Columnists

Alice Klein
Environmental movements and economies bring hope, inspiration this Earth Week

| April 18, 2013
Photo: Jyotirmoy Basu/Flickr

Okay, it's true -- we are actually living the climate change and radical impoverishment reality that those who invented Earth Day 43 years ago were trying to help humanity avoid.

Economic recovery has become the most elusive term in the language of business, green looks as if it's off the table, and being eco-aware feels like being under siege.

But there's a secret that the oilmen and financiers would prefer we didn't know: the movement to protect life is awesomely more powerful than we give it credit for. And it's only going to grow, because, let's face it, the situation is extreme.

We are living through the demise of an outdated geocidal paradigm in the process of doing itself in, and that's no fun. But the pro-environment side is reshaping the way the world turns. As a result, we have a path to look toward and green moss to cushion our trudge through this oily mess.

An economically effective, fair-minded, compassionate economy has been dreamt of, researched and experimented with (not everything worked) and is just about ready to be scaled up and rolled out.

No one thought we would arrive at an almost no-growth economy so soon. Ouch. But thanks to the original Earth Day visionaries and all the think tanks, researchers, experimenters and pioneers since then, we now have a network of organizations with brilliant capacity and expertise every which earth-way we look. And unlike the sectarian backbiting of the traditional left, the name of the game now is innovation, co-operation and building on each other's successes.

Plus, this special Earth Day, in this country, we can celebrate having First Nations ready to lead us back to our true natural homeland.

This potent tide is inventing new ways to do business and finance for the public good, the way buildings are designed, purchases made, university courses taught and the way governments conceive of policy. And with all this coming together at this tough time, we might just shift this messed-up planet of ours.

The beautiful icon of Idle No More's eagle feather, the gift of the most far-seeing of creatures, has become the perfect symbol for expressing the complex combination of forces coming at the old power structure from every direction.

Start with the pipeline scenario. Of course, the billionaire tax evaders hiding their stashes in offshore banks may still prevail in building some lines, but Keystone and Northern Gateway are not falling into place the easy way they thought they would. Because of the dynamism of their opponents, the Harper government and the province of Alberta must now take their sorry record and absurdly try to sell it as climate-friendly.

Meanwhile, the oil patch has major business problems. Horrific as it is, the shale gas and oil fracking technology revolution has kicked the ass of the oil sands. For Americans, the business case for investing in a long-distance asset in the North is fading. Remember, this hugely expensive extraction and transportation situation was all about enabling the U.S. to end its dependency on oil from less simpatico sources, but that country is now producing more of its own energy than it has since 1991, while use is only going down.

And then spill after spill. The petroleum cabal used to be able to get away with things like that. But the no side (that's us) has its digital game on.

The old elite still hold most of the power, but not the sway over everything that they used to have. Geocide is a liability. And lots of smart businesses have taken note and are making their own changes.

You can tell how sweeping the new ecoism is by the power centre's reactions to it. Being a nature lover in this country is more dangerous now than many of us could ever have imagined. The RCMP are probably listening closely to our conversations. Scientists are being muzzled, de-funded and laid off. The most upright enviro non-profits are being starved and hounded by endless Canada Revenue Agency audits and other de-funding gambits.

Public access to the enviro hearings that still take place is surreptitiously curtailed. Biggest of all, of course, the whole weight of the state has been mobilized to smash what enviro legislation we had through protection-revoking Bills C-38 and C-45. And don't get Theresa Spence started on all the dirty tricks that outspoken First Nations leaders must suffer for speaking up.

But it's all a backhanded compliment to strength well earned.

Some of the shifts happen in public, like the anti-tar-sands campaigns or First Nations fighting off water-fouling mining incursions; others occur below the surface of our conscious awareness. They've become part of our way of thinking and being.

The eco conversation has advanced in ways that transcend the old hippy silo of "environmentalism." You could call it mission creep or the unbounded power of nature. The "environment" issue has restructured our ideas about and movements concerned with social justice, reinvented the marketplace, altered design and city planning, changed up health and health care and fuelled a self-awareness resurgence.

Take the example of public transit. Digging for the new LRT has begun, and the political dialogue in Ontario has now moved into funding concepts that were considered political suicide just months ago. But the sell isn't all about a carbon reduction strategy. Now it's just a no-brainer, a fundamental economic necessity.

Residential building codes in Ontario require energy efficiency. It isn't about being green exactly. It's more like plain common sense.

Locavore consciousness is the same. The bridge between country and city built by this trendy cultural phenom has led to impressive political victories (see story, page 20). And of course, that local-loving mentality is having a significant economic impact, enhancing the opportunities of local businesses and projects. At heart this is deeply eco-aware. On the surface not so much. It's just cool.

All the campaigns fostering the connection between producers and consumers are cumulatively working their magic. They go beyond green and get under our skin. Fair trade and free run just feel good. Value-based spending options are getting more accessible, more affordable and more creative and fun.

The consumer payoff for business is working. Major retailers are signing on fast and furious. Hello, aisle number three: ocean-friendly seafood has arrived at a grocer near you.

So cheer up. We are in a time when the work of civil society, social movements and the decisions we make in our own lives are coming together and creating the ground of a new economic sector that combines opportunity with the compassion and respect for life that we all long for in our heart of hearts. It's still a big job, but we have the power to make it happen.

This article was first published in NOW Magazine.

Photo: Jyotirmoy Basu/Flickr