I was in the beer store today looking for something in glass bottles, for a gift. After going to these stores for decades I hadn’t really considered why most of the store is a “cold room “.  The obvious reason is, so that customers can carry beer home that’s already cold!

Is it too much trouble for us to place a bottle in the fridge for a half hour once a person gets home?  I question  whether the energy needed to recycle a beverage bottle or can, or a coffee cup is worth it for a few sips of pleasure. We could have our drinks in other ways, like carry a cup around and pour it from the source of purchase. In our current social environment, that sounds like a fanatical and extreme thought, but the weather is now doing extreme things and our thinking hasn’t caught up.

If we apply this to plastic bags and plastic products, lights on all night in office buildings, using oil, coal and nuclear fuel sources when others are available and so on, it’s not difficult to see that much  of our environmental damage is avoidable.

The science and the statistics are available, the reporting is everywhere. It would be redundant to list the evidence here.  For a hundred years we’ve abused mother earth, she’s screaming out and nature systems are breaking down.

Even if one is confused by counter-arguments and climate change deniers, can you taste the toxicity in the air, in the water, and the lacking amount of life force in our food? Does the appearance of smoggy air, dirty beaches and murky lakes kind of feel bad/wrong? Does the increasing harshness of the sun seem foreboding, compared to before? Does the weather seem increasingly wild and unpredictable where you live? My intuition tells me it is dangerous and morally wrong to create unnecessary waste that pollutes the environment and our bodies.  Do we even need science to know this?

The issues we DO argue about: racial tensions, gender wage parity, left wing or right wing, police or military  misconduct vs terrorism, the economy, federal bank collusion … as important as they are, what difference would they make if the air and the water is not usable, or wildfires, floods and earthquakes are consuming us?

In the U.S., not filing a tax return could bring a $25,000 fine and 1 year in prison. In Canada, misreporting income can result in fines into the hundreds of thousands and up to five years in prison. People have served time in prison for possession of marijuana and other petty crimes.

But a citizen can idle a car for hours without an officer bothering to address them. We can eat takeout food in styrofoam every meal and throw that styrofoam in the garbage, or live with two people in a 5,000 sq ft home with air conditioning and a heated swimming pool, without consequence, even though we know it is reaching a point of no return for mother earth.

On the corporate/government side, you can package your products in plastic, create a drought that causes people to die, spray chemicals that wipe out animal species to extinction, or aggressively suppress clean technology while promoting widespread use of a toxic process – without being stopped from doing so. You can over-produce a product into the millions of units then throw it in the dump to keep prices up. In the way our system functions,  these things are allowed to continue its relatively little accountability.

The environmentally conscious among us, the people who recycle, ride a bike to work and carry cotton bags to the supermarket – this behaviour is a nice notion. Governments and industry have done a good job of putting the ethical onus on the consumer, but frankly, green processes should just be built-in to ordinary lifestyle. It should be zero effort and zero cost to dispose of a used paint can or batteries, not a special trip to a dump 20 kilometres from home. Unnecessary plastic products should simply not be available. Unnecessary power usage and driving should be easy to avoid. This requires action from those who design our systems. Meanwhile, the main causes of pollution are industrial waste and poor product design, something everyday people cannot do much about. We need leadership  and assistance from the people we pay taxes to, to figure these things out and act in our best interest.

As a society, we delay making changes and sweep aside any meaningful preventive action to curb the foreboding consequences of pollution, just to maintain our current profits, our comfort habits, for another hour, another day, another year.

Here are a few sobering points:

Improvement plans of the largest offenders are not particularly science-based and don’t go far enough. (The Guardian)

Targets that arose from the Paris Agreement are not ambitious enough or comprehensive enough, (National Geographic)

…and even these targets are not being met. (Energy Digital (Industry Tracking Business Magazine)

The targets are difficult to meet because we lack long-term thinking or ethical basis to the top. We want to maintain our business goals and our lifestyles more than we want to do the right thing.  Shifting to greener alternatives in small ways is good – it is needed, but even if the moderate targets that have been negotiated were embraced, it would take a further significant systemic change AND reduction in demand (i.e. lifestyle changes) to have a chance at saving the planet.

It would take extreme austerity, reduced future population and an immense effort to clean up what damage has been done. We need to find a way to re-balance the air, the water, the land. We need a way to dispose of or consume the waste we haven’t dealt with (which resides in landfills and huge pockets of debris in the ocean, along with huge amounts of micro plastic.)  Then there’s the nuclear processing waste kept hopefully in special containers, as well as flotsam and jetsam in the atmosphere.

The question is, if we hold this awareness front and centre in our minds and hearts, are we ready to undertake the austerities required to create the changes in the resources to deal with the most important issue facing us and future generations? It isn’t a small shift that we need.  Perhaps we would need to live closer to what we think of as “primitively”, tribally. Horses and dirt roads? Cooking once a day? No air conditioning? Certainly no more automatic opening doors, or feature-rich digital experiences.  It burns too much electricity. We would  need to stop backing up all data always, eliminate mass surveillance, share a car between five families, have the power turned on for two or three hours a day only, meticulously reduce and manage the amount of water we use in one day.

And on the corporate side, we would need to close down whole companies who produce frivolous and unnecessary items and services. Of the ones who remain, operate at break-even instead of expectations of huge profits. Or dedicate most profits to environmental causes. Besides the mechanics of cleaning the environment (if that is possible) there is the cost of providing basic income to cover all the lost jobs, or create millions of jobs that are not essentially productive but solely focus on environment amelioration.

The money to pay these people may not come as wages usually come (from the wealth creation by their efforts.) Much of it will need to be subsidized.  We will need an incredibly large amount of resources and effort to even try and fix this problem. We may need to entirely stop wars and the industries of war preparedness (one of our largest economic costs). Is that possible? Taking John Lennon’s song “Imagine” as a guiding document might start to look reasonable. Perhaps it wasn’t a “whim” after all. As it is, our priorities are completely upside-down and it would take multiple catastrophes to admit it.

It’s easy to sweep it aside or pretend  that such thinking is overly dramatic, but is it really? If systems, increasingly reliant on electricity, come crashing down, failures in basic security, bank account access, food supply and medical services could grind to a halt. Wildfires, floods, earthquakes, all the things we are now seeing exponentially increasing…any one of these could create a breakdown of the systems that support the comforts and material sophistication we insist on maintaining while we mildly address the environment problem.

We could undertake extreme changes now, or have them thrust upon us. It almost seems inevitable.