MacDUFF’S CALL: Individuals must make real ‘green’ changes

Maple Ridge columnist Cheryl Ashlie says we can’t wait for politicians to protect the planet, we must

Most political pundits were not surprised with the outcome of the federal election, as they were predicting a Liberal minority government.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, was so sure of this outcome she entered into a wager with Conservative leader, Andrew Scheer, betting $50 on this outcome.

By Cheryl Ashlie/Special to The News

During her speech on the eve of the election, she joked about collecting her winnings from Mr. Scheer, and was quite upbeat and proud of the fact her party had tripled their seats in the House of Commons – moving from one seat last term to three in this election – and happily boasting that the Green Party was now the only party that had two thirds of their seats held by women.

However, the young people who flanked Ms. May on the stage did not appear to see the humour within their leader’s optimistic reflection of the election results, which is understandable considering the recent wave of youth activism that has taken hold around the globe. It had many people believing that this might be a break through election for the Green Party.

And as much as Ms. May tried to make three seats sound like a break through, in the face of all of the coverage of the looming climate emergency, most people could agree that the results were surprisingly low, which must have been disappointing for the youth who believed their voices would be heard.

I don’t think a day goes by without some kind of coverage in the media of climate issues – be it floods, forest fires, melting ice caps, or weather patterns never before seen in all parts of the world.

As well, more and more of our daily activities in North America are being affected by policies aimed at reducing our impact on the planet, such as the carbon tax, banning of single use products, and reducing redundant packaging.

And common sense tells us more must be done, so it is no wonder climate was top of mind for this election – especially for young people who stand to lose the most with a declining environment.

Recently, my walking partner (whose daughter has a degree in environmental studies) explained a fun family challenge that her daughter asked them to participate in.

Each family member was asked to write down five things they already do that contributes to protecting/improving the environment and then write down five new activities that they will commit to.

My friend said that once the usual family joking got out of everyone’s system, they eventually took it seriously and she felt the outcome was one that made them all set goals that would make a collective difference.

She also raised another conversation that took place at her place of employment, where the owner of the company asked the staff what the company could do that would contribute to protecting the environment.

After a thoughtful discussion on actions they could take, the owner offered to contribute a sum of money to each employee if they ever decided to purchase an electric vehicle.

I raise these two conversations because they reflect how easy it is to affect change through our individual efforts, and that regardless of who is getting elected, people and companies are looking for ways to address the climate issue.

In a quick google search asking the question, “How do I lower my carbon footprint?” numerous great sites came up with helpful suggestions such as the following,

Elections are about hearing what the political parties are going to do if elected, yet we all know that what they say and what they do are often two different things.

So, while we need to continue to pressure the politicians to deliver policies that will abate the climate emergency, we also have to take responsibility for our own behaviours.

Collectively we can also make a difference.

I can only imagine how disillusioned the youth involved in the Green Party must have felt facing such low numbers after having entered the election on the heels of the recent visit of the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist, Great Thunberg, who is inspiring thousands of youth to join climate action protests.

Her famous United Nations speech and her specific heartfelt chastising of politicians when she stated: “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction. And all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!” resonated with youth and definitely caught the attention of people of all ages.

Reflecting on the recent federal candidates’ speeches, many contained overtures of Ms. Thurnberg’s “fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” statement and she should be credited for her keen observation of their predictability.

If youth take away anything from her activism, it should be the message that they should not wait for politicians to do the right thing.

And while it was reported that people aged 18-38, Generation Z and millennials, made up the largest number of potential voters in this election, their potential passion for Ms. Thurnberg’s mission did not translate into the “green” vote that many people were predicting.

But, that could also be because a lot of youthful smiling faces were also on the post-election stages of the Conservative, Liberal, and NDP parties.

This is not to say these youth do not support Greta Thunberg’s message, but it is clear that youth – just like the older generation of voters – need to navigate all of the competing interests that befall our society.

Yet, it will be the youth who decide the future of the Green Party in Canada, as they mature into their voting patterns. Their demographic will continue to make up the bulk of the voting population.

In the meantime, I hope they, along with the rest of us, embrace the realization that change starts with individuals. The biggest impact on improving the health of the planet will be through such, which governments eventually try to catch up to.

Until they do, consider making five additional changes to your habits that will reduce your personal carbon footprint.

It won’t change the outcome of an election, but it will certainly help move the planet in the right direction and will show the youth that we truly do care.

– Cheryl Ashlie is a former Maple Ridge city councillor, school trustee, constituency assistant and citizen of the year and is president of Alouette River Management Society

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