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Gerry ChidiacA new term has entered our language: the Greta Effect. This refers to the impact of Greta Thunberg, the teenage Swedish climate activist who was named the 2019 Person of the Year by Time magazine.

Thunberg has made it clear that we’re in a climate crisis and the time to act to avert disaster is now.

A significant contributor to climate change is the airline industry. The fact that more people, especially in Europe, are shifting from air travel to rail travel is being attributed to the Greta Effect. Airlines worldwide are feeling the pressure.

A Swedish term is also becoming popular: flygskam or flight shame.

Are people really choosing not to fly because they feel shame? Doesn’t it have more to do with a growing mindfulness among those who care about the future of our planet?

I don’t have anything against people flying but if I have an alternative that reduces my carbon footprint, I’ll take it. People in Europe, for example, have a very accessible and efficient rail system that’s largely electric, so while air traffic drops, rail traffic is increasing.

Along with airplanes, however, cars and trucks are major contributors to global warming. We need vehicles for many things, but when we look at ourselves objectively, we recognize that we’ve been duped by advertisers and the mainstream media into a love affair with the automobile.

Sure, cars are convenient and comfortable, but they’re also status symbols. As a result, we overlook other viable means of transportation that leave almost no carbon footprint. This is destroying our planet.

With a growing awareness of climate change, I can’t watch the traffic report on the Vancouver morning news without wondering how much all those cars contribute to climate change. I think of all the cities where the same climate disaster is played out every day.

Visiting Toronto last summer, I was astounded by the growing urban sprawl. What was more disturbing, however, was how poorly it was planned. Very few of the new homes were built near rail lines but there was a constant expansion of the highway system.

What are those who approve this urban sprawl thinking?

It’s important to make our voices heard in climate protests and to lobby for changes in public policy to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We must hold politicians, land developers and urban planners accountable as they make decisions that impact how environmentally friendly our communities will be.

The most significant change we can make, however, is to ask ourselves some challenging questions every day to reduce our dependence on the automobile:

  • Do I really need to drive?
  • Could I walk, ride a bike or take mass transit?
  • Is this the most efficient car I can use?
  • Is there a way to carpool?
  • How much money does this car costs me?
  • If I’m a young person being driven by my parents, do I really need to be dropped off right at the front door, where traffic is most congested?

Driving is stressful and exhausting, and it’s one of the most dangerous things we do. Walking is wonderful, relaxing and good for our health. Taking mass transit is even more relaxing, a tremendous opportunity to read a book or even take a nap.

If we keep doing what we’re doing, we will destroy our planet. Air travel and the automobile culture are contributing significantly to our demise.

The Greta Effect is simply a growing mindfulness of these facts and with mindfulness comes the awareness to make better decisions.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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