One way I introduce environmental issues in my Challenge and Change in Society class is to survey students on what they would like to see changed in our city. At the same time, we discuss whether change needs to be legislated for it to actually happen. We look at what Monbiot says in Heat, which is, in a nutshell, that nothing will happen without legislation making it happen.
Remember the One-Tonne Challenge? Rick Mercer was the poster boy for this as he asked Canadians to each reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20%. Everyone said "Sure, Rick!" Then nothing changed. Actually, that's not true. Greenhouse emissions did change, but in the wrong direction. They increased.
This is what Tom Slee calls "free riding." (I'll get to his book one day soon.) People want change to happen and say they'll change, but we each rest on the notion that everyone else is changing, so if just I don't do anything, nobody will notice. And if everyone else is lowering the thermostat by one degree, then it'll be okay for me to raise mine up a little bit. Overall it should decrease emissions, right? Except that almost everyone thinks that, and then we really notice because it all gets worse. Get it?
So, if we want to change how we live, we need someone to make us change. I remember as a teenager considering joining the military because I wanted to be in shape, and I knew full well it wouldn't happen without a drill sergeant yelling at me to do more push-ups. But I never went all the way with that; the phone was too far away.
As much as we might want to change, we don't like to be told what to do. We get antsy about governmental interference in our lives. Quite a conundrum, isn't it.
Anyway, here's the survey I give the kids. I calculate the class percentages of each For/Against for each question, and then discuss it using an overhead of the results. I left spaces after each section for students to add in their own ideas. One thing that always surprises me in typical results is that they will accept an increase in bus fares, but nobody will tolerate less frequent runs. Perhaps it's because, for many of them, their bus fare is paid for by parents.
Generally students want to add anything that makes life easier (like getting hazardous waste pick-up at the door), and avoid anything that will cost them (like road tolls) - just like the general public. It's basic behaviour modification: we move towards immediate rewards and away from immediate punishments. We still don't have the foresight to see that some of the immediate punishers will lead to huge rewards in the end, and vice-versa.
Plato said it's because we lack the skill of measurement, and it's up to schools to focus on teaching this type of thinking. It seems we haven't come far in the last 2,500 years or so. Even with the knowledge of the long term problems, and even knowing that they're not so far off anymore, we still go for what feels good or is convenient right now. Maybe the concept is unteachable for many.
Just this one car ride to the store won't hurt anyone....
Global and/or Governmental Challenge
Vote on each of the following as if it was a question on a public referendum and the answer would actually impact your life:
In an effort to reverse global warming and have a positive effect on our environment, the city is considering the following measures:
___ ___ Electrical rates will increase, but if you use less than 1000 kWh/month you’ll get a rebate of $50 on your next hydro bill, and if you use less than 600 kWh/month, you’ll get a rebate of $100.
___ ___ Residents will be charged $5 per garbage bag over the limit of one bag each week. Dumping garbage illegally will be fined $500 per bag.
___ ___ Toll changes will apply to drivers on the inter-city roads between 6-10 am and 3-7 pm (like in London, England)
___ ___ A hazardous waste collection bucket will be added to weekly garbage collection to ensure paints and batteries, etc, do not end up in landfills.
___ ___ Yard waste and vegetable scraps will no longer be allowed in municipal landfills. Composting will be mandatory (like in Halifax). Bins and assistance will be available free of charge. Composted soil can be sold back to the city.
___ ___ Cereal will be sold in bags without extraneous boxboard surrounds.
___ ___ A additional 0.03% tax will be taken from incomes in order to save the habitat of endangered species.
___ ___ Residents will receive a tax credit of $200/year for each home with only one vehicle, and $500/year for each home without any vehicles (paid for with money collected from tolls).
___ ___ Buses will run more direct routes more often, but the price will go up.
___ ___ Buses will run less frequently, but the price will go down.
___ ___ All industry must use smokestack filters effectively January 2008 or face significant fines.
___ ___ All GM foods in stores must be clearly labeled.
___ ___ All grocery stores must carry at least 20% organic produce.
___ ___ All travel companies must offer and encourage eco-tourism.
___ ___ Fossil fuel and nuclear power will get a decrease in subsidies, and wind and solar energy will see increased subsidies.
___ ___ All new residences will come equipped with charge-back electric meters. Meters will be available for purchase (affordably) for existing homes.
___ ___ The amount of protected land will be increased, and it will not be possible to renegotiate this land use at a later date. Sensitive areas will be first to get governmental protection.
___ ___ At least 20% of the products carried by stationary stores and school supply stores must be tree-free (hemp or 100% post-consumer waste).
Which THREE of the following suggestions do you think you could actually commit to doing on a regular basis? Cross out the items you already do, and choose items you don’t already do in order to actually really challenge yourself to change!___ Be the electricity miser of the house by constantly turning off any lights not being used, and shutting off power bars or unplugging unused appliances to reduce phantom loads, and replacing bulbs with LEDs or florescents.
___ Take all hazardous material to the dump for your family to keep it out of the landfill.
___ Have shorter low-flow showers and/or don’t flush the toilet unnecessarily.
___ Compost all yard and compostable waste for your family.
___ Eliminate one usual car ride each week by walking or bussing.
___ Give one endangered animal gift from WWF or Sierra Club or Ontario Nature Conservatory each Christmas.
___ Buy one (more) organic product each week.
___ Turn down your thermostat one degree more at night (or during the day, or both).
___ Make every other vacation an eco-tour.
___ Eat one less meat-dish each week.
___ Plant one tree every spring.
___ Only use recycled or hemp paper.
___ Read one political or social-issue article from an alternative press each week.
___ Dare to feel responsible for every dollar you lay down – buy one fewer item each week.
(There's obviously nothing below the fold here because it won't fold today!)