I was raised in a very humble suburb south of Montreal and, like most kids in my city, the climate was the least of our concerns. Having a ball to play with or a bicycle to ride to the nearest parks was top priority for most of us.
Of course, conversations around the dinner table were mostly around hockey or politics and never made any reference to the environment – or any other climate-related issues for that matter – apart perhaps from whether it was going to be sunny and warm for the next few days. Otherwise, we never talked about pollution, greenhouse gas, ozone depletion.
Like most families we were throwing our leftovers directly in the garbage can along with everything else: bottles, plastic containers and newspapers. Then came the revolutionary idea that it would be a good thing to separate waste and perhaps recycle it! I remember how this became a major topic of conversations among adults; “They want us to what? Separate waste? Why should we ever have to do this?” People were extremely frustrated and confused as to the underlying reason for taking on such endeavour which would now make us put the newspapers in a bin, the tin cans and the glass bottles in another, and the rest of the waste in a bag. Really, that just didn’t make sense! For what purpose?
Let’s take a moment here to ask ourselves if we could ever foresee having this discussion over a dinner table today. Would it be conceivable to hear someone say something like “Why are we doing this: separating the food in one bin; the glass bottles, the plastic and the newspapers in another; and the rest of the waste in a separate bag?” We’d likely look at each other and pretend to either consider the question as a joke or, depending on whether we intimately knew the person, challenge him or her on its core values. In any case, I don’t think anyone would understand why this “civil duty” is being questioned, today. Yet, only a 30–year timeline separates the two scenarios (the first selective waste collection was done in NDG in 1989).
What’s the moral of the story here? Well, it takes time to break paradigms. Indeed, breaking mores is achievable, but can’t be done overnight. Then, we need to perceive the benefits of making these efforts; it’s one thing to try to change people’s habit with a stick, and quite another to bring them to reason so they act on their own, in sync with the solution.
How does that all relate to the climate? Well, I still hear conversations around the table questioning the real emergency and need around changing our resource intensive lifestyle. “Why should we make any effort when big corporate polluters and developing countries are the culprit for all the GHG spewed in the atmosphere?” In fact, this statement is partly true. Indeed, large emitters around the world are mostly responsible for the tremendous speed at which the earth is warming. But, let’s ask the question differently: Given that you can’t stop them from polluting, would you be willing to change your consumption lifestyle? You’d be surprised to know that the only reason they don’t change their polluting habit is simply because we buy the products produced by them and therefore justify their existence. Of course, it’s fairly more complex than that. Let us simplify the situation for argument’s sake; say an important proportion of us were to stop buying large emitter’s products, stating that we would not resume until they put climate at the forefront of their development strategy. Well, they would have no other option but to change this strategy and find appealing solutions for their clients.
Now, let us fast forward this story by three decades. We’re in 2049 and the climate is really showing its teeth: hotter summers, intense rainfall events causing more flooding, incremental diseases, etc. And let’s pretend we’re at a table in a restaurant with a bunch of friends 30 years old (meaning that they were born in 2019). How do you think it would be perceived if anyone around the table would say: “Not sure about this climate thing! I’ll do my part when the big polluters start doing theirs!” Let me guess. You’d probably look at each other and pretend to either consider the question as a joke or, depending on whether you intimately knew the person, challenge him or her on its core values. In any case, fair to think that his or her level of “civil duty” might be questioned, right? Seeing any parallel with our previous story?
Now, unfortunately, thousands of independent scientists around the world came to the same conclusion: we have got about a 10 to 30 years top to make a change or else the climate will go array with no means to return beyond that point. (with a high degree of confidence the GIEC Report states that “Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.”)
Hey, that is pretty much the same time frame for a break in the paradigm, isn’t it?