Step by step, we can achieve the progress we desire.

Regarding climate action, American environmentalist Peter Sinclair recently observed: “Even if Hillary had won the election, without a major shift in Congress, Washington could at best hold the line. Most action would continue to be local, city and state level.” This holds for Canada too; our federal government, despite some greenish inclinations, seems highly prone to economic pressure.

Notably however, climate action in both countries can be even more local than municipalities. Neighborhoods, households and workplaces are the first steps in the evolution of a low-carbon economy. For example, more people are buying local food and more schools, households and community organizations are installing solar panels.

My own recent application to produce and sell rooftop solar power was a reaction to Trump’s election and Trudeau’s Kinder Morgan decision. Previously I had wavered and fretted. It had seemed audacious to sign a twenty year contract at the age of 75, especially when I might soon downsize to an apartment. Instead, in the face of America’s dramatic political regression, I concluded that when government-based environmental action is foreclosed economic options become moral obligations.

Local initiatives really have always been crucial to effective climate action."

Governmental policies, however, remain a factor. Had Ontario not enacted the feed-in tariff system to encourage production of renewably sourced electricity, my panels would have cost more because there would be fewer manufacturers and skilled installers available. Without available contracts with utility companies to buy the electricity produced, I’d need a basement full of batteries too.

Being obsessively green, I might have proceeded even in the face of these extra barriers, as Trump undoes additional decades of environmental progress.When environmental protections are erased only we are left to keep green firms in business until political sanity is restored. More than that, while achieving post-carbon economies is a long process, the time available to transform energy systems is limited. We must step up both as citizens and as economic actors.

We act daily as employees, employers, producers, consumers and/or investors. What we eat, where and how we travel and whatever we do in, and with, our everyday lives matters.Our political and economic roles are merging, especially so for younger people currently making lifelong choices.

I am currently writing a book called A Citizen Economy that tells the story of post-carbon and otherwise socially and environmentally positive entrepreneurial, consumer, employee initiatives and technologies in five key economic sectors. The sectors are food, energy, media, housing, manufacturing, transportation and urban infrastructure. These changes are already underway and are mostly locally-based, but widely distributed. If aided by policy innovation and repeated, they can create a prosperous post-carbon future. There are thousands of ways we can participate in this process.

Solar panels do not, for example, necessarily require even owning a roof. Some jurisdictions have created possibilities to buy in with small amounts of money to solar installations on collectively-leased roofs. In other places (California, for example) self-financing loans for solar investments are available to low income renters.The challenge before us is to get more local governments to make such things possible.

It is widely known that food self-production is possible without having a yard. Even in downtown Toronto, Detroit and Cleveland there are community gardens and urban farming opportunities. People with limited resources can help create a low-carbon future while reducing their living costs. City governments and civic organizations have created opportunities to do so in this way and by building safer, active transportation opportunities, as well as tool libraries and improved access to fresh local produce. Again, all municipalities and civic organizations need to do these things.

Local initiatives really have always been crucial to effective climate action. Trump and his ilk have forced greater emphasis on localism by undermining national possibilities. Foreclosed possibilities create incentives to act. During the Reagan years and the Harper years (or the Mike Harris years in Ontario), donations to environmental organizations rose. And, then as now, municipal governments took new initiatives to highlight their differences with national and provincial regimes. America’s government this time is likely even more environmentally destructive, but that may in turn open local governments and nations around the world to countervailing actions. There is too little time for there not to be a strong response everywhere. 

Robert Paehlke is a professor emeritus at Trent University where he taught environmental policy and politics for 35 years. About 40 years ago, he envisioned a magazine that was both scientifically sound and journalistically interesting, and Alternatives was born. “Bob P,” as we call him, sits on the magazine’s editorial board and he contributes articles and blog posts as often as we can trick him into it.

He is the author of Environmentalism and the Future of Progressive Politics (1989), Democracy's Dilemma: Environment, Social Equity and the Global Economy (2004), Some Like It Cold: The Politics of Climate Change in Canada (2008) and Hegemony and Global Citizenship (2014).  

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May
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Kitchener, Ontario
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