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Geoff CarpentierWhen I was young, I worried about the environment and tried wherever I could to facilitate change, in both myself and others.

My primary focus was on DDT and those other hazardous hydrocarbon-based pesticides that were so freely used in the 1970s. I’m not sure if I was directly influenced by Rachel Carson and her book Silent Spring, but I certainly read it and understood the implications she described.

I wanted to make a difference but like so many others, the impact I could have as an individual was minimized by those who spoke more loudly, widely and profoundly. Still I persisted through my own learning, writing and doing – albeit the scale never escalated beyond the local level.

Our environmental woes in the 1970s seemed pretty simple compared to those we face today. Now, I don’t even know which cause to pursue: climate change, endangered species, the general global disappearance of insects, troubled neo-tropical migrants, cats at large, pesticides, habitat destruction, heat islands, neonicotinoids, ground and surface water protection, invasive species, declining amphibian and reptile populations, urban canopy degradation, and on and on.

Although we all recognize that the world is in a mess, few seem to really try to make a difference if it in any way inconveniences them.

We speak of our carbon footprint, but still drive to the store and the cottage; we love race cars and snowmobiles that spew hydrocarbons into the environment; we use single-use plastics; we litter; we travel to faraway places for a holiday; we use drive-through services for food, drinks and even banking; we mow our lawns even when plants are trying to flower, thus negatively impacting our pollinators; we transport invasive species on our equipment and boats; we use fertilizers and rake up leaves instead of letting nature compost them; we kill spiders, forgetting they’re an essential predator. And the list goes on.

melting ice icicles

These melting icicles are a symbol of a much larger problem. Photo: Geoff Carpentier

Most people are environmentalists of convenience. We faithfully recycle and reuse most of the time, and willingly donate to environmental causes as long as we don’t actually have to do the work. We sagely say that climate change is going to destroy the world, yet our lifestyles change very little in response.

Industry says it wants to help, and will do so willingly as long as we subsidize their research and development initiatives, and make sure they maintain their profitable bottom lines.

The wealthy donate money to good causes but few actually put boots to the ground. Maybe that’s a good thing because most of us don’t actually know how to best use our time to the benefit of the environment anyway.

Government says it wants us to be better but generally doesn’t look at its own impacts. Air travel comes to mind as politicians fly at will around the globe, often with little benefit arising from their jet-setting. They tell us that the Earth is about to implode and the only way for us to deal with this is to accept being taxed. If we’re expected to be serious about climate, why isn’t government?

I become more confused rather than enlightened as I strive to learn more about climate and greenhouse gases and the proposed solutions.

If we should reduce our dependency on fossil fuels in our cars by driving less, why do we keep building newer, bigger and faster roads? Isn’t this counter-productive? Shouldn’t we keep fewer roads in worse condition, but create better transit routes so we’re encouraged to choose the better alternative?

Why is transit so expensive? If we want everyone to commute by public transit, why isn’t it more affordable? The problem is that transit is run like a for-profit business. It’s not about greening; it’s really more about greenbacks!

We speak regularly about single-use plastics. And a growing awareness about the impacts of these materials is so important to providing a solution. But we don’t actually know what to do and how to do it.

Many fast food outlets provide paper straws now. But the lid on the drink container is usually a single-use plastic and the cup is often coated so it’s leak-proof but not readily recyclable. Why can’t they make paper or truly recyclable lids?

I bought some hardware items the other day. The plastic wrapping outweighed the things I was buying. Much of the packaging has little to do with protecting the items. Rather it’s about advertising, preventing theft and sometimes making a tiny, expensive item look bigger.

In fairness, some stores ask if you want a bag for purchases and some stock items in bulk and unwrapped. When I was growing up, you could buy a bag of unboxed nails, screws, nuts, washers or myriad other items in hardware stores. We simply chose the amount we wanted, weighed them and marked on the bag what they were and paid for them. We do that now with fruits and veggies. Why do I have to pay $9 for a small box of nails that has a plastic window so I can see the nails?

Climate emergency is not actually defined – it’s more a concept that we have to do something about soon. But random acts without focus serve little purpose.

One of the federal political  leaders recently suggested we think globally when trying to manage climate change. He said we should use our technology and knowledge to help others in need so we can all benefit globally. For that, he was mocked.

I don’t think he was mocked because he’s wrong – in fact, he’s quite right. We can’t solve the world’s problems just on our soil because it’s a global issue.

Many politicians who tell us what to do really have no idea but are still willing to pound the table and say their way is the only way. That’s not a good way to fight a global issue.

Solving a problem as immense and complicated as climate change is beyond any one of us. We simply become overwhelmed and put our trust in others to be honest and forthright. After all, they’re the experts – right?

Here’s why this may be a bad idea. The Canadian carbon tax is a hidden tax. But the whole idea is to make us realize that fighting climate change will cost us financially as well as environmentally. So where’s the benefit if we don’t know the real impact or the cost? It’s time to tell politicians we want to know the real cost and benefits of what they say we must do to save the planet.

Individuals can only do what’s within our power. First and foremost, we need to be informed so we truly can make wise decisions and challenge those who tell us the only way is their way. Ask them how and why they know it will work. Ask them why we should shun global solutions and must only sponsor homegrown ones.

Make wise personal choices: commute wisely, shop wisely, live wisely:

  • Did you know you can get served on real plates and cups at many fast-food outlets if you eat in?
  • Have you ever thought of taking your own takeout container with you when you buy lunch?
  • Do you take a travel mug into the coffee shop?
  • Have you ever asked restaurant staff why they serve milk in tiny plastic one-serving containers and why sugar and salt/pepper has to be single-packaged?
  • Do you reuse milk bags as lunch or freezer bags?
  • Do you ever challenge your municipality to do better environmentally? Do they have a no-idling bylaw? What is their policy on water bottles in town facilities? Do they have recycling containers in town parks and are they emptied regularly? What do they do with co-mingled waste they find in these bins?
  • Does your town have a native tree planting program in place? If not, why not? Do they support roadside mowing without thought to pollinator health and the timing of the cut? Is the cut larger than needed?

Speak out! You have a voice but use it wisely and base what you say on knowledge, not passion or rhetoric. Question what you hear and find a forum to be heard. Join a club or organization that has a mandate that agrees with what you believe to be right, but again make sure that what you want will actually lead to solutions and benefits.

Above all, try to be non-partisan in making decisions. It doesn’t really matter which party comes up with a good idea. If it’s good, it’s good, regardless of who thought of it.

Live your life as if the environment depended on it – it does. Cut waste where you can, make good choices when you can, challenge others when you can.

Do what you do with good conscience and with Mother Earth in mind and we will eventually be fine.Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff online at,  on LinkedIn and on Facebook.

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