5,000km on One Wheel for Climate Action! That's the journey Joseph Boutilier will be making across Canada during the Unity for the Climate campaign. Please view the full website or update your web browser for a better experience. Click here to do so.
People-powered change, on the ground and off the radar, is vital and inspiring. Here’s why government action is equally important.
Perhaps it’s premature to make sweeping observations about common Canadian supports of climate action, but I’m truly heartened by the diversity of ways in which un-championed environmental heroes are quietly committed to affecting change in their own lives. The stereotypical eco-chic, science-savvy, intellectual ‘environmentally-conscious citizen’ - like the radical ‘environmentalist’ - is greatly outnumbered by individuals in unique circumstances who maintain equally unique, independent standards and convictions by which they diligently live.
When it comes to climate action, our government represents a lost opportunity to help us see the forest through the trees.
There’s nothing that screams ‘green’ about most of the folks who have generously invited me into their homes on the course of my unicycle journey for climate action. There’s nothing about their houses, their clothes, the brands on their backs nor the vehicles in their driveway that identifies them as advocates for climate action, but their passion for affecting change is clear in many ways more meaningful and personal. In just a week I have stayed with people who are atheists and Christian, anarchistic and democratic, socialist and capitalist. Their ideas for change range from the moderate of reducing the number of paper coffee cups they collect or new cars they lease, to the extremes of shunning toilet paper, plastic and foreign foods; while some see their own homes as the roots for societal shifts, others focus their attention further afield by lobbying political institutions. Their occupations, classes, beliefs and world views could not be further apart, but the things they share in common are also the most important: community spirit, sacrifice for the greater good, hearts set on a better world and the willpower to make it happen.
People often ask me why my goals for climate action are focused primarily on the federal government, when the most rapid and meaningful changes typically happen in grassroots society and smaller communities. I agree, and I encourage everyone to explore changes they can make – and encourage of others – to build a more liveable world by focusing on local opportunities. But I also feel like those considerations and decisions are always the most sound when they’re personal and individual, motivated by a clear understanding of the real scope of the issue, and I’m hopeful that’s already happening. But without leadership from our elected officials, without acknowledgement of the commitments we are making and an eagerness to represent our true priorities on the world stage, our efforts will be undermined by bad public policy. Minority interests will continue to dominate the global discussion while other governments are offered up a great excuse in our apparent complacency for their equal inaction on the climate crisis.
We might never agree on the best ways to curb climate change in our own homes, and judging and demonizing one another based on our lifestyle choices is a surefire way to shoot down local momentum for real change. But we can agree on some simple, smart policy changes that are critical to our future, and in the same way, our government should be able to agree on some simple standards that scientists worldwide have been supporting for decades.
Domestically, we can agree that there’s no need for $1.4b of annual taxpayer subsidies to wealthy oil companies who are perpetuating our reliance on fossil fuels (even Harper agrees, according to unfulfilled commitments to eradicate the subsidies five years ago). We can agree that emission targets – however strong or weak they may be – require policies and regulations in order to be effective, and that our government needs to take responsibility for the growing divide between our supposed-targets and our actual emissions. We can agree that we are being misrepresented at conferences like COP19, where Canadian government agencies worked with the NSA to spy on developing nations, failing to negotiate in good faith. Statistics prove that we can also agree, by-and-large (between 74-80%, depending on the year), that something like a fee-and-dividend policy could help our industries focus on emerging sustainable energy alternatives, and help those of us who are personally making green investments in our homes and lifestyles.
As with the true environmental heroes of our communities – our neighbours, shop-keepers, teachers and friends – the heroes of climate action in our political sphere do not – and will not – come in one shape, size, or colour. That’s why we need unity across the political spectrum, and clear, solid commitments to these unequivocal policy changes well in advance of the 2015 election. However you define it, we need unity for the climate.
- Joseph Boutilier
Victoria local Joseph Boutilier has decided to embark on a five-month journey to Ottawa in order to raise awareness about climate change. The trip will include stops in small towns to talk to people about climate change issues, as well as an open invitation for anyone who wants to join him to come along. It will come to an end on Parliament Hill where Boutilier will attempt to convince federal politicians to work together to combat climate change. The only catch is, he’s doing the whole trip on a unicycle.
“Unicycling, first and foremost, it kind of has an accessibility about it. People see me and they smile. It’s kind of an icebreaker. It gives me a chance to build a rapport with people,” says Boutilier. “I’m talking about pretty heavy issues. There’s a chance to strike up a casual conversation about something that’s interesting and fun. That’s a good start.” He adds that a unicycle is the perfect speed if people want to join in.
Boutilier wants to get people across the country talking about climate change. While his ultimate goal is to get his message across to the federal government, Boutilier believes it is important to get municipal and provincial officials on board with the movement. He says that political parties need to work together if any change is going to happen. “The people that are going to be the hardest hit are the communities that don’t have the resources for adaptation and for health care and things that will really be required to address the pending change—the locked-in global warming that’s going to happen even if we have time to address the bigger crisis,” says Boutilier.
Boutilier’s interest in the climate change crisis started when he was 10 or 11, when he went to a UN children’s conference. Since then, the issue has been sitting in the back of his mind. For a while, he says, he was preoccupied with work, but would go on Facebook and see causes his friends were getting into and think that was something he wanted to do as well. So he quit his job as a game designer and started up his own campaign, called Unity for the Climate. “When An Inconvenient Truth came out and then that wave [of interest in climate change] sort of crashed and nothing came of it, I was distracted with work and typical life stuff. I was out of the loop in terms of activism and non-profit work,” says Boutilier. “As soon as I had kind of made the time to get back into it, I knew that was going to be my cause.”
Boutilier says he was inspired when he heard about Phillip Schleihauf, a man who unicycled across Canada for the Invisible Children fund. So far, Boutilier says he has received a lot of help, including pending support from local businesses for gear. He’s had a mixed reaction from his friends and family, though. “My mom’s a big worry-wart,” he says. “She sends me a number of emails every day and wants to make sure that I’m properly packed and fed and all that stuff.”
Boutilier says he doesn’t want to think about the difficulties he may encounter along the way. He says there is a danger of injury or saddle sores, but he’s also concerned about eating well. “I’m for the most part vegetarian, so that might be challenging,” he says. Boutilier says the hardest part of any campaign like this is providing evidence of the issues and moving beyond partisan politics. He wants to encourage anyone who will listen to join the cause and get everyone talking about climate change. He doesn’t want to unduly pressure people, but he does want to get the attention of anyone who wants to know more.
“We’re just seeing, I think, what we’re really capable of as activists and advocates right now,” he says. “The government is absolutely centred on its own objectives, but it’s still vulnerable to the political willpower and the people.” Boutilier will start his journey on April 5, in Sidney, B.C.