Instead of your carbon footprint, this is how you can really help reduce greenhouse gas emissions
People take part in a climate change protest in Montreal, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
TORONTO -- When many Canadians think of how they can help lower greenhouse gas emissions, they often look for ways to reduce their own carbon footprint by flying less frequently or driving an electric vehicle, for example.
However, as laudable as those actions may be, climate activists say there are more effective ways for people to become involved and make a difference.
Alex Speers-Roesch, a climate campaigner with Greenpeace Canada, explained that the phrase “carbon footprint,” which is the measure of the total greenhouse gas emissions directly or indirectly caused by an individual, organization, event, or product, was actually popularized by the multinational oil and gas company BP in the early 2000s in an attempt to put the burden of change on to the individual.
“It’s good for people to think about the emissions associated with the things that they consume, but there’s a tendency sometimes in the way that carbon footprints are talked about and promoted that tries to put the onus on individuals and consumers for those emissions in a way that can be unfair,” he told CTVNews.ca during a telephone interview in late November.
Lauren Latour, a climate ambition co-ordinator for Climate Action Network Canada, cited a study from a few years ago that showed that just 100 companies were responsible for 70 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.
She also referenced another recent study that claimed frequent-flying “super emitters,” consisting of just 1 per cent of the population, were responsible for half of the world’s aviation carbon emissions in 2018.
“The average Canadian is very much not responsible for the lion’s share of harmful climate change effects,” Latour said during an interview with CTVNews.ca in late November.
So while both Latour and Speers-Roesch said Canadians should be mindful of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the goods and services they consume and how their individual choices affect the environment, they said there are other, more impactful, ways for them to address the climate emergency.
“It’s not going to be the individual actions of consumers that are going to address the climate crisis, what we really need is collective action from all of us working together to produce systemic change,” Speers-Roesch said.
Canadians interested in doing their part to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions can start by seeking out more information about the topic from environmental organizations dedicated to the cause, Speers-Roesch suggested.
He said there are many climate change groups operating in Canada, such as Greenpeace Canada, 350 Canada, Environmental Defence, and Climate Action Network Canada.
“Find a group like that, sign up for the email list, see if you can get involved,” he said. “Once you start looking, though, you start to see, ‘Oh there are opportunities everywhere.’”
Speers-Roesch said Canadians can also seek out climate change events happening in their area. For example, if there is a protest nearby, he suggested going to see what it’s about and to meet other attendees.
“As you connect with others and get more involved and get more engaged, you'll probably have more ideas,” he said. “Before you know it, you’ll have lots of stuff to keep you busy on climate change.”
BECOME POLITICALLY ENGAGED
Latour acknowledged that getting involved in politics can be a “scary” thing for a lot of people, but that it doesn’t have to be and there are many opportunities to become engaged by joining community-led initiatives.
She said Canadians can join local organizations that work to influence government policy on the municipal level.
“For instance, a city is able to switch its bus fleet over from fuel combustion buses to low emissions, or hybrid or electric buses, or an electric light rail system,” she said.
Latour said Canadians can also volunteer for a mutual aid effort that is dedicated to building resiliency in their town or region. For example, she cited the groups that stepped up to help mitigate the effects of flooding in the Ottawa area over the past few years.
“In a lot of places, we see municipalities and we see smaller communities really leading the way on climate change and on climate policy,” she said.
“Individual change does matter and that individual change is getting involved in community organizing and getting involved in influencing your politics and local legislation.”
Speers-Roesch, too, said political activism is one of the most important things Canadians can do to become involved in the fight against climate change.
“The majority of the emissions are due to industry and are a result of government policy decisions so that’s really the most important and impactful place that people can focus their energies,” he said.
The Greenpeace campaigner said that Canadians should learn about their local politicians’ environmental platforms and encourage them to act.
“Call your MP, call your MPP, or city councillor,” he said. “Let them know you want them to do more on climate change.”
PUSH THE CONVERSATION FORWARD
Finally, Speers-Roesch said Canadians can still do their part by incorporating climate change issues and pushing the conversation forward in their daily lives.
“Think about how you can bring climate activism into your existing life,” he said. “It doesn't always necessarily have to be finding another group and joining them.”
As an example, Speers-Roesch said someone who is already part of a book club that meets on a weekly basis could suggest a book for them to read on climate change.
He said they could also organize an event within an organization they’re already involved in, such as their workplace, school, sports team, church, or temple, to raise more awareness.
“Look for a little thing that you can do each week to sort of make your voice heard and get activated and engaged on climate change,” Speers-Roesch advised. “Climate change is something that we really need to sort of infuse into every aspect of our lives and our work and everything that we do.”