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Eco-Footprints

by Archives November 6, 2007

UNEP, the United Nations Environment Programme has released, for the fourth time in twenty years, another comprehensive report on the current state of the global environment.
The report warns that climate change, food and water shortage and a decline in biodiversity threaten humanity’s survival, so urgent action is necessary.
Despite “visible and unequivocal” evidence of climate change caused by human activity, the global response is “woefully inadequate” and shows “a remarkable lack of urgency”. It criticizes highly-polluting countries that refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, and the industrial sectors that lobbied against it. Negotiations for a new Protocol to curb climate changes will start in December.
I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling some eco-report fatigue.
By my own survey, the year 2007 will go down in history as a year that brought in more reports and movies and books on climate change than any other year. We learned that by eating foods produced within 100 miles we could reduce our footprint and improve our health, according to The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. We learned that the planet would eventually return to its pristine state if we all, at the same time, vanished.
We’ve watched two Hollywood style movies, watched one mega climate-in-crisis global concert, and everday it seems TV and radio personalities offer us green tips. CNN’s A Planet in Peril series, details how much of the planet is being depleted of its natural resources. We read about carbon neutral schemes, car free days, more recycling and composting, and we hear more from David Suzuki and Al Gore.
Take a deep breath. They’re telling us we’re not doing enough. And so is the latest UNEP report.
Achim Steiner, the executive director of UNEP, said that the objective of the latest report was not to present a “dark and gloomy scenario” but to make the case for an urgent call to action. However, the dire state of almost every aspect of the planet’s well being points to twenty years of missed opportunities.
“There continues to be ‘persistent’ and intractable problems unresolved and unaddressed. . . . Meanwhile, institutions like UNEP, established to counter the root causes, remain under-resourced and weak.”
Steiner goes on to state that he sincerely hopes this report is the final one.
I hope so, too. Good, no doubt, for the 398 UN scientists who share in the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, but for us being asked to shrink our footprint, what the heck? Have any of our individual efforts changed the climate outlook? In the last twenty years we’ve been asked to ride our bikes more, use scooters, share rides, share cars, ride the bus, walk, eat less, purchase food locally, weather strip windows and doors, wear sweaters inside, and for what? To be told we have missed opportunities?
We accelerate slowly now from a dead stop, drive a little slower on the highway, video conference instead of flying (good advice for the UNEP), use LCD monitors, reduce temperatures by one degree, boil less water, and shower less-take another breath.
Most of us seem to care enough about this planet to try. There are more personal coffee mugs than Styrofoam cups, at least at Concordia, a campus well known for its environmental conscience, and more people, according to recent Montreal transit statistics, are taking the bus and car pooling. On the other side, walk into any Second Cup or other cafes downtown and you see garbage bins overflowing with cups and water bottles. It seems there are more cars on the roads and Montreal’s skyline at night is magnificent because lights are left on in the buildings. It’s beautiful to see but it is a reminder of our reckless environmental past.
Twenty years ago I was protesting acid rain. We felt guilty about ruining our lakes and streams. Five years later I was protesting nuclear waste, a la Love Canal. Years after, mercury poison in fish from Hydro development. Last year it was bottling water and the death of the Kyoto protocol. This year it’s all about melting ice. Next year? None of the environmental issues in the last twenty years have been dealt with in a significant way, except maybe the depletion of the ozone layer. In twenty years?
So perhaps we are feeling a little fatigued with gloom and doom climate reports pointing the finger at us and our efforts.
We were told we all must do our part, but after all these years of reports, books, environmentalists and movies, it’s being suggested that we have not reduced anything, least of all our footprints.

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