“Can’t Go Back”

I haven’t talked about what citizenship means because I think creating a definition at this point, at least for me, is unhelpful.  I’d rather explore issues that deal with what I think citizenship entails and hopefully I’ll come up with some sort of definition at some point.  But for now, I’d rather look at it on a practical level.

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I’m in environmental law this semester and yesterday I did a presentation on intergenerational equity (IGE). It sounds like a big, scary academic concept, but it’s actually pretty simple: we should take care of our planet in a way that allows future generations to have the same options/diversity of resources, quality of resources and access to resources that we enjoy.  Like all theories, IGE isn’t perfect.  But, I think it’s a helpful way of thinking about our current environmental problems.

Today The Globe and Mail released this handy little infographic:

The headline of the story says, “Dramatic temperature increases could threaten Canadian health, infrastructure.”  I don’t think we truly understand what impact environmental degradation has on all of us.

One of the interesting parts of IGE is that it not only links us to past and future generations, but that it calls on us to enforce obligations on one another.  For instance, poverty is one of the major contributors to environmental degradation.  IGE says that as developed countries, we owe it to developing countries to help them grow in sustainable ways.

I agree with this.  We in the developed world have exploited a lot of the world’s resources at the expense of developing countries, and a lot of the environmental problems we’re currently facing are caused by our own greed, materialism and self-gratification.  So why should we enforce harsh emissions standards on developing countries – maybe it’s their turn to use the resources?

At the heart of IGE is the fact that we’re all mortal and we’d like to survive.  And we’d like our kids to survive.  And someday, we’d like to have grandchildren.  Don’t we want those children to inherit a cleaner, healthier, safer world?

There’s been a lot of crabbing and complaining about Saskatoon’s mandatory recycling program, which costs a whole $5 a month.  For $5 a month, you stick all of your recyclable materials in a blue bin and the City takes it away and recycles it for you.  Honestly, that kind of service is a STEAL.  And it makes it easier for people to recycle, which will hopefully encourage more of it.  Recycling is one of most basic things we can do to protect the environment, and all it costs you is one latte per month and the few steps it takes you to get from your house to the bin.  Is that really too much to ask of people?  I don’t think so.

Then there’s Bill C-45, the omnibus budget bill.  Whereas before over 2.2 million bodies of water in Canada received environmental protection, that number is down to just under 200.  And in Saskatchewan, the only bodies of water that are protected are the North and Saskatchewan Rivers.  That’s it.  It’s disturbing.

A lot of us are in denial about how terribly we’re treating the earth.  But it’s not simply ours to use; it’s ours to preserve and protect.  Citizenship requires us to think about how our actions affect each other.  In terms of the environment, citizenship asks us to remember the condition in which we inherited our earth and try to give our children and future generations the same opportunities that we  have.  How?  Citizenship calls on us to figure it out, because in 30 years, I imagine we’ll look back and wish we had done more.

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