Sometimes growing older has its challenges. I am not sure I remember the last time I woke-up without some kind of ache or pain. Some people will tell us that as we look back on the way things were we tend to romanticize or be overly sentimental with our memories of days gone by. As we grow older also comes the kind of perspective and knowledge that comes with experience. We also begin to understand that life isn’t forever. If we stop and think about our legacy, our history, our responsibility as to what kind of world we will leave for future generations then perhaps we will take a little more notice and accountability for the world that is being created. What kind of world will we leave for our children and our children’s children?
When I was in Grade 12 my high school English Teacher had everyone in the class write their obituary. An interesting exercise trying to get teenagers to think about how they want to be remembered. Some people live as if they have one life to live so live it to the fullest while others may live their life with a purpose, understanding we are all connected and have a responsibility to do the most with our lives and understand civic and social responsibility. In simplistic terms one view of where a person’s individual needs matter more than community or society’s needs. Of course these beliefs are not mutually exclusive with lots of overlapping. Being over 50, has got me thinking again about my Grade 12 English assignment. How do I want my children and maybe grandchildren to remember me? What are my responsibilities to create a world that is strong, safe and healthy? Am I doing my part to make a better world, a better society?
Long before it became public, the manufacturers of cigarettes had the evidence that smoking was hazardous to your health. They had the knowledge that could have saved millions of lives and who knows how much money. Yet they kept all of that information secret. They didn’t have the will to do the right thing. Smoking or not smoking was not based on informed decisions. The cost to society, human life and health care has been enormous. Many people were knowingly sacrificed so that a few businesses could become rich. Today as well, we are faced with information about poverty, social conditions and most recently updated scientific evidence on climate change. As always, we will have those that say we are being alarmist and that we should ignore what the evidence from the United Nations most recent report on climate change state. Those that want to protect their own interests will say anything to make us doubt that we need to change the way we are living, change our lifestyle to make our planet healthy for future generations.
The science linking human activities to climate change is analogous to the science linking smoking to lung and cardiovascular diseases. Physicians, cardiovascular scientists, public health experts and others all agree smoking causes cancer. And this consensus among the health community has convinced most Americans that the health risks from smoking are real. A similar consensus now exists among climate scientists, a consensus that maintains climate change is happening, and human activity is the cause.
When Al Gore made the brave step of trying to inform the public about climate change it was well received by many, but also he was ridiculed by others for fear mongering. Make no mistake about it those that are opposed to the evidence being presented on the risks of climate change are not unlike those cigarette companies from years ago who maintained the untruths of the risks of cigarette smoking.
We have the knowledge of the risk of climate change. We had it ten years ago. We have the knowledge about the consequences for children living in poverty and we have had that information for years as well but seem to lack the will to do the actions necessary to have a positive impact on either of these situations. In North America it will take significant changes to all of our lifestyles to make our societies more sustainable. It will take some brave leadership to enact the policies required to diminish North America’s reliance on fossil fuels. What can be done to create sustainable lifestyles for future generations? We need to redefine what we need to live.
One step would be to create cities that are less reliant on cars. We need governments that understand the impact of CO2 emissions and how it is exacerbated by Urban Sprawl. We need to create walkable communities. We need to create sustainable communities.
In Bogotá, Columbia a city of over 7 million people in February of 2014 they expanded their 10 year tradition of a car free day to a car free week.
Surely, getting a taste for a car-free life on certain corridors makes people thirst for more. The quality of life in such places improves by leaps and bounds. Cleaner air, quieter streets, more adequate exercise, more human interactions, a cleaner conscience, and the list goes on.
Rachel Jaffe of TheCityFix writes. “Other developing countries should follow Bogotá’s example and seek out ways in which sustainable transport can simultaneously help economic, health, and development goals.” Should city planners in North America not be mandated to design sustainable communities? Should governments not be providing incentives to individuals who perhaps only use one car or don’t use cars? Should developers not be given incentives to revitalize communities rather than build suburbs that require people to rely on cars or increase the length of their commute? Should incentives not be put in place to bring back smaller local grocery stores that people can walk to? Should each smaller community not be seen as one sustainable pod that doesn’t require cars in order for people to meet their basic needs?
These kind of changes require us to rethink the way we design and build or upgrade our cities. Despite this knowledge in my community we have just approved two more Urban Sprawl Developments. This despite our Mayor being on record as saying these developments cost our city money. Not only cost our city money but are not environmentally friendly or help us create a sustainable city for future generations.
Each of us can change some of the things we do like recycle, try to use less water but the reality is we need to put the political pressure on our leaders to make the significant policy changes and what initially will be some unpopular decisions that will ensure the long-term survival and well-being of our communities, of our planet. As individuals we need to do this for our children, our grandchildren and future generations. As Political Leaders what will they say to their children and grandchildren when they have been put in positions where they have the moral responsibility to make these decisions but do not have the will to act on the knowledge they have been provided? How will history remember each of us? How will history remember them?
It is time to take the knowledge we have and create the will to make the changes necessary for a better tomorrow.
The UN’s New Focus: Surviving, Not Stopping, Climate Change By: Uri Friedman and Svati Kirsten Narula, April 1, 2014
Climate Scientists: We’re Alarmed. Here’s Why You Should Be, Too. By Joe Romm, March 20, 2014
It’s time for a bigger recall of a seriously defective product: The Car. By Lloyd Alter, April 3, 2014
Bogotá car-free day becomes car-free week By Zachary Shahan, February 14, 2014