how Canadians aged 18 to 30 voted: Conservative (28%), NDP (32%), Liberal (25%), BQ (6%) and Green (11%). Had this country been run by those under the age of 30, the Conservative party would not be in power.

I remember last election the CBC created a fun ‘Vote Compass’ that nicely simplified each of the five Canadian political party platforms. All five parties had the chance to answer the Vote Compass questionnaire for themselves, and were given the opportunity to challenge the assessments. Here are the three questions related to the environment. Pay attention to how the Conservatives answered, arguably Canada’s anti-environment party, a party that young voters would not have put into power, let alone given a majority.

The Conservative party –Strongly agrees- with this statement: “The environmental damage caused by the Alberta oil sands industry is exaggerated.” The current Conservative Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent, has stated that the poor oil sands have gotten a ”bad rap” and he plans to set the record straight. Contrast this response with the fact that every other party disagreed with the statement. The Green Party (4% more young people voted for them than the average public) believes that “it is not possible to reduce greenhouse gases while subsidizing the planet’s more carbon-intensive oil.” The NDP, my personal political party, wanted to “meet Canada’s G-20 commitment to cut subsidies to non-renewable energy and end the federal bias towards non-renewable energy production…reallocate these subsidies to encourage cleaner energy production.”

When faced with the idea that “Canada should adopt a carbon tax” obviously the Green party –Strongly agreed-. The Liberal and NDP parties both spoke about a “cap-and-trade” system. Explained by the Liberals as “a mechanism that sets a ceiling on the total amount of permissible greenhouse gas emissions by large industrial facilities, and then auctions off emission permits to companies who can trade them amongst themselves to remain compliant under the law.” On the other hand, the Conservative Party –Strongly disagrees- with the idea of a carbon tax, and doesn’t think it is something that the country needs right now.

The final statement posed to the Canadian political parties was, “Environmental regulation should be stricter, even if it leads to consumers having to pay higher prices.” The Green Party and Conservative Party predicable went to opposite extremes, stating that they –Strongly agree- and –Strongly disagree- respectively. Interestingly the three remaining parties; Liberal, NDP, and Block, decided to remain indifferent to the issue saying that they –neither agree nor disagree- and provided various pro-environmental talking points. What I take from this question is that that God-forbid saving the environment costs us anything – money rules the Conservative party.

Christine Sweeton said...

I know it looks like I am blaming our current government for Canada’s inaction in the face of climate change and that is not the case. I blame those that voted for a party that had a clear agenda that totally ignored any and all environmental issues facing this country and I would say, for the most part, the people who voted that party into power are not my peers.

Seeing that Jim MacNeil is around 85, he would be in the category of voters who were over the age of 60 during the 2011 Canadian Federal Election. I would like you to note that 48% of this group voted for the Conservative Party and only 1% for the Green Party. So Erin, if you see him, please tell Jim MacNeil that it is the voting practices of HIS peers that has led the country into our current unsustainable practices, not mine.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points- I am so glad that you are so passionate about this issue. I agree with some of your points- it can be difficult for people our age to see any major changes in policy with regards to the environment (and other issues) as we make up a smaller portion of the population. I also feel that climate change is such a broad issue that many people- be it those who are in their 20's or those who are in their 60's don't know how to approach it. Should be protect the Arctic? Antarctic? Cryosphere? Biosphere? Atmosphere? Should we be concerned with methane release or maybe we should focus on the slowing of deep water ocean currents due to changing temperatures and freshening of waters? The acidification of our oceans? Melting of glaciers, ice sheets? Greenhouse gases? For me, this is one of the major concerns- it is difficult for people (anyone) to focus on so many issues- especially when focusing on any one of these issues will drastically change how we live our lives.

Anonymous said...

A note from my friend on the issue:

A study published out of Yale linked cultural perceptions (world views) with climate change skepticism. For instance, if you are more of an individualist then you are more likely to be apathetic towards climate change especially when heavy anti-pollution measures are being suggested; whereas, if the solution is more reliance on nuclear power individualists are more willing to accept climate change. The more egalitarian your worldview, the more willing you are to accept climate change (regardless of the proposed solution). What this highlights is not skepticism over the science of climate change but a reluctance to accept climate change when it compromises your worldview.

When it comes to skepticism over the science of climate change, the economist Daniel Kahnamen has noted that we are hardwired to think of problems as ‘what you see is all there is’. We can’t see climate change occurring with our own eyes (moment to moment, at least) so we tend to dismiss it. This 'what you see is all there is' leads politicians and the media who to debate the existence of climate change even if most of the scientific community (i.e. the experts) are screaming that climate change is 100% real and a serious crisis


Anonymous said...

Chris, I agree with you in that its not just our generation that's apathetic towards climate change, its all generations.

For me at least, its the conflicting opinions and views on the topic that prevent me from doing more. I do the standard little things to try and reduce my own individual carbon footprint. However, when it comes to doing bigger things there are so many conflicting arguments that I don't know what's true. I will give one small example: the electric car. Obviously, owning one means you are emitting a lot less gas into the atmosphere, which would lead one to think its better to own an electric car than a gas car. However, other people have told me that the "global warming cost" of producing an electric car is so much more than a regular car that it offsets the gas you save. See the article below for more details:

Its hard to create change when its so unclear what will help. Don't get me wrong, I'm sure I'm just ignorant on a lot of things that I could be doing differently. I also am not educated in the least on climate change, science, or geography.

One of the main reasons I became vegetarian (for a period of time) is because of the impact of cows and beef production on the atmosphere.

I think it comes down to being educated as a society on what we can do to change and like Chris said, coming from the government telling us we HAVE to do things.

- Teri