March shows change is coming

(October 11, 2019)

For the first time in my life, I wanted to move to Montreal — 500,000 people marching for climate action was extraordinary.

That feeling passed, however, as I walked down Broadway with 12,000 other Manitobans, in the largest march this city has seen in nearly 40 years.

(I marched in that one in June 1982, too, as we protested against nuclear weapons and a radioactive end to the world as we knew it.)

Disbelief and euphoria describe my oscillating emotions as I was passed and jostled by many younger marchers. After 30 years of feeling like a three-legged sheepdog, for once the sheep knew exactly what they were doing and were giving me marching orders instead.

We can’t stop with one march, of course. Despite the turnout, there were still fewer people there to protest for a healthy planet than a Winnipeg Jets whiteout party has attracted. For too many, it was business as usual — including for the politicians inside the legislature, who no doubt cranked up the AC to drown out our noise.

Yet I think, finally, the climate worm is turning. Imagine a dragon running away from a knight in fear, injured by being prodded and poked. As it runs, the slow reptilian brain ponders the situation. Eventually, it realizes that it is a multi-ton, armoured, ­fire-breathing dragon, running away in terror from a scrawny guy on a little horse, who is armed with nothing more than a pointy stick and the power of the dragon’s fear.

When that conclusion hits home, suddenly the worm turns — and everything changes.

Or, if you prefer other examples, psychologists talk about a gestalt switch or shift — that picture of a rabbit is a rabbit, is a rabbit, and then suddenly it’s a duck — and it never goes back to only being a rabbit again. The switch happens in an instant, even though you may have been staring at the picture of the rabbit for a long time.

I watched it happen with smoking. When I was a student at the University of Winnipeg, the walls of the (unventilated) rooms were yellowed with nicotine. So were the No Smoking signs. I was one of the few who did not smoke, and was always apologizing for not having a light or wanting the offered cigarette.

Today, cigarette smoking is a sign of moral weakness. People apologize for being smokers, standing outside in the circle of shame, banned from public spaces and even bars. It was not more education, or higher prices, that drove such a dramatic shift in public perspective and behaviour. It just happened, all of a sudden. The smoking rabbit became the non-smoking duck and will never go back.

The same is starting to happen with living respectfully and responsibly on the Earth. It will become embarrassing to drive a large, off-road SUV downtown by yourself in rush hour traffic from the wilderness of Lindenwoods.

Conspicuous consumption will decline, as it becomes socially unacceptable to have the newest and fanciest of things — yet another new pair of shoes will get criticism, not compliments, in the lunchroom.

If the greedy rabbit of waste becomes the frugal duck of sustainability, then watch how fast things will change, everywhere.

So, to those 12,000 other marchers, I say: let’s keep the momentum going. For young people in school, why not focus on some very specific ways to drive that change, locally?

For example, start a “Wear it Twice” campaign — unless you have a very dirty job, you don’t need clean clothes every day. That would mean you only need half the clothes, washed half as often — think of the reduction in greenhouse gases, as well as less phosphorus in the water treatment system.

Children outgrow clothes all the time. In a single-child household, there are no hand-me-downs. Have a clothing swap twice a year, at school or in the community — why give away your clothes to a commercial operation, and then buy more? Trade and swap — for free.

On the food front, so much poverty among children means too many study hungry, if they make it to school at all. Breakfast and lunch programs even the playing field, and ensure not only nutrition, but nutrition education — and buying and cooking food in bulk is far cheaper than feeding one kid at a time, while you work two jobs.

At home, eat one more meal together this week than you did last — and cook the food. If you have to learn, then that’s how everyone starts — just make sure the kids help with shopping, cooking and cleaning. Time spent together is never wasted, and leftovers are great.

And getting to and from school? There are lots of ways to stop one parent driving one child. Carpool, walking, school buses, bikes — just ask around.

Change is coming — soon.

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