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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Convincing Canadians to Live More Conservatively

How can we get Canadians to change their lifestyles and live in more environmentally friendly ways? At the Ivey Sustainability Conference I recently attended (Western University), former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson made a comment that stuck with me. Living in Canada’s cultural mosaic where immigration accounts for a significant amount of the population, many people hold onto the idea that we have to love everyone from every country, culture and religion, in order to create a good country. Clarkson stated that this romantic, idealistic picture is simply wrong.
What is more important than everyone loving one another, is that we take advantage of this learning opportunity and just make the effort to understand immigrants in terms of their culture, values and beliefs. While we live carelessly and wastefully with our comfortable amounts of water and other resources, people coming from countries where resources are scarce are used to living conservatively. We have an opportunity to learn from them. They can open our eyes to the scary realities we could face one day if we continue to deplete the world’s resources at such an alarming rate. They can also open our eyes to simple lifestyle changes that we can make. We can then pass these tips on to our friends and families.
            It seems more realistic that integrating conservative habits into our everyday lives will be a gradual process. Our children will grow up learning to recycle and conserve water during showers, for example, and it will become custom by the time their generation reaches adulthood. Adrienne Clarkson lived many years in France where people were strongly discouraged from wasting energy. Most people didn’t have stoves. People shopped twice a day so refrigerators were hardly necessary. Water was heated by a flame as it entered the sink or tub, instead of hot water being held in a reservoir that uses up electricity. Timers were programmed to start dishwashers in the middle of the night when energy was the cheapest. After many years of this lifestyle, Clarkson finds it natural to continue living so conservatively while in Canada. This demonstrates how far habits can take us. It will be difficult for us in the developed world to make so many changes immediately, but getting into the habit is very important, especially from a young age. Thus, it is necessary that we instil these habits and ways of thinking into current younger generations.
The only problem is that with the way we are living right now, we are depleting our resources so quickly that we cannot solely rely on younger generations to make the changes. We need to come up with ways to inspire people to make drastic changes in their lifestyles right now. One way to do this, which was brought up in the Conference by Ron Dembo, is to make sure that there is a sufficient flow of data and information. For instance, smart meters offer information to householders about their energy usage so that they can estimate their bills and minimize their gas and electricity consumption. Together with this, information about the energy usage of other households will motivate people to examine their habits more critically. Dembo also noted that data should be collected on buildings around the city regarding their carbon emissions and energy usage. This way, building owners may see that other buildings of similar sizes are able to spend much less money and release significantly fewer carbon emissions. I believe that this sort of feedback is one of the most effective ways of encouraging people to be proactive in making change. And perhaps by talking to people around us who emigrated from countries with fewer resources, we can devise other ways to monitor our waste and encourage Canadians to live more conservatively.

GlassFrog blogger, Sherisse

1 comment:

  1. Good article. This is a tough one.... the easiest of the measures likely would come in the form of us learning not to take as crazy long showers (something I am guilty of), in the form of not leaving water running while dish washing etc, and most importantly not wasting water on excessive lawn watering. Harder things to do are getting golf courses to stop watering so much, getting buildings to be more energy efficient (having lived in a 70s highrise in North York I can tell you most of them are horribly inefficient), and cutting emissions from transportation modes.

    I like the idea of Westerners learning from those from environments already struggling with natural resources, but there will be a long way to go to get most people to accept that their country can get like those countries especially if they don't have relatives living in such a situation.