Greta Thunberg gets it wrong

I sympathize with Swedish teen Greta Thunberg for her outrage at the mess that my generation has left the world in. We just wanted to create a culture with every convenience that minimized effort and maximized the burning of fossil fuels.

Greta Thunberg.  image, qz.com.

But my guilt is not going to solve the problem. Neither is her panic. “I don’t want you to be hopeful; I want you to panic,” implores Thunberg.

Panic is not a useful reaction says Calgary based author Chris Turner: “No society can function on panic indefinitely, and no one writes new building codes well in a panic (Walrus magazine, November, 2019).”

What will work? Well, one suggestion is to put ourselves on a war footing as we did during World War II. Back then, when our way of life was threatened by the enemy, we mobilized resources on a scale never seen before: retooling factories for the manufacture of weapons, rationing of vital resources, putting women to work in jobs traditionally held by men.

We could retool factories for green power and clean technology; deploy an army of citizens to install solar panels and erect wind turbines; build energy storage facilities, electric-vehicle charging stations, commuter trains, and bicycle lanes.

But just who is the enemy in this green war? There’s no shortage of villains: Big Oil, pipelines, Conservatives.

We are the enemy. While we want to save the planet, we don’t act like we do. Big Oil is not force-feeding us. Just look in Kamloops’ driveways to see what vehicles are popular: trucks. Canada’s bestselling vehicle is the Ford F-150, not known for its fuel efficiency. Just look where we live: in single-family houses that cost more to heat.

If the wartime model is wrong, what is the solution? Not individualism. We are told that if each of us were to cut back just a little, we could make a difference. It’s an appealing model because in our singular society, the individual is king. And we can be blamed for falling short of CO2 targets.

There is a way. We can act collectively –it’s called government, and you might be surprised to learn that B.C. is a North American model in reducing CO2. I’m not just talking about B.C.’s well-known carbon tax introduced by conservatives (BC Liberals) and supported by progressives (NDP).  No, carbon pricing is just part of the plan.

“In 2008, the BC government required municipalities to begin incorporating climate targets and plans into their growth strategies and community planning,” says Turner. “This triggered a wave of rethinking and new accounting methods—the kind that led to ‘sustainability checklists’ for all the workaday business of building management and construction.”

Then in 2017, the BC government became the first in North America to lay out clear, rigorous requirements and codes that would guide the province’s building industries to the construction of net-zero structures by 2032.

Panic puts people into a fight-or-flight mode. Individualism generates a false sense that something can be done. What works is the steady, almost imperceptible pace of dedicated bureaucrats writing building codes and working to achieve real change, government by government.

This kind of progress is not sensational. Slow but sure is the way but the wheels must be set in motion.