16 February 2014

Do We Even Recognize Our Addiction?

I remember reading once about a woman who didn't recognize that she was an alcoholic until she looked objectively at her recycling bin and compared it to her neighbour's. 

There sure can be lots of denial around alcoholism, eh? People will have a drink to steady their nerves or to wind down after a busy day. Then they'll have a glass of wine with dinner and a nightcap before bed. Add a glass of wine at lunch, a second drink after a particularly stressful day, a whole bottle of wine at dinner, and ... well, I don't need to continue. It can be a creeping addiction. 

Not like crack cocaine, say, or heroin, where you have to procure an illegal (in my country) substance and a needle or pipe and then inject it or (um, I'm sort of drug-illiterate). The point I'm trying to make is that some habit-forming dependencies and addictions are socially invisible like drinking, and therefore are harder 1) to recognize, and 2) to admit to.

Lately, we've become more and more willing to admit to our addiction to fossil fuels. There have been many "interventions" over the last few decades. The "oil crisis" of the early 70s was one. Our growing awareness of greenhouse gases and climate change could be seen as another.

But I realized the other day that we're still not willing to admit to our addiction to growth. I attended a week-long event in a nearby city for the last week and stayed in a hotel. One evening, I was clicking through the TV channels (we don't have a TV at home, so it's always like a toy) and flicked quickly past the talking head of one of Canada's leading political parties, commenting on the country's latest budget. All I heard was "This budget does not have a plan for growth. It does nothing to help grow the economy."

Just with that tiny clip of an interview (on my way to finding a romantic comedy), I realized how hard it has been, is, and is going to be to get people thinking that we might want to examine our addiction to growth.

If our youngest, "hippest" political party leader can't speak to change, to green jobs, to a zero-carbon (or even low-carbon) economy, how will we ever break our dependence on continual growth? 

Folks, we need to speak the words. We need to say the words "zero" and "carbon" when we speak of the economy. We need to plant the seeds of transformation and revolution. This addiction is going to kill us if we don't end it soon. The "green economy" is our methadone ... a zero-carbon economy is more like a new, healthy lifestyle filled with fun exercise, fabulously healthy food and wonderfully sustaining relationships. 

The latest IPCC assessment (AR5) only offers one scenario (RCP2.6) that gives us any hope of keeping the global temperature increase below 2ºC (and it probably hasn't included carbon feedbacks, etc.). But that scenario is based on a centuries-long drawdown of CO2 from the atmosphere (lots of green jobs there!). If we don't start reducing CO2 emissions by 2015, cutting them by 5% per year, then we'll quite simply die of an overdose.

Five percent per year ... that probably sounds scary for anyone who can't see beyond the worldview of continual fossil-fuelled economic growth. But it's actually quite an exciting prospect because it represents a transition to an economy that is safer, cleaner, healthier, more peaceful, and much more equitable.

Let's talk about it in coffee shops and classrooms, waiting rooms and newspapers. Let's help people see that development of a zero-carbon economy is the antidote to our addiction to growth.

1 comment:

  1. Several years ago, BC Hydro implemented a "marketing" campaign aimed at getting households to reduce consumption by 10%. Think the oil companies might do the same? ;)


I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?