Why did I wait so long?

Earlier this week, signs went up in the corridors of F.H. Collins Secondary in preparation for Earth Day.

Earlier this week, signs went up in the corridors of F.H. Collins Secondary in preparation for Earth Day. Members of the Social Justice Club there wanted to encourage their fellow students to think a bit more about their daily in-school habits and larger environmental challenges. They planned contests, a dress-green day and other activities to build up a spirit of engagement around the day.

Though a set of recycling bins had long occupied a spot along a wall of the cafeteria, they brought in several big recycling bins to prominently occupy “in your face” spaces that couldn’t be ignored amid the tables. “Compost here” signs and pointing arrows made it nearly impossible to not drop long-available, compostable soup containers, plates, cups and even plastic cutlery into the bins.

The Social Justice Club’s actions inspired one young teacher whose classroom already had paper recycling and a blue bin for drink cans and containers to add a small compost bin. Earlier this week, as the small green bin rapidly filled with banana peels, paper towels and other compostable classroom waste, she positively commented on the addition: “Why did I wait so long?”

We can ask ourselves the same question. Why have we all waited so long to do what we know needs to be done to protect the environment that sustains us all? We know we have choices to make. The reality of climate change and its accelerating consequences in the North can not be denied.

Why do we procrastinate? Don’t we, by now, have a clear sense that the very lives and livelihoods of the children now in our daycares and elementary schools, not to mention future generations, will be severely impacted by any indecision now on our part? Have we been immobilized by a politics of fear marshalled by those profiting from the current footdragging or environmentally obstructionist status quo?

Issues from implementing a carbon tax to stopping fracking, the exploitation of the Peel River watershed and the introduction of genetically modified alfalfa may demand wider societal action. However, our own individual daily actions can contribute to the building of a community of concern. An engaged citizenry fundamentally challenges the fear-mongers who tell us that our way of life will collapse unless we allow unbridled market forces to reign over the exploitation of our world’s resources.

Thomas Homer-Dixon, the CIGI Chair of Global Systems at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Waterloo, Ontario, and author of The Upside of Down and The Ingenuity Gap, spoke recently of the need to build ecological resilience into our social and political systems. By ecological resilience he means, “a system’s capacity to undergo substantial internal change and innovation in response to a shock,” he said in a Dallas Morning News interview published online last Friday.

“Rather than bouncing back to its prior state, it evolves into a form that’s better adapted to its rapidly changing environment. This is the form of resilience exhibited by the most innovative systems we know on the planet, such as healthy ecosystems or well-functioning market economies.”

Homer-Dixon’s ideas have evolved since he spoke in Whitehorse in 2005, but the basics are still there. He sees that “this kind of resilience needs to come from the bottom up, from local groups, community organizations and social activists. It’s messy, unpredictable in its outcomes, highly disruptive for some people and can’t easily be planned or managed.” Building a just, sustainable society won’t be easy or neat but we must be the architects of our own ecologically resilient future. How will you and your family celebrate Earth Day?

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.