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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ontario government enlists kids to fight climate change

The Government of Ontario, ever mindful of its green credentials, has two new websites up aimed at making the fight against climate change seem cool and hip to young kids. Look! There's uber-hipster Sam Roberts with his You Tube video on the environment! There are The Bare Naked Ladies extolling the virtues of their biodiesel tour bus! There's Leonardo di Caprio touting the upcoming Global Cool concert tour! And permeating the whole package is the beaming face of High Priest David Suzuki. Check them out for yourself: the website for elementary school students is here, and the one targeting secondary schools is here. Follow the links on each site and have fun!

Several things disturb me about this program. For one, check out the links on the secondary school website, for more information, you are urged to link to the David Suzuki Foundation, the Natural Resources Defence Council, and An Inconvenient Truth, among others. Wow - there are some unbiased objective sources of information for you.

Then there's the nagging, hectoring tone to it all. There are some hilarious moments, like when we are introduced to Toronto couple Sarah McGaughey and Kyle Glover, who decide to live for a month without producing any garbage:

These two aren’t amateurs. Both are incredibly dedicated to the idea of a garbage-free lifestyle.

They’re getting a fair bit of media attention too. The Globe and Mail is doing weekly updates on their progress. CBC’s The Hour has profiled them and they’ve been on the Gillian Deacon Show, amongst others.

Despite their previous attempts, going totally garbage free has created a whole new set of problems to be solved. Take Gris Gris, their cat, who when scratching a scratching post produces small flecks of fibre, which Glover pointed out one day was, well, garbage. He started to collect the fibres to stuff a cat toy he’s going to make.
That’s the key, really. Ingenuity. Figuring out ways to do the things you’ve always done, but without the resulting garbage. Glover can’t eat soup without crackers but you can’t buy crackers that don’t come prepackaged so McGaughey taught herself how to make crackers. The recipe is on their blog if you feel so inclined. They’re picking up other helpful tidbits along the way, like how to make their own toothpaste (three parts baking soda and one part salt) or what to do about earwax and Q-tips. As for the stickers on fruit, well Glover and McGaughey have been keeping them to make collages and cards for friends.

However, there is also an undertone of guilt: do this, kids, or you're guilty of gang-raping Mother Earth. And by the way, it would help if you made your parents feel guilty, too. (Mom! Dad! Turn off that light bulb or black bears in Algonquin Park will DIE!)

Be loud and proud about everything you do to help the environment!
You’ll find that a lot of the people you know who aren’t environmentally considerate, simply don’t know how to be.So take it upon yourself to educate your friends and family. Tell them what you do, and why you do it.

Here are some of the things we say and do:
When you leave a room and shut the lights, explain, “I try to make sure I turn off the lights every time I leave a room—even if I’m just leaving it for five minutes. Fuels are burned to create electricity, and when that happens, greenhouse gases are released into the air.”
Explain to people how a 75-watt light bulb = an Algonquin Park black bear! (If you need a refresher on this go back to Eric’s Climate Change and Global Warming section).
Encourage people to plant trees. Lots of them! Trees absorb greenhouse gases and take them out of our air!
If you and your family are going somewhere that’s just a 5-to-10-minute drive, suggest, “Why don’t we walk there instead of taking the car? We’ll save money on gas, we’ll get some exercise, and we won’t put harmful pollutants into the air we breathe.”
Type up a list of everything that can be recycled and composted where you live (or just go online and see if your city or town’s website already has a list). E-mail it to your friends and family, and write something like, “Betcha didn’t know how much stuff we can recycle and compost!”
Tell people about the plastic fork that Maya talks about in her Conservation and Consumption section! Explain how we can help the environment simply by buying and using less stuff! And don’t forget to mention how this will help us save money too!

