A Future We Don’t Want: The Environmental Mess the Young Will Face

Do you care about the environment? It’s a simple question that can elicit surprisingly complicated answers. For most people, particularly the young, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Students and young activists have long been at the forefront of confronting environmental issues, ever since the modern environmental movement gained mainstream traction in the 1950s. There is logic in this age-oriented activism—after all, it is the young that inherit the damage caused by the previous generation.

Now, more than ever, it is necessary for today’s young people to engage, self-educate and participate in the environmental movement, as the world’s climate steers ever more sharply toward a very different, very uncertain future.

It is no secret that the developed world has played (and continues to play) an overly large role in the current state of environmental affairs. Since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution approximately 150 years ago, the human population has massively grown in both size and impact, consuming ever more resources and producing ever more carbon emissions, all while rapidly degrading the ecosystems vital to Earth’s ecological balance.

As a young and environmentally conscious Canadian, I try to do my part. I recycle and reuse things, I bring reusable bags if I’m out buying groceries, I walk almost everywhere—which, when you live in downtown Toronto, can often be a long trek. I am constantly turning off lights and appliances when I’m not in the room, and thanks to Ontario’s time of-use variable electricity rates, I’ve worked out a schedule for doing energy intensive activities like laundry or vacuuming. Besides doing my part to lessen my environmental impact and my carbon footprint, it’s worth noting that all this helps save a great deal of money—after all, when you’re a student, every single dime counts.

It is exceptionally troubling how far Canada has fallen in terms of environmental standing in the world under our recent governments. The rapidly growing forestry and petroleum sectors have laid waste to large parts of central and western Canada, and we are now beginning to exploit fragile waterways for oil and gas deposits as well. An excellent, if shameful, example of our current position can be found in the government’s policy regarding the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Under the convention, nations are committed to reporting their greenhouse gas emissions for comparison and scrutiny by world scientists and policy makers. Canada is consistently behind schedule with these reports, and is trailing all other developed nations. Graham Saul, the executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, notes that even in the midst of its catastrophic natural disasters earlier this year, Japan managed to report its greenhouse gas emissions to the United Nations.

Annual greenhouse gas emissions are now measured in gigatonnes, an astonishingly large unit of measure. Until these emissions are brought under control and renewable and less-damaging energy supplies are adopted, the world will continue to lurch forward into a bleak abyss of floods, hurricanes and other wildly unpredictable weather phenomena. The notion that economic progress is an acceptable reason to inflict environmental damage is an empty logic, born of greed. Economies depend on resources to fuel production and growth, and resources are ultimately derived from the natural world. The unsustainable harvesting of resources is nothing more than a short-term fix that will yield a devastating outcome in the future. Until we manage to bring our voracious consumption of the planet’s resources into check, to manage and control them sustainably and with care, we are set to leave the world in a virtually unrecognizable state for subsequent generations.

As much as alternative transit and recycling help to lessen the collective blow humanity is inflicting on the planet’s ecology, we must be realistic about what lies ahead. The only way to halt catastrophic climate change is to get industrial and vehicular emissions under control. Such a change is contingent on governments getting on board and realizing the great gains that can be made from environmentally friendly policies, both at the bank and the ballot box. As a young generation grows older, into socially and environmentally aware adults whose future families will largely suffer the consequences of climate change, political and voting decisions will begin to reflect this new awareness. Governments may one day rise and fall on the basis of their commitments to the environment.

As citizens of a democratic nation, we have an opportunity to effect political change. The environment is more than just pretty scenery to look at; our lives literally depend on it. Our jobs, health and families are all at risk when we jeopardize the world’s ecological systems. So let’s use our collective voice to speak out and decide on the kind of world we want to have, and the kind of world we’d like to leave.

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Canada lone holdout in reporting greenhouse gas emissions. Mike De Souza, Postmedia News. May 10, 2011. http://ipolitics.ca/2011/05/10/canada-lone-holdout-in-reportinggreenhouse-gas-emissions/

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. http://www.unfccc.int/

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