the environment on a train…

As I’m writing this, I’m in a train from Quebec to Montreal in Canada, watching the first hint of new shoots appear through the melting snow. Rebirth from the death of winter is in the air, and even the plain brown silt seems alive in anticipation. The sunset echoes the sentiment of growth, even as the last hint of light fades from the sky. So I’ll be writing about environmental issues now!
Environmental issues have been at the forefront of many people’s awareness for the last few years. The Kyoto accord â???? although not signed by the United States â???? is in implementation, and efforts have been made to adhere to it. Whether this will have a significant effect is another story.

It is important to note that the Kyoto accord was only meant as a starting point. It refers only to gases contributing to global warming, which is a subset of the pollution mankind gives to the world. Not only that, but it refers to 1990 levels, which is still a level beyond that which is truly sustainable. Furthermore, it is limited in scope. For instance, transportation over international waters is not Kyoto. So if you get your kiwi from New Zealand and you live in Canada, that 10,000 km of transportation and associated pollution is not counted under Kyoto, even if it causes pollution. Neither does air travel between those destinations. (This has more info) So even if Kyoto is implemented by all nations, including the US, it will not necessarily have the effect required to avoid environmental changes. counted in

Furthermore, some of the fixes proposed actually do more harm than good. For instance, there have been large efforts to create an alternate fuel supply based on ethanol made from corn and other crops. While this would be extremely helpful if there was an unlimited supply of arable land, in reality we have reached the limit of arable land on this planet. We cannot grow more crops without sacrificing the production of food, more rainforests, or other species on this planet. Often it’s been the latter two. As George Monbiot (and even Fidel Castro recently!) have written (see , while theoretically ethanol is a “net zero greenhouse gas fuel”, in reality it is worse than gasoline because under the current economic system, much more carbon-dioxide sinks such as rainforests will be cleared to harvest ethanol-producing crops. The farming practices for these crops tend to be short term (as they are cash crops) and can easily lead to that land not being able to grow crops or trees for thousands of years.

All of this is fairly inherent in the economic system we’ve created. Governments and corporations have no inherent motivation to act for the long term common good; they look out for short term benefits. Political parties only focus on succeeding in the next election, and corporations are legally obligated to maximize profits, irrespective of the harm they may cause in the process. There’s more impetus to provide news that appears like they’re doing something than to make sacrifices for the long term. There is no way around this without changing the framework, which does not look likely at this time.

This is not meant to depress you at all; it’s meant to describe the current state of the world and provide a context for where real change will come from. In reality â???? and this goes for psychological changes as well â???? all change in the world comes from groups of individuals making changes of their own. This is always how it works. So any time people sit back in resignation because governments do not make the changes necessary, but do not make changes in their own life, they are really saying “I give my tacit approval for the way things are.” This has its parallels in dysfunctional relationships that people stay in without working towards change; there’s an unstated approval, however horrific the life is. Unfortunately, in both cases, things can easily get worse until the point where changes HAVE to be made. The problem is simply that in the case of the earth’s environment, billions of people may start dying -and a sizable percentage of the earth’s species becoming extinct – before the point is recognized by the majority of people that can make effective change. Individual changes DO matter, and have a sizeable and growing effect.

As many people have noted, in my eyes the most effective motto for positive change is Gandhi’s “be the change you wish to see in the world.” If you wish to have less environmental footprint in the world, live that.

It behooves us all to be aware of all the ramifications for our actions. Though most people don’t admit it, every time we purchase something we are in effect supporting all the byproducts and methods used to produce that item. If we buy beef from factory farms we support the cruelty, pollution, and possible rainforest degradation from harvesting the grains used to feed the beef. If we replace the carpet in our home we support all the pollutants used to make it, as well as that of the transport and the eventual disposal of it. If we purchase organic food from across the world, we’re still supporting the greenhouse gases produced by the transport. A car isn’t only about greenhouse gases; there’s the waste from mining, from steel plants, from the waste, and any chemicals going into rivers and oceans. I’m not saying any of these are bad in the absolute sense â???? I’m only saying there are consequences for supporting them. This goes for everything, from something innocent like snowboarding to buying diamonds from war-ravaged Africa. Every action we have on this earth (internal and external) will always produce waste and consequence; pretending otherwise is not good work. The earth is built to re-process waste, but it has its limitations as well.

The path of awareness means being more and more aware of cause and effect, product and waste, both within and without – and making more conscious choices based on them, rather than behaving automatically. Thus a fairly aware person may choose to get drunk one night in order to facilitate an emotional release, because the hangover is worth it; it’s a conscious choice. It is VERY hard to live with little environmental impact in the society we’ve created, but being aware of the effects the choices we have is a very good start and may lead to different choices. Not to mention have a domino effect on others’ awareness and choices!

Ultimately, I see the only thing I see helping our planet is a focus away from consumerism. Consumerism is the focus on things, that having more things are better. So long as we have this attitude, we will always want to push aside awareness of consequences for short term benefit. Consumerism can be emotional as well; how many of us have thought “MmMm, yumm, I want some of that!” at the beginning of a relationship that went sour soon after? 😉 It is a belief in lack, which of course is fundamentally untrue. We already have all that we need, and if our actions come from that state, we actually experience more even if from consumerists’ eyes we don’t seem to have very much.

Being less work-focused can also be a part of this. If we’re doing jobs we don’t love that feel empty in order to get more things, the natural tendency is to fill that emptiness with more emptiness â???? like things. This too will take time to change in society as a whole, but awareness helps in this as well.

I invite everyone to comment on what they’ve discovered regarding better choices they’ve made, and informing of discoveries on actual wastes/consequences common products have!

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