Thursday, August 9, 2007

Environmental Anxiety

Yesterday I was reading about the record-breaking number of severe weather events in 2007. Today, I’ve been learning all about the bioaccumulative and neurotoxic nature of certain persistent organic pollutants. Anxiety is weighing on me like the air during a smog warning.

This environmental anxiety is not a new feeling for me. When I spent my summers researching environmental law, I found that it was more depressing that my studies on genocide and war crimes. The depression comes from the immensity of environmental problems, and the apathy of a large portion of the population. At least with genocide, there’s near-universal consensus that it shouldn’t be done.

When I told Paul yesterday that climate change was causing me anxiety, he said that he is cautiously optimistic that we’ll get ourselves out of this mess before we pass the point of no return. I am not as optimistic. I am not convinced that we haven’t already passed the point of no return, for one thing. And for another thing – I think that at this point in time, we are so far away from reversing the trend of destruction that if we haven’t reached that critical point, we’re not really doing much to ensure we don’t. I am constantly dismayed by how many educated and intelligent people don’t even recycle, if it’s going to mean walking a few extra steps. This is not the behaviour of a culture on the cusp of change.

The anxiety also arises from knowing that, even though I do more than most, I am still part of the problem more than I am part of the solution. I don’t buy wrapping paper or air-condition my house and I frequently bicycle, but I still eat meat, own a car (ok, not right now, but I did, and I will again soon), and buy cheap stuff that I don’t need at the mall. And I know that these behaviours are not sustainable, at least not at the rate we do them in North America, and people are beginning to do them in emerging economies around the world.

The sewers in Bangladesh are choked with plastic bags. There were tornados in Brooklyn yesterday. People up north are getting cancer from pesticides that were produced and used thousands of miles away. I re-use my coffee cup, but I know it’s not enough.


Paul said...

My naive attitude towards environmentalism is probably based on the idea that I don't believe that I can change society. It's the classic problem of activism. One person can start a movement ... on very rare occasions. Mostly, people will just have a small impact to improve a certain issue that will go largely ignored.

Nevertheless, here are my ideas for Ottawa.

1) Pay for every garbage bag we take to the curb - only bags with purchased ties on them go to the dump. The price should be the rent for the space that bag will take up for the next (hundreds?) of years.

2) Have roadside compost in Ottawa.

3) Dramatically increase the prices of water, fuel, and electricity. Subsidize public transit, build bike paths, and give cheques to low-income households to pay for heat in the winter.

4) Ban pesticide use.

5) Have tougher pollution laws and prosecute companies and individuals that break them.

Ideas (2) and (4) have a chance of happening. That's all I want to say about that.

Wheatsheaf said...

Nice Paul! Your in-activism does not seem to be reflected in your ideas. Clearly, you have given it thought.

El Mag, I see a running theme here between your home of acquirement (yes, I am making up words today), and your anxiety over environmentalism. Be honest with what you need and you may be surprised by what you live on (not that I am a shining example...)

el Maggie said...

Wheatsheaf, have you found a copy of Harry Potter to read (home of acquirement sounds much like room of requirement)? You are right that these 2 posts are connected - I have all this stuff that i know I don't need, and then it rubs my face in my consuming ways. Though that isn't the case with the things i keep to re-use.

I am always impressed with the people who don't get attached to things - how do you not imbue some kind of sentimental attachment to gifts etc?

Paul - you are optimistic that the world will be saved, but don't believe one person can make a difference?

Here's another issue - how do I react when my environmental ways are clashing with someone else's less-than-environmental ways? Was at a bridal shower last night, and the ripping and non-reusing or recycling of giftwrap was making my blood pressure rise.

Paul said...

I am optimistic that eventually these environmental problems will be so bad that we'll be forced to do something about it. Either important people will start being sick and dying or they'll start costing people a significant amount of money.

I don't expect any business or government to be concerned with a problem that is five or more years down the road. I do expect our free-market economy to force change. For example, high gas prices are making hybrid cars more attractive. High electricity cost are making things like solar power and heat sinks more attractive. The further afield we have to take our garbage, the more expensive it will be. Eventually, the municipality will start to have user fees for that too.

I guess our health care system in Canada will help us a bit with this. As health costs rise for everyone in the country, more attention might be paid to pollution.

el Maggie said...

a-ha! So, you're a cynical optimist.

senatorsmith said...

All right.
Let me attempt to opine.
This is positivist Jeff speaking.

I can't believe I am quoting Whitney Houston lyrics, but it is topical:
"I believe that children are our future,
Teach them well and let them lead the way."

The kids are the ones that will really bring about change.
Jeffrey has been very environmentally aware since junior kindergarten. He is very concerned about saving the planet.

Pop culture has made it's mark as well. Take Lisa Simpson as an example, who serves as the mouthpiece for the show's writers.

In the Simpsons movie, environmentalist Lisa meets Colin, an Irish immigrant whom Lisa falls for instantly due to their mutual interests of saving the environment and music.

One of the themes of the Simpsons movie is the environmental crisis. The apathy of a large portion of the population is shown when the Springfield concert crowd decides to stone Green Day (one of my favourite bands). This comes after a three hour show, and the band asks for a minute of their time to tell them about the environment.

Green Day are social activists, that inspire many of their fans. I would hazard a guess that a lot of youth will hear their message, before they would even think of listening to their parents and/or teachers.

Here are some of their video messages:

Green Day + NRDC: Make A Difference

Green Day + NRDC: Moving America Beyond Oil

Green Day + NRDC: Be Part of the Solution

Hollywood is also doing their part.
I received this email from Green Day/NRDC:

"Last week, Adrienne and I went to the premiere of "The 11th
Hour," Leonardo DiCaprio's new documentary film. The movie is
really great. You should check it out (it opens in New York and
Los Angeles on Friday the 17th, and in other cities later this

"The 11th Hour" is intense. It tells us the truth that nobody
wants to hear: that human beings, especially greedy corporate
executives and their politician cronies, are responsible for
putting our planet in serious danger. If things don't change
soon, life on Earth may not survive. It has to be this
generation that breaks the chain between the polluting
corporations and the crooked politicians, this generation that
changes its habits so there's something left for other species
and the people who come after us.

There IS hope. We can make changes in our everyday lives, and
most of the technology we need to move forward, we already have
today. What we really need is the leadership, and the will, to
change. You can see the movie trailer at
Go see the movie.

Thanks for your past GreenDay + NRDC activism. Remember, you can
always visit the site at
to take more actions and learn about changes you can make to
help save the planet.


Billie Joe Armstrong
Green Day + NRDC"

If anybody has the power to change the minds of stubborn/apathetic adults... it's their children.