10 09 23 We Need Environmental Leadership ER

The change of attitude towards the use of plastic bags in our city has been remarkable. The check-out clerk who routinely double bagged a few years ago, today asks “will you need any bags today?” or “will you need a bag for that?” Many people use reusable bags or no bags at all. And we all benefit.

What has brought about this change? I suppose the time was ripe, but I think the change started when one grocery retailer began charging $0.05 for a plastic bag – one retailer willing to do the right thing. Soon the idea spread.

We applaud this change, and we wonder why it took us so long to change the way we do things. Not long ago many of us took a plastic bag from the grocery store without giving it a second thought. Today we think before we do it. Why did it take $0.05 per bag to get us to think? And are we giving enough thought to how other of our actions affect the environment?

I submit we are not. We need prodding to encourage right thought and action. And that requires leadership.

Several months ago our City Council received two letters, both encouraging council to do something to discourage the use of plastic bags. Council discussion around these letters was reported in The Carillon. It was obvious City councillors had never thought about this before. They can be forgiven for that, because they can't think of everything, but they need to give more thought to what leadership is needed on environmental issues.

For example, a simple, uniform levy on the use of plastic bags even today would level the playing field for all retailers, and would send a clear signal as to direction. We would all benefit.

But plastic bags are a small matter. There are much bigger environmental issues. Take for example our dependance on natural gas for the heating of our homes. There is a limited supply of this resource, yet we are rapidly using it up. Wouldn't in be in the interests of all of our grandchildren if we were better at conserving this resource? Once that resource becomes truly scarce, the price of gas will go up, and we will all have an economic incentive to look for alternatives. But today we blithely go on using this precious resource – following the cultural norm. Where is leadership in this regard?

There are alternatives to this reckless use of a precious resource. Consider just one of many alternatives. Houses can be oriented so the big windows face south. If this is done, the house will absorb more heat from the sun in winter and need less heat from other sources. This is orientation for solar gain. With appropriate leadership from City Council, home builders would find incentives to orient houses for solar gain. What kind of incentives would be appropriate? Again there are many options. One option is to use the building codes. Our building codes already ensure that houses are built to a certain standard. It only requires political will to add orientation for solar gain to the code.

Think of this when you engage City Council hopefuls in conversation in the weeks to come. 

Eric Rempel