Written by Denise Deby.
In the transition to a new year, many people find renewed energy to do more toward the things they care about. Not everyone makes resolutions, but it’s often a time for reflecting on past efforts and committing to new ways to live sustainably.
Still, no matter how diligently we compost our kitchen waste, use our appliances during off-peak times or take the bus more often, we can still have that nagging feeling that some of the most important things are beyond our influence.
In 2014, for example, the IPCC confirmed that human-influenced greenhouse gas emissions are changing the earth’s climate in ways that will have severe and irreversible effects. In Canada, the federal government continued to promote unsustainable energy (a big greenhouse gas contributor) while undermining the systems and programs that monitor and address environmental problems.
In Ottawa, progress was mixed. For example, enthusiasm about new environmentally-minded planning initiatives was tempered by concerns about whose vision of our city was being served. Laudable efforts to build more sustainable-transportation-friendly infrastructure like the Churchill Avenue “complete street” were overshadowed by the deaths of people while cycling or walking. We still have a long way to go, and it can be difficult to know how as individuals we can contribute to improving the “big picture.”
Here are some reasons to take heart in 2015.
1. There’s evidence to suggest that significant change can happen through a groundswell of individual actions. Take winter biking. I’ve seen, over the past couple of years, people deciding to try it, and encouraging and supporting others by example and through social media, sharing tips on bike care, routes and how to dress. This is a big deal in terms of normalizing winter biking and drawing more attention to the need for winter maintenance of bike routes.
Savvy organizations like Ecology Ottawa have built on individual interests and energies to create initiatives such as Tree Ottawa and the climate change campaign that engage many others in Ottawa on the environment.
2. We have it in us to build local resilience by coming together to identify and create sustainable alternatives. Some recent examples in Ottawa: the West End Well Co-op, created by people in the neighbourhood as a gathering space to share food, ideas and inspiration for living sustainably; the Biodome Garden in Brewer Park, where community garden members are demonstrating and testing ways to extend the growing season; and the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-op, offering people a way to invest in community-owed renewable energy. These home-grown solutions have the potential to change the way we consume and use resources. They also serve as models, showing what people can achieve when they come together as communities, and when the city supports local initiatives.
3. This year may bring new windows of opportunity to influence political will and action on the environment. With a new Ottawa City Council, many of whose members are attentive to environmental concerns, and an upcoming federal election, it’s an opportunity to speak up, exercise your vote and encourage political leaders to make policy decisions that promote environmental solutions and stewardship.
If you’re looking for other ways to green your 2015, you might find some ideas in last year’s January post (with apologies for the post “recycling”). Share your own ideas with the rest of us! And have a happy new year.