Today is World Environment Day, hosted this year by Canada.
According to its website, World Environment Day has helped for 43 years to drive changes in consumption habits as well as in environmental policy by raising awareness about environmental issues.
At the risk of sounding like an ungracious host, however, I am not convinced.
Canada’s meagre effort this year (no doubt driven by limited budgets) wins no prizes, given that the headline is "Do Something" and the punchline is "Connecting People with Nature."
Working with an environmental non-governmental organization, we do something every day — not just once a year on June 5. We don’t need to be told to get moving, when our usual role is to plead with various levels of government for them to do something constructive on their environment file.
As for connecting people with "nature," that slogan conjures up the absurd picture of someone being plugged into a tree. Not only does it make nature something foreign and outside of us (instead of what flows through our veins), it reduces a dynamic relationship as intimate and complex as the air in our lungs into a mechanical, linear system.
This mechanical attitude is exactly what has caused the global problem that World Environment Day is supposed to address. Indigenous peoples worldwide talk about "all my relations," not "all my connections," when they describe a better way of living in a more balanced relationship with Mother Earth than western industrial culture has ever managed to achieve.
In other words, the last thing I want to do on World Environment Day is connect with "nature"!
If we want to dedicate another day to the environment, we should use it instead to identify the organizations and individuals who are robbing us and future generations of healthy places to live.
I think change would be more rapid if we created "Wanted" posters of those directly or indirectly responsible for environmental crimes. Target one Villain of the Year (such as plastic, single-use water bottles) and go after the makers, distributors and consumers in a public exposé of the damage the industry does, clearly explaining who profits from the misery it causes other people.
And where people can’t be persuaded or shamed into change, perhaps they should be arrested.
There is an emerging legal field focused on extreme environmental crimes (or ecocide) that is trying to make individuals just as responsible under international law for crimes against the Earth as they are already are responsible for crimes against humanity.
Granted, it might be too little, too late (an International Criminal Court judge can’t bring an extinct species back to life), but it demonstrates the growing anger among ordinary people against those who destroy the planet for their own personal gain — and the political leaders who let them.
These days, that list of villains is becoming more obvious, especially under the new administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who announced Thursday he is withdrawing the United States from the landmark Paris climate agreement. With a cabinet full of wealthy cronies, the deconstruction of the Environmental Protection Agency, the defunding of local climate initiatives, approvals of oil pipelines as well as retrenchment in other areas that do not make it onto Fox News, Trump seems intent on becoming the latest poster child for ecocide.
Whether the United States actually withdraws from the Paris climate agreement, enough damage is being done in other ways that ensure American leadership on any global initiative is in jeopardy. It is only a matter of time before the stock market punishes the U.S. for its reckless disregard of future generations.
Similarly, if American foreign policy is going to shift course so dramatically from administration to administration, other countries will not trust any long-term American strategies or promises. Nor should they.
It’s a far cry from the role the U.S. played in 1945, and certainly not the leadership that is needed today to create a sustainable future for everyone.
It is a mistake, however, only to look for eco-villains far away. All ecology is local, after all, and so are the villains.
Canada has not lately been dubbed Fossil of the Day, the dishonour given to countries that perform the worst at the UN climate talks, but we have not done much lately, either. Federal leadership on the environment more closely resembles misdirection. Oil pipelines are approved and only a minimal carbon tax announced, as the fossil fuel industry continues to be subsidized and greenhouse gas emissions rise.
Closer to home, the Pallister government has also shown little leadership on environmental issues after a year in power.
Perhaps next year for World Environment Day we should mount a Canadian — or Manitoban — poster campaign of our own.
Peter Denton is the author of three books on sustainability and chairs the policy committee of the Green Action Centre.