[Editor's Note: For your consideration, we'd like to present the 2010 edition of New Ideas for the New Year. This popular annual series highlights creative ideas for improving our lives and communities. We'll publish a new one starting today until Jan. 1.]
So we've built our compost bins. We put out our blue boxes and take our own shopping bags to the store. We wish everyone did, and we dream of the day when Canada is a truly environmentalist country, fighting global warming at any cost.
But let's admit it: We need to stop paying lip service to so-called green policies and go all the way to hypergreen.
Car pooling is all well and good, but a hypergreen Canada would get rid of the private automobile altogether. When used properly, cars warm the air, pollute the water, and poison the soil. Used recklessly, they kill 1.2 million people a year worldwide and cause almost 50 million disabling injuries. In Canada alone they kill about 3,000 a year and injure a quarter-million of us. Public transit can run on solar or wind power, and we can reserve a few automobiles for emergency service like ambulances.
So we'd live within walking or biking distance of work and shopping. Employers might even have to provide housing within a block or two of employees' workplace.
Every hypergreen holiday would be a staycation. The closest we'd get to Cancun or the Greek islands would be webcam shots. After all, aircraft and cruise ships pump CO2 into the atmosphere, and many onetime holiday destinations will be short of water soon anyway. Or under water altogether.
The 100-mile diet would be policy, not a lifestyle choice. Forget imported California food and French wine. Growing them in exportable quantities would damage the exporters' ecosystems. Transporting them would use up expensive fossil fuel while aggravating global warming. We'd eat local produce and drink wine from vineyards in Langley (which will likely have an Okanagan climate in a few years).
We might keep chickens or even a cow in our back yard, unless bird flu and cattle farts make vegetarianism mandatory. We'd pay by the litre for our water. Heating and electricity would also have the value of scarcity. To keep warm, we'd probably knit our own sweaters from local wool (or dog fur, assuming we can afford pets).
At least we couldn't blame our problems on immigration. A hypergreen society wouldn't have immigrants, even if they were dying of drought and famine in their homelands, because newcomers would only put more demands on our finite resources. By the same token, we couldn't emigrate; who wants another mouth to feed? So we'd probably stay in one place for good. (With fewer young workers, seniors could expect paid work as long as they wanted it.)
Economic boom = ecological bust
In a hypergreen Canada, no one would get very rich. Economic growth would be a contradiction in terms. An industrial boom would be a disastrous assault on our ecosystem. Why produce a surplus if we can't use it ourselves and we can't export it? And if we could export it, what would we buy with the money we made?
The Conservatives, with a straight face, talk about "balancing environmental protection and economic prosperity." But a protected environment offers nothing we would define as prosperity -- and prosperity always depends on an unsustainable ransacking of the environment. Hypergreen Canada would be literally conservative: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without."
As Kermit the Frog famously observed, it's not easy being green. Living with constant growth and consumption is much pleasanter. So is blowing your whole salary on payday and expecting the kids to pay for your groceries and mortgage.
Environmentally, that's what we're doing. If we think car pools and Copenhagen will get us out of our jam, we're kidding ourselves. We have a hypergreen future or none...
[Editor's note: the comment section is close for the holidays and will re-open Jan. 4th. Thanks for all your thoughtful commentary this year. Looking forward to more of the same in the next!]
Read more: Environment