Confessions of a Yellowknife Climate-change Activist

On EDGE: Opinion

Doug Ritchie

My name is Doug, and I am a polluter. I am an active participant in the destruction of the atmosphere and the eco-systems that have safeguarded humans, and the plants and animals we depend upon. I live in a part of Canada that has one of the highest per capita levels of greenhouse gases in the world. I am part of the climate-change problem.

I used to be the program director at Ecology North, a charitable environmental group based in Yellowknife. But no matter how green I may seem, I can make few claims to environmental moral superiority. I live on the Ingraham Trail and drive to my work in Yellowknife. I don’t fully believe that the fact I have solar panels, grow some of my own food, cycle to work in the summer, and car pool as much as possible in the winter, is really enough. I recognize I can do much more in my personal life to reduce my carbon footprint. Still, I like to believe that by admitting I am part of the problem, by recognizing I can do better, I am beginning to inch towards being part of the solution.

In 2004, I decided to quit my job with the GNWT and work on this issue full-time with Ecology North. I stayed there until 2011. After nearly seven years, I must say I was totally burnt out. Despite a few glimmers of successes locally, I really couldn’t say we were nationally or globally any better off. Thanks to the current federal government, the climate bus that was heading towards the cliff was speeding up instead of slowing down.

I think part of my frustration at Ecology North was that it was so difficult to get people to take climate change seriously. It seemed people either didn’t entirely accept the science, or were so overwhelmed by the implications, that they were paralyzed. It was probably more complicated than that. Over Christmas I was listening to the CBC and heard someone say the reason taking action on climate change is so hard, is because it is like walking into a great bash and yelling “the party is over.”

I must admit I actually like fossil fuels and everything they bring, from warm buildings in cold climates to inexpensive plane tickets. I like the fact that seriously ill people can be medevaced rapidly to intensive care. In fact, I think fossil fuels are sacred and that our breathtaking consumption of them is a monumental injustice. We treat fossil fuels as essential playthings and our emissions as an inalienable right to pollute. As to future generations, “screw’em.”

The lifestyle we so fully embrace is reducing the chances for other people to make a living, both today and in the future. Increased temperatures mean increased drought, decreased crop yields, rising sea levels, and species extinction. Our over-consumption and misuse of fossil fuel is not dissimilar to the struggle to end slavery. Slavery persisted first in England and then in the United States because so many people benefitted from the “system.” Cheap sugar and cotton, to say nothing of the profits, kept it alive far too long.

Until recently, the warning signals of climate change went unheeded because so many of us are disconnected from the natural world. Most people don’t live right beside a rising ocean, or in areas that are being touched increasingly by “so-called” natural disasters. The danger signals, I hope, are finally being understood by a wider audience. Fundamentally, I am optimistic we can make the transition to the low-carbon economy we so desperately need. The big challenge is persuading our neighbours both here and in the south to change, and getting our own governments to adopt more effective policies toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

So, let us begin. I just hope the people trying to make it clear the party is over – including myself – don’t get too many beer bottles thrown at them.

Doug Ritchie is the former program director of Ecology North. He’s still an active member and serves on the board of directors.

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