How many light bulbs…

It’s a heady time for environmentalists. If we look back to the last federal election campaign, nary a word was mentioned about the environment. A year later, politicians are falling over themselves to present themselves as green. Previous climate change deniers and skeptics are now anxious to jump on board the new hybrid/bio-diesel bandwagon and take us to the Promised Land. Who could have imagined that things could move so far so fast?

In November I was engaged in yet another conversation about “the tipping point.” Global warming has been in the news for some 20 years, my colleagues and I agreed; at some point the public has to get it. But when? What’s interesting is that I was having this conversation in November, just as polls were first showing the environment beating health care as Canadians’ number one concern. “How long does it take to get a hip replacement?” becomes a much smaller question when put next to “How much time does our civilization have left on this planet?” The climate crisis forces us to ask this question, and realize that the answer lies in the actions we take today. In November environmentalists were still asking “When?” rather we should have been saying “The time is now.”

Environmental NGOs are used to picking their battles and being thankful for small victories. We would like to save the world, but will settle for a grove of old growth and slowing the decline of the spotted owl. We’ve come to accept that our point of view just doesn’t get much political traction. We’ve learned to be ‘realistic’ and ask for less than what’s needed in the hopes that we might get half.

This attitude has now come back to bite us. In the case of global warming, ENGOs publicly cry for the adoption of Kyoto emission targets and privately lament that these are inadequate to halt climate change. Kyoto’s strength is that it provides a mechanism for international action on climate change, but in content it is a bicycle with training wheels. We are now in a race to save the planet. It is time to take off the training wheels and pedal hard.

Spurring individuals to action, to “think globally, act locally” isn’t enough either. In the face of an impending climate apocalypse the effect of an individual’s actions are infinitesimal, and incentives for a free ride abound. While we rally people to take personal action and screw in more florescent light bulbs, the forest-destroying, water-polluting, greenhouse gas-emitting catastrophe that is the tar sands is not getting nearly the attention it deserves.

It is time to think big. We need razor sharp campaigns that cut through the rhetoric and create change. We need to organize ourselves into a politically salient movement that forces all political parties to support real change. We each need to make some hard choices about how we live our lives, how big our footprint is, and how we want to leave the world for our grandchildren.

Collective action is the only thing that can make the changes we need to see happen. And that’s where Dogwood Initiative comes in. What we’ve learned through our work with communities, First Nations and labour groups is how to help organize people and make that crucial link between people and meaningful political action.

Dogwood Initiative isn’t just about defeating the next pipeline project or negotiating sustainable forest tenures on First Nations land, it is about leaving a legacy of informed and engaged communities. Putting power back into the hands of the people is the only way to ensure that the new political rhetoric around climate change is more than just spin.

Oh, and by the way, change your light bulbs.

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