Thursday, April 20, 2017

Climate change and safe healthy work space are linked...and the same attitudes apply

Here we go again!

The climate absolutists like Bill McKibben ( have doubled down on political leaders like Justin Trudeau for not abandoning fossil fuels by leaving all remaining carbon in the ground, halting the tar sands project and all fracking and drilling projects that search for new oil and gas reserves. Premier of Alberta, Rachel Notley, too, is another target of the perfectionists, two of whom she has hired to work from inside her government on the issue. McKibben first lauded Obama when he blocked the Keystone pipeline, and then dubbed him a climate enemy when he permitted drilling and fracking.

Talk about an oscillation of epic proportions.

Of course, the people of North America want to breathe fresh clean air and drink fresh clean water, and plant seeds in uncontaminated soil. We also need to work to feed our families, to shelter them and to launch them into productive work with dignity. The transition from fossil fuels to clean energy projects, including solar panels on our homes, wind-generated electricity, bio-fueled and electric vehicles, while proceeding with both government subsidies and corporate research and production, takes time. And there is a growing impatience among global warming and climate change scientists and advocates that Paris emission limits will not be reached without more substantial and more urgent political action, especially from leaders in the developed world.

The argument at, even if Canada were to halt all fossil fuel production today the result to the global climate would represent a mere 4% of the current emissions, and therefore only a small fraction of the “problem” in its entirety, misses the point of being a highly visible symbol for the world. Leadership on this issue, like so many previous and current issues,( secondary smoke in workplaces, scent in workplaces, synthetic beads in body wash, workplace and cyber-bullying to name a few, have polarized individuals, families, organizations and government legislators.

Zero tolerance, a policy that has emerged in several quarters, promoted by the purists, the perfectionists and the absolutists, has given those who consider themselves “victim” of any of several “injustices” and has spread to include so many “issues” on the public agenda that the world seems overwhelmed with the demand for and the need for immediate change. Slow, incremental change, on several of these files is, for those who suffer under the cloud of the “perpetrators” is not acceptable.

And there are legitimate reasons for that truth on a number of these files. Child abuse, sexual abuse, instances in which individuals’ health is compromised….these are so obvious, blatant and demanding of immediate change. And one of the instruments of social change is punitive.

Punishing the offenders, as a social and legal and moral protection of victims, is a clear and obvious path to reform, at least in those specific cases.But it is not the only or the preferred path to resolving the situations. Any process premised on punishment (sanctions, penalties and sidelining offenders) demands clear and unequivocal evidence of culpability, and justice system that is ‘up to date’ and so efficient and effective that it sifts out suspect evidence, probes the many sources for all the evidence available, and prosecutes with fairness and objectivity.

And here is where the rubber meets the road, as the proverbial cliché puts it.

Objectivity, if one is either a victim or a perpetrator, is invariably a function of perception and especially the perception of “rights”. If your smoke offends my right to access clean air, then my right to clean air must trump your right to smoke in our shared space. If your scent makes me sick, then my right to clean air that does not make me sick trumps your right to wear whatever scent you choose. Yet, the contest of rights is too often pitted as an “us” against them, with the new victims having to bear the burden of both proof and the resistance to change, while the resistors to change continue to cling to the right to wear whatever they wish too often with impunity.

These resistors, for example, seem unaware that the pollution that is causing thousands of people in cities in China to wear masks to filter the pollution and to help prevent their becoming ill is now clouding the air in North America, while the chemicals that are being inserted into man of our consumer products, without full disclosure because the corporates which produce the new chemicals do not have to disclose (just as the frackers did not have to disclose the chemicals in their “fracking” water), and the argument about global warming and climate change, under Trump, has suffered a severe regression back almost to square one.

That blocking and dismissal of the science has empowered those aardvaaks who resist change, in all quarters and on all files, including but not restricted to fossil fuels, smoke, scents, beads and the many other instances where human capacity to live in a healthy mode is threatened by lead on children’s toys from China for example.
Regulation, standards and the enforcement of those standards, will be considered an impediment to “freedom” rather than the more appropriate and accurate consideration, as a provider of real and lasting “freedom”. Of course those who despise all government will likely never come around to a tolerant, mutually responsible and flexible attitude that makes a new and different kind of “room” for everyone. This new reality applies not only to our private homes, where, hopefully no baby will have to grow and develop in a home filled with cigarette, pipe, cigar or marijuana smoke, no worker will have to visit the emergency room because  he or she became ill from a dirty ventilation system or from one of the millions of chemical additives that make us “sexy” and perfumed from a cosmetic, a hairspray, a laundry sheet, a body lotion, or even a very high-end body wash or soap. It also applies to the shop floor where odors of various chemicals tars, oils, gases, and motors waft through the open space, and with luck out the up-dated ventilation system.

It also applies to the more business-oriented office spaces, where two or more people share a cubicle, and where, should one be impacted negatively by scents whose chemical composition and body-wearer are both unknown, and have to resort to the infirmary (if there even is one) or be taken home to recover, not only rising the cost of doing business, but also raising the cost of a single-payer health care system. There is no more evident situation in which the phrase “we are all in this together” than the situation in which one person’s long-worn and life-long-preferred perfume, deodorant, shampoo, or even cologne makes another quite literally incapacitated.

And for the burden, nor only of proof of the incapacity to rest with the sick person is for the culture of the workplace to take a similar position as Trump has on global warming and climate change….it is China’s hoax (merely substitute the name of the ill person, and you will get the picture). If we are unable and also unwilling to make the necessary adjustments to our attitudes, and the actions that flow from them on something like penetrating chemical scents, how we will ever be able and willing to make the much more dramatic and much more essential changes in our lifestyles to keep the world’s temperature from rising less than 2 degrees Celsius.

Those now suffering from lung pollution, like the Chinese people wearing those face masks on our television sets, not one or two times every year, but more like two or three times every month, including those now seen walking to  work in North American cities wearing similar masks, or those who have for years silently taken antihistamines just to be able to keep working, knowing full well that their employer is not yet sufficiently enlightened to  new shared human environment.

Forest fires, floods, mudslides, draughts, and rapidly oscillating temperatures are not the only signs that human actions are taking a toll on the air we breathe. We are, as human beings, being challenged to come to a new level of both awareness and of co-operation if we are to prepare a planet in which human life can and will not merely survive but thrive. And for some, that starts with the home and the office.

Now, with respect to the oscillation over the termination of the search and production of fossil fuels and the mounting of clean, green energy as the alternative to replace them and thereby reduce emissions, some compromise is both necessary and feasible. A formal commitment to a date by which Canada, the United States, China, India, Russia, The European Union and the African sub-continent will assure the people of the world that we will have no more need for fossil fuels, or for carbon-emitting fuels of any kind would go a long way to assuaging the anxiety of people like Bill McKibben….and also this scribe. And that date has to be closer than the 2050 date currently being thrown around, as if only with such a lame-duck approach, will the current crop of politicians escape the full responsibility for implementation.
Bill McKibben and the environmental purists are not either crazy or irrelevant. In fact, their plea is for each of us,  in our own little corner of the world, to wake up, and to transform our personal world view from the now outdated and dangerous “me-first silo” to a much more workable and visionary “we-really-do-take-each-other seriously” and drop the isolation, the denial and the blame-game from our approach to each situation we encounter.

Is it too much to ask?

Only for those whose heads are too buried deeply in the sands for them to begin to perceive the whole picture, and their part in it.

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