Of course it’s personal.
As the Cole Porter song says, birds do it, bees do it – even educated fleas do it. It’s not just about falling in love, but being passionate about what is important to you.
So I am more than fed up with the casual dismissals of climate change, the disdain for ecological destruction, that I read or encounter somewhere every day.
People can be very passionate about sports. I’ve watched Jets fans sob uncontrollably over a playoff loss. Blue Bomber fans wandering aimlessly through the streets in search of a quarterback. Blue Jays fans digging out what they wore during the last World Series win to recapture the magic.
But get worked up about the end of life as we know it, and you’re dismissed as some tree-hugger who takes these things too personally. Or you’re told you need to take a longer view of climate change, which periodically causes mass extinction anyway, so it is no different for us.
I’m sorry: climate change is personal. So are poverty, violence against women, drunk driving, second-hand smoke and any number of issues where people know first-hand what it means to experience something that’s wrong. In a civilized society, some things should not happen. Period. If they do, they need to stop. Something has to change.
We’ve watched how the picture of a three-year-old Syrian boy, drowned on a Turkish beach, affected a federal election and provoked a sea change in public attitudes toward refugees. Thousands of refugees will now have a home in Canada quickly, instead of languishing in camps for years waiting for red tape to untangle by itself – because suddenly it became personal.
After a decade of international excuses, the Canadian government demonstrated at COP 21 in Paris that climate change mattered to at least some of the people it represented.
Global warming might mean warmer winters, but even that is troubling. It’s personal – whether you are a farmer wondering what this means for the next crop year or a snowmobiler contemplating a two-month-long season instead of a six-month one.
We tend to insulate ourselves from other people and their problems, just the way we insulate ourselves from the cold. Unless it happens directly to us, unless we experience something for ourselves, it remains distant, unimportant, impersonal.
So when cancer touches a family, or a rare disease, it gains a human face. The issue becomes personal, so people become passionate about making a difference in terms of research, treatment or support.
It always gets personal when it is about you or someone you care about.
After nearly 20 years of boil-water advisories, Shoal Lake 40 finally got the attention and the money to ensure the community that sits next to Winnipeg’s clean water will get its own. It became personal, whether or not you lived in either community.
Which is why, I suppose, I am baffled by attitudes to how we are living against the planet, against the Earth. There is nothing more personal than what I eat, what I drink, what I breathe.
Do I drive? Yes, I have to – because the public transportation system does not provide me an alternative right now. Do I recycle? Yes, but what I recycle is not necessarily turned into anything more useful or reusable than road fill or park benches, but it could be. Do I eat local food? Yes, if the store stocks it. And the list goes on.
We could make better choices, all of us, but that requires a community in which those better choices matter. It requires co-operation, forethought, a concern for each other – a community where doing things differently is supported. It requires leaders to be leaders – and when they are not, it requires wise people to do the job anyway.
It requires each of us to do what we can, where we are. We can make a difference – if it becomes personal.
My yard is always more of a mess than I intend. Living outside the city, there is more to work with – and too much to do. So my little woodlot is overgrown – but this summer, those scruffy bushes at the edge turned out to be high-bush cranberries, producing a ton of fruit. Last year, we found wild plums, prairie roses and wildflowers.
There are birds flying, squirrels being a nuisance, rabbits grazing, hawks dropping by for dinner, crows pecking at whatever. The “lawn” is bright yellow a couple of weeks in the summer, but the dandelions leave a nice green behind after being cut.
The garden never produces what we want, but there is always something – it is a work in progress, forever pushing back the weeds.
In the summer, I am deafened by the sound of frogs in the ditches on my walk in the early morning after a rain. Then I cross the highway down toward the river and I am struck by silence. Golf-green grass, neat yards, shaved ditches, pruned trees – and silence. No frogs, no birds except in transit. Silence.
It’s my future, my kids’ future, your future, life as we know it. One Earth – all we’ve got. All there is.
Of course it’s personal.
Peter Denton is an independent sustainability consultant who chairs the policy committee of the Green Action Centre.