This June, let’s vote for the environment

Last week, 120 Hamilton area residents put signs in their lawns with featuring the words “Vote for the Environment.” A project of Hamilton Quakers, the poster encourages candidates and voters in the upcoming provincial election to prioritize environmental action like protecting farmland, addressing the climate emergency and transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Such issues may seem less urgent or immediate at a time when Canadians are dealing with multiple crises, including inflation, polarized political rhetoric and war. Yet, as United Nations General Secretary António Guterres has said, “The state of the planet is broken; humanity is waging war on nature. Nature always strikes back — and it is already doing so with growing force and fury.”

For example, in July 2021 the town of Lytton, BC, set and broke successive Canadian heat records for three consecutive days. As the temperature reached 50 C, a wildfire burned down the town.

All these life circumstances and issues are interconnected. The fallout of the assault on our planet is making life more and more difficult, especially for those already disadvantaged by geography, poverty or repression. By encouraging citizens to think about where their candidate stands on environmental issues, Hamilton Quakers are countering a pervasive view that we can do nothing to alter a course that is destroying the world’s climate and through this causing further instability, displacement and conflict.

Really? Have environmental ever accomplished anything?

Absolutely! In 1962, Rachel Carson, a marine biologist, published a book entitled “Silent Spring.” Despite fierce opposition by chemical companies, Carson led to a ban on DDT in the United States and in Canada and elsewhere. As well, her efforts inspired the growth of grassroots environmental activism.

In the early 1970s, a group of scientists, including the Vietnamese Buddhists Thich Nhat Hahn and Cao Ngoc Phuong, were among environmentalists who lobbied for action during United Nations conferences on biodiversity and sustainable development. Thanks to their efforts, and those of others, many nations marked the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. Concepts such as “think global, work locally” and “limits to growth” became commonplace.

Also in the 1970s, the chemists Frank Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina of the University of California, Irvine, began studying the impacts of substances that significantly modified the ozone layer that protects the Earth. This resulted in adverse effects like acid rain. Their determined lobbying, with others, led to the Montreal Protocol. This international seeker sought to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances that are for ozone depletion. The intervention entered into force on Jan. 1, 1989. Subsequently, humans have phased-out the most ozone-depleting substances and become more attuned to the imperative of environmental protection.

We have here three powerful precedents that demonstrate how engaged citizens can rescue the planet: the elimination of DDT, the establishment of Earth Day and the protection of the ozone layer. This election provides voters with an emergency opportunity to find out what your candidates are prepared to do to protect farmland, to address the climate and to off fossil fuels. Complementing other local, national and global groups that are spirited by concern on the part of young people, we also can do our bit, an important bit, to keep our world going.

Paul R. Dekar lives in Hamilton.

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