Environment: Avoiding the Energy Trap

By Sabine Ehgoetz

Eric Novak calls himself “a storyteller in the I-give-a-damn business”, but for his tales to find a happy ending, we need to do more than just listen. Trained personally by environmentalists Al Gore and David Suzuki, Eric is one of the volunteer presenters for The Climate Project Canada. His passion lies in educating, motivating and inspiring audiences all over the country to live with greater awareness of the environment.

Where does Canada stand compared to the rest of the world in regards to environmental awareness and energy consumption?
E.N.: It has been statistically proven that Canadians have a high level of awareness of what is going on with nature compared to other nations. In regards to carbon footprints though, Canada, on a per capita basis, is among the worst emitters of carbon. Comparatively speaking, we are just slightly behind the U.S. Our per capita production of carbon is five times higher than the Chinese and twice as high as the consumption in the EU countries.

What are the biggest traps for newcomers to fall into when moving to Canada so they would become “energy-abusers”?
E.N.: Mainly responsible for our excessive emissions is our lifestyle. We live in a consumption based economy, a society that is taught to consume for its own good. We have a society that thinks it is entitled to a certain lifestyle, and our materialism is a fundamental trap. Someone who arrives here has to be careful not to get caught in the mentality of being entitled to material things. There is a clear difference between needs and wants, and in Canada that line is blurred. Wants all of a sudden become needs, which isn’t necessarily true.

Can you define key areas of excessive energy consumption in Canada?
E.N.: The two biggest contributors to our carbon footprints in Canada are vehicular use and how we heat and cool our homes. We drive far bigger cars than, for example, people in Asia, but with far less fuel efficiency, which is thankfully changing a bit right now. We tend to turn on the air conditioning instead of just opening the windows, and we jack up the heat as soon as it gets cooler instead of putting on a sweater. These are the biggest areas where we emit, but other lifestyles and expectations also come into play. We have ritualised consumption; we have tied it to holidays, events and occurrences. This is the mentality we have been taught for over half a century, but we realize now that this isn’t necessarily right. Realistically, we have to be able to consume, but the gluttony, the excess and entitlement that has developed over time, is the problem.

So it looks like Canadians could actually learn a lot from newcomers. How do you think could we mostly benefit from their environmental knowledge and customs?
E.N.: In a multicultural society like Canada, people from other countries bring their cultural traits, traditions and beliefs, which is mostly a good thing. There are a lot of impoverished areas of the world where we see immigration coming from that view mother earth and the resources given to us with more respect than we do. There are areas of the world where people don’t need acres of land and white picket fences, where people co-habitate on a much smaller space together. We could learn from immigrants who have a greater approach to conservationism and to less excess. We need to adopt some of those traits. Multiculturalism means bringing the best of the rest together; it’s about sharing cultural values, and as we see this in other areas, like in arts and entertainment, why not do that with stewardship of the environment?

The Climate Project Canada was created in 2005 after the success of Al Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”. Gore had more requests for information than he could provide himself, so he committed to training people to do presentations like him. It started as an American Initiative with 1,000 Americans being trained, but other nations were involved as well. Eventually there were 21 Canadians that convinced Mr. Gore to provide this training in Canada, but he also trained people in many other countries such as Spain, England, Australia, India, and China. In 2008, an additional 255 Canadians received training from Al Gore in Montreal. For more information visit: www.climateprojectcanada.org.