To be sure, there are the climate change deniers out there, but if statistics have any bearing, the vast majority of Canadians believe that environmental catastrophe is a distinct possibility. Interestingly, a great many Canadians still maintain trust of specialists and scientists over companies, oil firms, or governments. So, citizens largely distrust those causing environmental damage, or who fail to deal with it, and desire something serious be done at government levels to curtail the carbon emissions that are at the base of greenhouse gases. This debate has been raging in public for a decade now and has created a kind of national stasis concerning environmental action.
Yet there are other dimensions to this which we rarely consider and that speak directly to the politically powerful “comfortable” class in Canada. As far back as 1991, scientist Alan Durning discovered that the average American family owned twice as many cars, drove two and a half times as far, used 21 times as much plastic, and traveled 25 times farther by air than a family in 1951. Citizens were living three times as large. The size of new homes has doubled in just 20 years, even as the number of people living in each had shrunk. Yet with fewer people living in the homes, they were in fact packed with “stuff” purchased as consumerism went on a rampage. Those numbers have grown exponentially since that time, and Canadian numbers are comparable. In other words, citizens themselves were becoming part of the problem.
Without descending into the current environmental debate, or saying which policy is better than the others, the most important aspect to reflect on is that a citizenry concerned with the future of planet and its own contribution to that demise hasn’t been able to muster the fortitude to seriously tackle the problem, especially at the federal level. And I believe Canadians instinctively know this to be true. How could we possibly end up in a situation whereby we support patterns of living that actually go against our own survivability, as well as our sense of appreciation of this country’s natural order? While saying we want a better world for our children and grandchildren, we continue in practices that guarantee the opposite. And while Canadians at various levels are engaging the problem with creative solutions, at a political level we not only arrived late to the game, but have actually reverted to a kind of bunker mentality that freezes us in space and time.
The climate change challenge is perhaps the greatest faced by the world in millennia, and yet here we are, deer in the headlights. Forget the deniers, the hyper-activists, or even the contending political policies. The emerging reality is that Canadians are aware they are holding the world back, and yet they fail to engage enough in the policy or personal level to respond to the danger. Political parties blame one another, the pubic blames politics, the media treats the naysayers as important news, and yet … nothing.
It is important to acknowledge that this particular stalemate, this freezing in time, has occurred largely in societies where liberalism has won its clear victories. Yet while it championed prosperity, it neglected sustainability, along with the conservatives. Liberalism has now endured long enough to have negative consequences and this area alone might be its greatest undoing. All things – health, prosperity, happiness, and sustainability – depend on the state of the environment, and so it forms the crux of our efforts.
It is time for liberalism to don its historic prophetic tradition and cry out against the very forces of authoritarianism that produced the kind of society that imprisons our people in their own ineffectiveness, and consigns our descendants to endure lives worse than our own. Liberalism’s own genius ironically assisted in producing the very tools and the economy in which to apply them have created the environmental damages of today. While it educated its proponents on the concepts of progress and growth, it failed to consecrate within them the sheer hallowedness of the natural order in which it was all transpiring. We were a people incomplete and have produced a planet in need of healing.
How a new life of liberalism will deal with this oversight is up to the policy makers, but being so late in the day, its greatest challenge will not be “how” but “when.” Historic liberalism identified itself, in part, by its ability to recognize danger to the common citizen. Subsequently, it fought fascism, authoritarianism, two world wars, and numerous others social oppressions. Yet it in at all, it overlooked our own struggle with materialism. Only a magnanimous movement of great force can draw governments, citizens, corporations and the media together to row in the same direction – human nature in-line with Nature itself. It is more than just a bit ironic that, after overcoming the greatest forces of oppression thrown against humankind, Canadians can’t find the common courage to overcome a challenge that dwarfs all other challenges. This is meant to be liberalism’s cup of tea, yet awaits the leadership and citizen determination to engage or collective imagination to bring us back in harmony with the planet. Liberalism is our best option, but only if it can overcome its preoccupation with progress and prosperity.