WE ARE well into 2008 and there still is no common global name to define this decade. There’s no catchy term like the Roaring Twenties or the Dirty Thirties. These past eight years have remained unnamed and undescribed.

How did we find ourselves in this situation? It’s as if the world was so worried about the global calamity that Y2K was to be that we forgot about the decade to follow. And there was a lot of worry. My computer-programmer brother stockpiled nuts in his basement. But we just woke up to the last year of the 20th century, the dawn of a nameless decade – and a lot of nuts.

The collective ambivalence in naming this era presents an opportunity for the environmental community. How can we fashion a handle clever enough to rally the masses around moving things forward toward a healthier and cleaner world? How can we capitalize on this branding opportunity? How can we label this decade as the time when we took the first crucial steps to setting things on the road to sustainability?

It’s worth a backwards glance to see what was done the last time we found ourselves in a similar situation. In the period from January 1, 1900, to December 31, 1909, it was common to hear the year referred to with the word “aught” – as in “aught-8” for 1908. Aught means zero. Aught also sounds like “ought,” which indicates duty. Should this be the ought decade – the time when we ought to have cleaned up the air and water, when we realized that we ought to do something about global warming and endangered species?

Years ago, Britain’s public broadcaster, the BBC, suggested the term “noughties” to describe the time between January 1, 2000, and December 31, 2009. Nought is a variant of naught, as in “it was all for naught.” This has apparently caught on to some degree in the UK, Ireland and Australia. Could the noughties perhaps be renamed the “naughties” – a time remembered for a lot of naughty environmental behaviour like illegal dumping, genetic manipulation and overfishing? John Baird, Canada’s very conservative environment minister, has been pretty naughty.

I am tempted to propose the “oh-oh” decade – as a play on “uh-oh.” It fits in several ways, like “Oh-oh, we didn’t meet Kyoto,” or “Oh-oh, the polar bears are on thin ice.” However, the naughties, oughts or oh-ohs all highlight our shortcomings rather than our potential. And this period of time presents significant opportunity.

The Worldwatch Institute coined the 1990s the “turnaround decade” – the time when collective action was necessary to avoid certain environmental disaster. It was thought that we still had time, that with the right effort we could turn around some of the environmental sins of our past. And while the 1990s did see some successes – we created the Kyoto Protocol and the Convention on Biological Diversity – it wasn’t enough. Far from completing a successful turnaround, we walked straight into a decade that has, until today, remained nameless.

So Alternatives and I propose that the years 2000 to 2009 be labelled the “To-Do Decade” – the one where we moved from ought-to-do to to-do, because otherwise we are just done. 

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