But then, there are some suggestions that leave me shaking my head. Is it the provincial government's role to discourage consumerism in its citizens? (Remember, this is the same government that gave tax breaks to General Motors to build the Camaro muscle-car in Ontario.) For example, do we really need the Ontario government suggesting to impressionable teenagers (many of whom already have warped ideas about food and body image) that they try to go without eating meat?
The eco-scene is a numbers game. You’ve got big numbers and little numbers. The big numbers are usually about the problem: ten thousand of this, 20 years of that, 4,000 tons of toxic whatchamacallits. Oh crap! Kill me now! On the upside, the small numbers tend to be about the solution. There are six and a half billion people alive in the world, give or take, and if we spread the work around, what one person needs to do is easy and small. Take your eating habits. You can help the world’s climate by eating more fruits and vegetables. For real. People did the math. Eco-initiatives like The David Suzuki Foundation’s Nature Challenge ask people to eat at least one meatless meal a week.
I guess the Ontario government has come to the conclusion that one way to push a reluctant public into re-enacting life in the Middle Ages is to make their kids nag them into doing it. It reminds me of this passage in George Orwell's 1984:
With those children, he thought, that wretched woman must lead a life of terror. Another year, two years, and they would be watching her night and day for symptoms of unorthodoxy. Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected with it. The songs, the processions, the banners, the hiking, the drilling with dummy rifles, the yelling of slogans, the worship of Big Brother - it was all a sort of glorious game to them. All their ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals. It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children. And with good reason, for hardly a week passed in which the Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak - 'child hero' was the phrase generally used - had overheard some compromising remark and denounced his parents to the Thought Police.


joe said...

Too bad about the bio-diesel bus. the bare butt laddies aught to know that it is the burning of fuel that causes CO2 not the type of fuel used. On the upside it is nice to see the bare butts have found a way to use the garbage from the other enemy - fast food.
On the other hand for them to get enough fuel to run the bus lots of people have to eat deep fried food.

Anonymous said...


Georges said...

How is it indoctrination!?

What have they written that isn't true? Sure, it's tilted towards environmentalism... it makes no claims otherwise. So, what exactly is the problem with this ministry of the government doing what it seems to me is its mission?

igmagogon said...

So what I wonder is, who are you mad at -- government or environmnetalists?

I don't see why the advice of environmentalists wouldn't be friendly to libertarians. People are encouraged to grow their own food, find off-grid power sources and sensibly re-use that they have.

Those actions all encourage self-reliance and make you less dependent on big government and foreign-owned industry in the long run.

Tooling around in gas guzzler and dropping litter might make you look like a rebel, but does it really make you independent. Only for one party weekend, maybe, but then you have to wake up to REASON, don't you?

If you look at the Obviously website most of what it's apparently saying is do for yourself. If the government has a message it's saying start without us, because we don't have the solutions and we won't get there soon enough.

If that message is aimed at youth all the better. Who's left with more of the burden of climate disaster? People who are kids today or a 40-something anarchist?

Eric said...

Well, here's a few things that I'm mad about:
Young kids are not fully-formed adults, and when "the government" tells them what to think, they often don't have the critical skills necessary to evaluate what they're being told objectively. When the Ontario Government links to "An Inconvenient Truth" or The Suzuki Foundation, it effectively gives those organizations their seal of approval without providing any context whatsoever. Kids aren't equipped to be skeptical, and that goes for messages from both left and right.

Secondly, there is more than just fighting climate change here - these websites are advocating wholesale lifestyle changes which have little to do with climate change - in effect urging kids to reject globalization and the capitalist free market economy. Telling teenagers to stop eating meat? Please. Again, where's the context? Nowhere on these websites is there a suggestion that kids lobby their elders to build more nuclear plants, for example, because that would not fit in with the anti-consumer message. How about a few links to some climate change skeptics, or some suggestions regarding the economic costs of all this? If we accept that a free marketplace of ideas is important to the functioning of a liberal democracy, then the government shouldn't be telling gullible school kids only one side of the story, and demonizing the skeptics who have the temerity to say "wait a minute, here ..."