The Old Order Changeth

A plastic grocery bag blew across my path out in the field this morning. Its lone presence there seemed almost symbolic of the passing of the last dirty thirty years. The age of plastics caught us by surprise. The year Mr. Robinson uttered the prophetic word, “plastics,” in “The Graduate” my mother was still carrying a basket to the store. Then, seemingly overnight, the world filled with layers of plastic packaging to go inside plastic bags. Our land-fills gorged on the colossal volume of waste, all in the name of progress. Well goodbye to you Mr. Robinson.

The old order really does change, yielding place to new. Last week as I was distributing reusable cloth bags and collecting donations for the local Special Olympics curling team, I noticed something quite remarkable. Nearly one shopper in five carried reusable bags. What’s more, many of these shoppers were generous enough to donate to Special Olympics and take another. This dramatic change in shopping habits has taken place almost overnight, and in our case it provided the “win/win” situation of supporting a worthy cause while helping to reduce plastic waste. It is great when social and environmental goals can be realized through a single activity, so my hat’s off to Bob Widdis and the Lindsay Curling Club for their community efforts. Don’t get me wrong; there’s still enough plastic moving out of our stores to choke hundreds of dumps, but we’re finally turning the corner; and imaginative campaigns that combine social and environmental rewards will speed up the process.

Which brings me to “Earth Hour.” Last year Sydney, Australia decided to strike a blow for energy reduction by shutting off their lights for one hour. Almost 2,000 businesses and 60,000 homes participated, cutting the city’s demand by 10.5%. This year several Ontario cities are making plans to participate to help build a better, less wasteful world for their children.

Well, we love our children as much as people in Toronto or Peterborough do. And we want a clean, healthy world as much as they do. So let’s do it. On March 29 at 8 P.M. let’s shut off our lights for one hour. It’ll be fun. They will be taking satellite photos from space to see the effect. We beat the Aussies last fall in the world record walk; let’s do it again.

The great thing about this idea is that we don’t need to wait for our politicians to act. Turning off the lights is something everyone can do, just like carrying reusable bags to the store. There’s no doubt that with a federal election expected this spring, the people we elect to govern us will be watching. They may even join. Certainly our current city councillors are the most open to environmental concerns that we have had. Maybe the city will join the fun.

So come on folks, let’s do this. In the world record walk our city got more participants per capita than almost any other municipality in the country, and our numbers included the mayor, several councilors and a school board official. I will bet we can do it again. Let’s turn off our lights together as streets and communities, just for the fun of doing something good with the neighbours. Besides, since we already kicked Australia’s butt in the world record walk, I’ll bet we’re up for a rematch. In any event, every house and business in darkness between 8 and 9 P.M. on March 29, will be a pledge of faith to our children and to the earth that we care about the future.

Carrying reusable bags or baskets to the store and turning off the lights for one hour are two easy things we can do together; and, if done together, their effects will be huge because they symbolize our readiness to make positive lifestyle choices that will affect our children’s future. We’ve already shown we’re up to the task. Hey, challenge your neighbours, challenge your councillors or challenge yourselves, but just do it. See you next time.

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