Much hand wringing has been done over the recent UN climate report. You know, the one that gives us just a few more decades before we descend into a post-apocalyptic hellscape? Ya, that one. Its scary stuff, and if you weren't already suffering from global warming-induced anxiety, reading this report will surely put you over the edge.
The immediate response has been to collectively catalog all the ways that individuals can change their personal habits in an effort to reduce their carbon emissions: Eat less meat! Turn down your thermostat! Use reusable grocery bags! It's a kind of self-soothing-by-listicle in the face of an impossible challenge.
I have a problem with this response.
While I will never argue that our personal efforts to reduce our impact on the planet aren't important, the fact remains that just 100 companies are responsible for over 70% of global emissions. Some of the most impactful choices we can make as individuals include cutting meat out of our diet, ditching cars in favor of mass transit and having fewer children. But not everyone can or should make those choices, and even if we all did, the collective reduction in emissions would only be a fraction of what's required to reverse the course of global warming and avoid certain catastrophe.
Doing what we can to take care of the planet is just part of what it means to be a good person. Don't trash your home, don't waste resources, don't destroy that which gives you life - these are values that I think we can all agree are important (right?) But it is not incumbent on us to twist ourselves into knots every time we forget to ask our server to "hold the straw" or stay up nights because we forgot our reusable mug that one time. The responsibility for reversing our march toward planetary destruction lies at the feet of those doing the lion's share of the polluting. So how are we as individuals, supposed to ensure that this happens? What are we supposed to do with all this environmental angst?
Here's what you can do: vote. Vote as if your life and the lives of those you love depend on it - because they literally do. If we're going to keep the planet from warming past the point of no return, we're going to need folks in power who will legislate our way to a sustainable future. The road map is already laid out for them, they just need the political will to follow it.
In the last municipal election here in Vancouver, we elected a mayor who had recently been arrested during a demonstration against the expansion of the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline. An oil pipeline that will transport diluted bitumen -a sludgy mix of sand, crude oil and other hazardous chemicals - from the Alberta tar sands to refineries on the coast and in the US. Wanna know how many votes made the difference in getting him elected? 957. Less than a thousand votes got an anti-pipeline activist elected. Other races in our province were decided by less than 5 votes! How's that for individual choices?
So vote! Vote early & vote in every election that you can, because decisions that effect the planet aren't just made in the highest offices. Cities, states and provinces have a huge amount of influence when it comes to things like mass transit, waste diversion strategies and major energy projects. To our American fam heading to the polls today, we are crossing our fingers HARD for you up here in Canada. After all, our fates are intertwined, as are the fates of all of us who share this tiny planet spinning through space.