Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Sustainability Key to Solving 21st Century Crises


At the end of this century, in the year 2100, my son Brian will be 87 years old.  With a life expectancy of around 80 years for boy babies born in Ontario in 2013, the mathematical odds may be stacked against my son, but with people living longer than ever before, I want to believe that it’s more than possible that Brian will be around to see the dawn of a new century (see: “Life Tables, Canada, Provinces and Territories (2011 – 2013)” available at Statistics Canada – Alternative format). After all, don’t all parents hope that our children live long, happy and healthy lives?

What Brian experiences on December 31, 2099 is sure to have a little something in common with what those of us who partied with Prince in 1999 experienced – minus that whole ‘Y2K bug’ thing. I remember waking up and turning the television on just in time to see the fireworks going off at midnight above the Sydney Opera House.  Throughout the day, people tuned in to see New Year’s celebrations in Beijing, Mumbai, Moscow, Paris, London, Rio and L.A. For one day, the planet forgot about its troubles and came together to celebrate our hopes for a brighter future.

Those troubles, though, proved to be systemic – and going deeper into the 21st Century, they’ve become impossible to ignore.  But it’s not like we weren’t told about the deteriorating health of our planet.  Earlier this month, a ‘second warning to humanity’ in the form of a letter signed by 16,000 scientists  reminded us that 25 years ago, the scientific community put us on notice that we needed to get our act together – or else (see: “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice,” William J. Ripple  Christopher Wolf  Thomas M. Newsome  Mauro Galetti Mohammed Alamgir  Eileen Crist  Mahmoud I. Mahmoud  William F. Laurance 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries, Bioscience, November 13, 2017; and, “16,000 scientists sign dire warning to humanity over health of planet,” CNN, November 15, 2017).

And yet, every year, we lose more productive agricultural land through desertification, water resource depletion and urbanization.  We destroy life-sustaining forests, leading to decreased biodiversity – especially of the megafauna that are indicator species of healthy ecosystems. We continue to sterilize our oceans and warm our planet.  We have failed miserably at learning to live sustainably, within our means.  

At least we’ve reversed course on one of the more dire concerns from 1992.  International co-operation towards repairing the hole in the ozone layer should have paved the way for plans and agreements to address other environmental issues.  But for all of the positive talk from the international community, what’s clear is that far too many of our leaders continue to put profit ahead of people and the health of our planet. 

Look no further than on-going international climate change negotiations, where the latest round just wrapped up in Bonn, Germany. The United Nations recently reported that the Paris Treaty’s goal of holding warming at 2 degrees Celsius is already in jeopardy because countries like Canada have committed to weak emissions reduction targets – and have no plans to achieve them (see: “Paris agreement targets leave 'alarming gap' to slow climate change: UN report,” CBC, October 31, 2017; and, “Catherine McKenna Says Canada Has a Climate Plan. Prove It,” Ross Belot, DeSmogCanada, November 15, 2017). 

That ringing alarm you’re hearing isn’t just warning us about an imminent cluster of environmental crises.  What we’re already hearing is the sound of full-blown social, economic and political upheaval. And it’s only going to get louder, as long as leaders look for ways to prop up an economic system that relies on growth at the expense of everything else – and the political systems which enable it.

My son Brian might beat the odds and celebrate the arrival of a new century, but his chances of doing so will be significantly influenced by just how my generation acts on the warnings that are all around us.  Unless we begin demanding that our leaders commit to transforming our political and economic systems to better prioritize the health of people, communities and the natural world - the odds for a long, happy and healthy life for Brian, and for all of our children, are going to be even tougher to beat.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

An edited version of this post originally appeared in the Sudbury Star, as "May: Sustainability key to solving looming crises" online and in print, November 25, 2017 - without hyperlinks.

1 comment:

The Mound of Sound said...


I wish you had offered your idea of what sustainability would look like in the 21st century. When I was born mankind reached an all time record population of 2.5 billion. Here we are at 7.5 billion and I reckon I have another decade left to go. We're told we're heading to at least 9 billion, possibly more. What is remotely sustainable in where we are today or where we're heading in the not too distant future? We're already depleting the planet's resources at 1.7 times the replenishment rate, the Earth's carrying capacity, and that has been worsening with every successive year. The worst part is that we're mortally dependent on access to resources our planet cannot provide. What is sustainable in that?

Steve I have the same fears for my children as you do for your son. Yet our inability to address the one problem that's easily within our grasp, eliminating greenhouse gas emissions, leads me to wonder how we'll ever tackle the even harder challenges of overpopulation and excess consumption. Yet if we fail to solve all three of them we'll have almost no chance of solving any of them.

I am becoming very disillusioned with the Green Party for failing to speak the truth. Deflecting serious discussion of the enormity of the challenges that confront us can only ensure our failure. It just becomes self-righteous, sanctimonious lip-flap.