We’ve only just begun

I went to Sobeys on Feb. 1. As the cashier piled my groceries at the end of the counter, I waited expectantly for him to bag them. The heap of food grew larger, but no bags appeared. I glanced at the empty rack, briefly flummoxed. The cashier gave me a little shrug. “No bags, remember?”
Right. I could buy reusable bags, but I have a closet full at home, so like a martyr, I loaded my groceries back into the cart and took them out to my car, gingerly positioning them in the back. Next to me, a woman with an armload of produce was packing it in her trunk and dropping it on the ground in equal measure.
We exchanged longsuffering looks. “We’re doing our part for the environment,” she laughed.
I felt very heroic. “Yup, it’s a good change.”
Pleased with our sacrifice, we then got into our fossil-fuel powered machines and jockeyed for road space amongst hundreds of other greenhouse-gas emitters, to drive back to our fossil-fuel heated homes.
My conscience pointed out the contradiction and my heroic mood faded. In the last issue of Halifax Magazine, I wrote about how the climate-emergency is now widely accepted and top-of-mind. I qualified that by noting that we haven’t done nearly enough to tackle the crisis.
I wonder now if I shouldn’t have screamed that in all-cap bold letters. I barely registered the point, and I wrote the bloody thing.
It makes me think about Nova Scotia in the Second World War. Towns around the province had regular blackout drills. German bombers couldn’t reach the mid-Atlantic, let alone Eastern Canada, but when the siren whooped, people would dutifully extinguish their lights, close the curtains, and run for cover.
Most folks, including the people who ordered those blackouts, didn’t expect the Luftwaffe to suddenly swoop from the clouds. The point was to clarify minds, to remind people that a national crisis was underway and they all had to make sacrifices.
Gestures like bag bans are great. They keep us focused on the fact we’re facing humanity’s biggest crisis in millennia. But they’re just gestures, barely making any movement to solve the climate emergency as long as we remain addicted to fossil fuels.
Lugging my groceries into the house by the armload shouldn’t make me feel heroic, it should remind me we all need to make a lot more changes.
Those groceries are a good place to start. Zack Metcalfe writes a blog about the environment for Halifax Magazine. In March 2019, he wrote a post called “An earth-saving diet.”
He talked about how meat and dairy provide just 18% of the calories humans consume, yet their production takes up 83% of farmland and causes 60% of agriculture-related greenhouse gases.
There are a lot of numbers in that post, but 75% is the one that really stuck with me. That’s how much farmland we could return to nature if we all went vegan. If that’s too radical a change, Zack suggests doing it in steps. For starters: cut back, way back, on beef. If you can’t replace it with vegan alternatives, replace it with chicken. That’s the most efficient meat for farmers to produce, with the least environmental impact per serving.
That’s a change I can do. I’m a fiend for hamburgers, but I’m trying to look at them more as special-occasion treats. I want to turn to meat less often and perhaps soon not at all. Breaking four decades of eating habits is hard, but I’ll sleep better at night knowing I’m doing it, so I’m trying.
In his January post, “Look both ways before buying a car,” Zack wrote about the rise of the electric car. Within a couple years, they’ll be cheaper to buy, power, and maintain than traditional cars. And even though most of our electricity comes from fossil fuels, they’re better for the environment, because they utilize that fossil-fuel energy a lot more efficiently than gas-guzzling cars do.
Today an electric car isn’t a great option for most Nova Scotians. Few models are available locally and the ones that are exceed most budgets. Charging stations are scarce. But the transformation is sweeping the world and will hit here soon enough. In the meantime, I’m trying hard to drive less, carpooling, walking, or using transit when possible.
We used to own a Silverado truck. It was big and loud and handy. We liked it very much. But when it was wrecked in a crash, we opted not to replace it. We’ve been a one-vehicle family since and intend to remain so.
These are good changes, ones I wouldn’t have considered a few years ago, but they’re not amazing sacrifices. They’re basic things I should be doing and I should be doing a lot more of them.
It is the little things. But it’s a lot of little things. Now that we’ve made a little progress and grown more aware, the worst thing we can do is pause for complacent self-congratulation.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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