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    Apocalyptic future can be avoided by citizens asking for less

    “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.”

    Flannery O’Connor

    “It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.”

    Bertrand Russell 

    Last Saturday in Paris a woman placed a blood-red poster over “Les Coquelicots” (“Poppies”) by the French impressionist painter Claude Monet, saying: “This nightmarish image awaits us if no alternative is put in place.” The nightmare is runaway climate heating and biodiversity loss. The painting, depicting Nature’s beauty, is not the first to have been defaced. Young activists point to Earth treasures that will be lost. Of course these actions are meant to shock. If the portrayal of Nature is so revered, why do we allow Nature, which inspired the painting, to be desecrated? People need to accept that having less, especially in the global north, but also demanding less, will rejuvenate Earth. 

    I approached Teresa Bassaletti, director of Sherbrooke’s centre for women immigrants, a few weeks ago to ask her whether immigrants, including refugees the centre supports, feel traumatized when they hear the sound of fireworks. Her answer was swift: the fireworks sound like bombs going off and the women she knows want those massive explosions, which happen frequently in summer, to end. Furthermore, there are readily available alternatives that don’t recreate the sounds of war. As a result of our conversation, Teresa and I, accompanied by seven women from the centre, went to speak to Sherbrooke city council at their public meeting on May 21. Teresa told the council that the fireworks affect the women’s lives by bringing back nightmarish memories. Many refugees suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Although chair of the meeting councillor Raïs Kibonge and mayor Évelyne Beaudin welcomed the testimony and empathized with the refugees, it isn’t clear whether the council will support a ban on fireworks when they sign a new contract with La Fête du Lac des Nations in the coming months. Will the pro-fireworks lobby be too much to withstand? A strategy is now coming to fruition for the Sherbrooke council to be in no doubt as to how immigrants and other Sherbrooke citizens are affected by those war-like sounds.

    Two weeks ago I mentioned in an article that smoking ads are widely prohibited and that climate offensive products should be too, including advertising for pick-up trucks and other large vehicles. One major city council in Scotland has done just that. You won’t see any advertising for fossil-fuel-powered cars, or indeed for cruise ships or airlines, on city buses or land owned by the city of Edinburgh, because the council believes that the high carbon emissions associated with such activities are incompatible with net zero ambitions.

    Scotland’s capital is not the only city in the UK to ban advertisements that promote irresponsible fossil fuel use. Advertisements that show cars driving up roadless pristine mountains or forging rivers are no longer to be tolerated. Toyota’s ad campaign “Born to Roam” (all over every corner of the planet) has been banned by the UK’s regulatory Advertising Standards Authority.

    “SUVs are being sold on a false promise of rugged adventure exploiting imagery of the natural world,” said Adfree Cities’ co-director Veronica Wignall. “In reality, SUVs are harming Nature, polluting our air, clogging up our cities and causing tragic loss of life.”

    Being climate/biodiversity literate informs us that we need to put into action what we have learnt from science and must go on to divest from many of our global north entitlements. It is not only universities, pension funds and banks that are finally being forced to take notice. Yet many of us wish to rationalize and bargain our way out of any perceived inconveniences. Recently someone told me that because they didn’t have any children they felt comfortable with flying whenever they wished, because having children is one of the major sources of more intensive consumerism and a higher carbon footprint. Comparing apples with oranges? As most of us are aware, children’s lives aren’t solely measured by their carbon footprint, and climate literate parents can inspire their children to have a very prudent consumer mindfulness throughout their lives.

    Although it’s true that one of the most efficient ways to lower an individual’s carbon footprint is to have fewer children (notably in the global north), this “educated” person thought it was their right to pollute on an equal carbon level to that of a parent. Of course an Indian child’s carbon budget wouldn’t even get you to the airport. Take a private plane? Sure, they said, even though a private plane pollutes ten times as much per passenger as a commercial one does.

    By hook or by crook that person demands their “credits” to add to planetary pollution. It sounds like an insane climate game to keep up with the Joneses—and the endgame is guaranteed climate destruction. That person reminded me of a pouting infant demanding her pound of goodies after seeing the baby next door devouring a corresponding mound of junk. This perverse “argument” promoting essentially rampant individualism is a legacy of capitalism gone wild. If all of us only respond to realizing our own wishes, shielded from consequences, oblivious to others, and refuse to be climate literate and protect the Earth for future generations, all is definitely lost. The 10% of the world’s population that is steadily ransacking the health of the other 90% needs to back off. Being climate/biodiversity criminals is not what humans should aspire to. 

    Conversations that centre on degrowth actions by individuals, communities, corporations and governments need to be accelerated. Inspired by John Lewis Gaddis’s On Grand Strategy, the means and ends to fulfill desire or indeed achieve anything not only need to reflect the capacity to do so, but also should be tethered and tempered by a global ethic that mirrors the beauty and fragility of this world. 

    Knowingly pursuing a course of action that increases carbon emissions should be a global criminal offence. While Biden is refusing to allow more natural gas export terminals in the United States, Greece, which produces 70% of its electricity from renewables, has emerged as a exporter of natural gas to Central Europe and beyond—but the gas is being imported first from the US! As Canadians know all too well, we have taken part in that extravaganza of gas exporting, which has a terrible climate and biodiversity cost.

    Despite the world gas industry branding their production as a “transition fossil fuel” leading to a renewable energy commitment, their actions prove that this is not their intention. The rush to cash in on gas exports after the Ukraine war began has created on a global scale a huge hindrance to moving briskly towards renewable energies, even though solar and wind power are cheaper than the production of methane gas. (“Natural gas” is a slick way of saying it must be good if the gas is “natural,” even though methane is in the near term a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.)

    Demanding that the natural world be subjugated so that those super-consumers can have it all must be stopped. Climate/biodiversity literacy starts at home. Ask yourself if you truly need those outdoor lights on all night. Scientists tell us that natural nighttime darkness is essential for insects and other animals to thrive. If we are to help the myriad forms of life to heal, can we not also be quieter? Noise is a major contributor to wildlife stress, including by not giving animals a quiet space from dusk to daylight. Fireworks are a real problem for wildlife, and allowing the use of seismic reflection for ocean oil exploration interferes severely with the ability of many marine species to function. 

    World Environment Day took place on June 5, focusing this year on land restoration, desertification and drought resilience. Saudi Arabia is the “host” country for the discussions, even though it is in no small part responsible for worldwide habitat loss, desertification and drought. How could the UN allow one of the world’s largest oil producers to be the poster child for the UN’s oldest Nature education day? Nothing can change until we recalibrate, recreate and recall our seamless integration within Nature.

    “In proportion as [a person] simplifies [their] life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness.”

    Henry David Thoreau

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