Zack Gross
Zack Gross

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Make June 5 about Environmental Action

Brandon Sun “Small World” Column, Saturday,  May 30 / 09

Zack Gross

World Environment Day, designated as an annual commemorative date by the United Nations, takes place on June 5th. 

This year’s theme is “The Planet Needs You!” and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, possibly stealing a page from the world’s Obama-mania, is calling for a New Green Deal, particularly to fight climate change. 

Ban wants everyone, from corporations to individuals, to get involved.

What corporations and governments can do is invest in renewable and efficient sources of energy and eco-friendly infrastructure, says Ban.  Last Sunday, May 24th, he and Al Gore, a former United States Vice-President and recent Nobel Laureate, spoke to the World Business Summit on Climate Change, urging over 500 corporate leaders to use their business skills to urge governments, at the upcoming post-Kyoto negotiations in Copenhagen next December, to reach a new agreement on reducing greenhouse gases.

“Doing the right thing for the climate is also the smart thing for global competitiveness and long-term prosperity”, said Ban.  Echoing another theme that interests business leaders, Gore said:  “We have to do it this year, not next year.  The clock is ticking, because Mother Nature does not do bailouts”.  The new Green Economy is not only about cutting back, but also about creating new technology and jobs for economic recovery.

Ban also challenged individuals around the world, especially in wealthier societies to be better stewards of their resources.  His list of actions that people can take, which we are all familiar with, included turning off lights, taking public transport, recycling, and planting trees. 

He pointed out that poorer nations will be especially vulnerable to disaster situations as climates change.  Catastrophic individual weather events, as well as long-term drought and flooding, will impact on poorer societies that don’t have the infrastructure or technology to prevent or mitigate them, or the wealth to recover from them more quickly.

Tim Kasser, a Psychology Professor and community activist in Illinois, argues that his research shows that people living less materialistic and conventionally ambitious lives are both happier and more caring of the planet and people around them.  Major events in a person’s life, such as near-death experiences, will often re-orient a person to be more mindful of intrinsically important things, such as generosity and community-mindedness. 

The question is:  Can a critical mass of the world’s population imagine and accept our planet’s current near-death situation so that we heed the wake-up call and make a paradigm shift in our lifestyles, our policies and our practices?

Taking concrete action is always an important part of World Environment Day.  A shining example of an initiative that addresses environmental and personal health issues, including climate change, is the Walking School Bus which has become popular in Europe. 

This program organizes small groups of students walking with parents or volunteers to and from school each day.  This can be done in a large urban setting or in a smaller town and can also be adapted as a bicycle train.  Adult supervision lessens any concern about safety issues while the walk or bike ride means less gas being burned and more exercise being enjoyed.

Some communities, working co-operatively with the school system, law enforcement, parent leaders and community groups, have established multiple routes for walkers and bikers to take.  In Europe, with a more moderate winter climate, the program is run year-round, not always possible in Canada. 

Communities around the world have also been signing on to International Walk to School and International Walk to Work days, weeks and months.  Over 40 countries have recently organized walk to school Octobers to raise the profile of environmental concerns, encourage physical activity, reduce traffic speed and congestion, and make time to be shared by youth, adults and community leaders.  Canada was among the original group of countries to sign on to the Walk in 2000.

Over 100 countries will participate in World Environment Day activities next week.  While some of the events will be tokenistic, the idea is to inspire year-round awareness and action on climate change and other pressing global issues. 

While, unfortunately, some important world issues are not accessible to the public for input (our governments and businesses don’t host enough events aimed at ending the arms trade, for instance), environmental activism, at the official and unofficial levels, is all about the next generation.

Of course, as Al Gore says, we really shouldn’t wait until our children are in charge.  It may be too late!phe.


Zack Gross coordinates a provincial fair trade outreach program for the 
Manitoba Council for International Co-operation (MCIC), a coalition of 38 international development organizations.
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