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Politicians are slaves to our whims

October 8th, 2015 · No Comments

Let’s lead so they will follow

By Terri Chu,

The federal election has been lack lustre on the environmental front to put it mildly. In fact, finding an environmental platform from the three major parties to write about for this final piece before election day is akin to searching through Kim Kardashian’s twitter feed for words of wisdom. I decided a more enjoyable pastime would be sticking my head into the tailpipe of a “clean diesel” Volkswagen.

My bones will have long turned to unrefined crude oil before we see any real environmental leadership from the three major parties. It’s hard to blame them too when the reality of sustainability means that the old (unsustainable) way of life will have to cost more by necessity. That is never a popular political plank to run on. No matter how we slice and dice it, filling an SUV full of gas would (and should) cost more if we want to do more than simply pay lip service to the environment. This is something that I find even my most left-leaning friends have a hard time wrapping their heads around. On one hand there’s a lot of bandwagon partying come Earth Hour; on the other hand, when electricity rate hikes get announced, it’s the only time I see any political activism in the form of “get rid of the inept government that makes electricity so expensive”.

Without higher resource prices, it is nearly impossible to make clean technologies pay off. I’ve done work for companies looking to sink millions into being more energy efficient, but because of our low rates, economic payback simply isn’t there. Unless we accept that being green necessitates the old way of life costing more, we don’t have any chance of moving forward. This isn’t to say our standards of living will drop, but the capital investments to be less polluting must also pay off economically.

A friend once gave me policy papers from the Liberal party to read on the environment. I nodded my head as I went through them, thinking that most of the policies made good environmental (and economic) sense. Something about the print quality and font prompted me to search for a publication date. These policies that made such great sense were from the early eighties! For thirty years, we have been saying “we must do” while taking action on slightly above zero of them.

Politicians are slaves to our whims. As the French politician Ledru-Rollin said, “There go my people, I must find out where they are going so I can lead them.” Short of wagging the dog, I’ve lost faith that real action will be taken. As citizens and consumers, there is only so much we can do. Power has been concentrated in those with the monetary means, and the rest of us are left signing online petitions and clicking “like”. Even when we try to do the right things we find out the companies we trusted passed EPA testing by fraudulent means. The situation is disheartening.

If we want the dog to wag the tail, enough of us have to make purchasing decisions that hurt high polluting industries, even if it costs us a bit more. Rather than complaining about rate hikes, we need to demand that electricity and gas prices go higher if we truly want to see a change to traditional industries. Certainly there will be short-term pain, but there will also be long-term gains on the whole.

We can no longer expect political leadership on the environmental front, so let’s lead so they will follow.

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