What Do Our Choices Mean?

May 13 2006

I have been through anxiety attacks before.  Mostly concerning a final exam worth half my mark the next day, or perhaps a solo violin performance, or maybe meeting a child-hood idol.  But I have never experienced anxiety when booking travel - until yesterday.

Here I am booking travel with a group to a conference on sustainable solutions and all 15 other members from my region decided to hop on a plane.  I am shocked, but then I start thinking about our ability to carbon offset and think of all the times I have flown before, and start to think that it's really not a big deal if I fly again this time.  

Then the voice in the back of my head starts yelling at me and telling me I am a hypocrite for working to slow climate change while flying to a conference on sustainable solutions when I could be part of a sustainable solution by taking the train instead.  Long story short, I decide to take the total of 44 hours on a train and miss two days of classes in order to attend what I hope to be a very educational experience. Why did I feel this way? Millions of people fly every single day. Do I think I am actually going to make a difference by not filling that one seat on the sale-flight on Air Canada that is going to take-off with or without me?

In this day and age, our generation has so much information coming at us that it is hard to decide what to listen to and what to block out.  In our "westernized" culture especially we are so in-tune with Internet and other sorts of media that we have the answer to almost any question at our disposal - just Ask Jeeves or Google it, and voila. Never before has there been a generation able to acquire so much knowledge throughout the course of one day. Nor has there ever been a generation able to communicate immediately with no lag time.  So what kind of influence is this having on us? Do we know more? Are we smarter? Quicker? Leaner or meaner? Tough call.

With so much information, much of it coming in the forms of news, we learn about the many perils of the world. Whether it is a natural disaster, the spreading of AIDS epidemic, the violence in Darfur, or the ever-quickening pace of climate change.  What do we do with this? Does it make us numb and want to hide under a rock? Does it inspire us to go out and do what we can to make the world a better place? Or does it spin us into a limbo mentality where we feel alienated and wonder how the world could have come to be the way it is now and why were certain decisions made that don't make any sense today?

I personally often feel so out of touch with many people's mentalities and I am not sure why.  It just so often occurs that the way things are being done just doesn't make any sense at all - especially when we are swimming in a sea of solutions.  For example: who decided that it was such a great idea to use pristine drinking water for all our water needs? Is it because we thought we would never run out? If that is the case then why do we continue to build infrastructure in this way? Why are rain-catchers and salt-water systems not required in every new home and office building?

- But back to the train vs. plane scenario.  I opted for train in the end because I could.  For the plain and simple reason that it was physically and financially possible.  Why would I invest dollars in Air Canada instead of Via Rail if I had the choice? Why would I leave the tap running when I could turn it off? Why would a logger cut down a whole forest in search for one tree?  Why would the Canadian government spend 2 billion dollars on bus-pass subsidies instead of spending 2 billion dollars on bike lanes or renewable energy subsidies? Perhaps we think it is because "We just don't have the time." And this argument carries weight - I am not exactly thrilled to be missing two days of summer classes, but this conference is a priority to me.  I want to be able to do it all - all of the time - and often I can, and do.  But is this realistic? Is there a limit to my growth of needs and wants? Should I strap on a helmet to prepare myself to go crashing through a glass ceiling? Each of us has 24 hours in a day and decides how to used it.  The heart of the matter is that the value of time often outweighs the value of wellbeing - both our own, and that of this planet.

There is no sense behind waste and I am shocked at how un-conservative the Conservatives are being with Canada's energy supplies. Of course, money is a significant barrier for both small- and large-scale changes. However, given ample capacity (financial and otherwise), each person, business, institution and government has the responsibility to turn off the tap, install tile carpeting, create greenhouse gas regulations and invest in barriers to climate change. I have the responsibility to take the train. If I owned a large company I would make it policy for every employee to travel to conferences and meetings by train. And if I were an airplane company I would invest in other modes of travel and become a transportation company that served beyond the air.  

Now don't get me wrong; I am not trying to hide the fact that I have contributed 5 tonnes of carbon into our atmosphere this year from air travel alone.  Nor am I vowing to never travel by air again.  However, 5 tonnes would have been 8 tonnes if I didn't choose to travel by train over 30% of the time. But even with my reactive carbon-offsets, I know that I can do more, because no matter what level we play on, we all have a responsibility to act. And if we all acted then maybe things would change.  So, even if I only contribute to 0.00001% of the problem, and even if Canada only contributes to 3% of the global problem, does this justify not acting? What if all the countries of the world banded together so that in unison they made up 55% of the global problem? Would that justify acting? Would that make a difference? (Does this sound familiar?)

I am convinced that climate change is the most threatening issue of our generation.  On the case of fresh water and agricultural production alone we are potentially facing the biggest crisis this world has ever seen.  We have so many solutions and so many intelligent and motivated leaders that it's hard to believe we are still living in the dark fossil fuel ages when it is the year 2006. As individuals we have the responsibility to not only make changes in our personal lives, but also in the choices we make in our work team, our business, our company, our investments, and our vote.  Climate change is a multi-generational issue; the work you have begun will extend down to your great great-grandchildren along a strongly linked chain of sustainable solutions.  But if we don't start the chain, then we are never going to pull ourselves, or our great great-grandchildren out of this mess. (And I thought booking travel caused anxiety).

All I am really asking is for you to opt for the train this time.  Actually, I don't have to ask you - You can ask yourself. Exercise that sense of responsibility and we'll all ride along together to places we rarely thought possible.

Tags: Climate change, Economy, Oil, sustainability (all tags)

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