Back in the early 1990s, my environmentalist side was just being kindled. I had just started recycling, no easy feat as it was well before blue box years. I was living in Winnipeg at the time and my garden consisted of a few pots of pansies on my balcony. I came across my “environment” file from those years in my on-going excavation of the past. A Maclean’s magazine dated September 1990, contained a special report on the environment with articles on how the average Canadian family pollutes the environment and steps they can take to help. There are case studies on forest company MacMillan Bloedel and Petro-Canada, profiles of activists trying to save rivers and whales and even one on an organic farmer. There are big ads from Alcan and the Pulp and Paper Industry. On the front cover is a picture of a very young Bob Rae with very large glasses under the headline: “Shock Waves.” Rae had just become premier of Ontario, the province’s first ever NDP government.
Also in the file, I found three Winnipeg Sun articles by David Suzuki. The headlines read: “We must make cities liveable,” “We must learn to see through a child’s eyes,” “We’re using far too much;” all pleas for ecological sustainability, whether he was speaking about social disconnection, reducing our oil consumption, or conserving our resources. There’s also a Vancouver Sun article (July 10, 1993) on his daughter Severn Cullis Suzuki, just 13 years old and in high demand as a speaker following her debut at the Earth Summit in Rio in June of 1992.
There were several articles on the Earth Summit, short for the UN Conference on Environment and Development. In People magazine (Aug 8/92), Maurice Strong, secretary-general of the Summit was quoted as saying, “To survive, we’ll have to change a world dominated by greed, competition and materialism.” One hundred world leaders would attend this largest meeting ever on the environment. Over twelve days they would tackle seven issues: global warming, technology transfer (to cleaner energy), forest protection, ocean pollution, sustainable development, preservation of species, and population control. In the Vancouver Sun (Sat May 30, 1992) – I was back living in Vancouver now – a journalist said, “The world is awash in special-interest catastrophes, but the environment is bigger than any of them, because no matter what your cause – Kurdish independence or the Triple-E Senate or the underclass – it won’t matter if the environment collapses, taking the world’s economy with it.”
Twenty years after the summit, and our federal government has now withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol, is in the process of gutting environmental regulations, slashing programs and funding that will help sustain our national and global ecosystem.
Today I spent the morning at my community garden work party. Perhaps if I just focus on my own environmental progress over 20 years, I will feel like celebrating. Happy Earth Day everyone!