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Opinion  •  5 min

2022 - Giant steps towards changing social norms

Colleen Thorpe

Executive Director

Published on 

We’re finally at a point in history where it’s no longer taboo to question the principles that underlie our economic model. We can openly discuss how the overexploitation of resources caused by current production and consumption models is not sustainable and how GDP growth is not a good measure of how our society is evolving.

In early 2022, the IPCC reported that our governments, and consequently the rest of society, are far from being prepared to deal with theastronomical costs that the climate crisis is already causing and will continue to cause in the future. That there is a significant gap between what scientists are calling for and the political will of our governments.

The necessary transition cannot be realized without major changes in how we consume, how we occupy the land, how we get around and how we nourish ourselves.

It’s a major challenge, yes. But we’ve seen in Équiterre's almost 30-year history that through education, mobilization and political advocacy, we can cause significant reflections and reactions in order to enable behavioural and systemic changes.

I’m proud of Équiterre’s success over the years in challenging and changing existing social norms. In 2022, there was no shortage of issues on which to raise awareness and mobilize.

Sobriety is no longer just about alcohol

Sobriety is one of my favourite concepts, and one of the most promising solutions in all areas. By reducing consumption (by those with the means to overconsume), by reducing demand, we reduce production, extraction and pollution. Whether we’re talking about sobriety with regards to energy, consumption, or the size of our vehicles, we could make significant progress by reorienting our systems, our perspectives and our priorities towards sobriety.

What’s even more important than deciding how to substitute fossil fuels with less polluting types of energy is a focus on energy sobriety and the means to limit our collective consumption. Let’s focus on reducing our demand for extraction, for minerals, for infrastructure and thereby reduce their impacts on our land, water and air.

Electric mobility becomes mainstream

The jump in gas prices this year was the wakeup call for many car owners that the time has come to transition to electric mobility. Équiterre demonstrated that Canadians want automakers to move towards zero emission vehicles and that strong regulations could drive down their cost.

But it goes beyond cars! Shared and active electric mobility also have the wind in their sails. Quebecers are developing a growing interest in electric bikes, due in part to our Vélovolt campaign, and there will be more and more electric school buses across the country because of our new Canadian Electric School Bus Alliance. We’re also encouraging the accelerated electrification of trucks for urban deliveries in our report on reducing truck emissions in Montreal.

Solutions to the waste crisis and the overexploitation of resources are becoming clear

The easiest piece of garbage to manage is the one that is not produced, as was emphasized by the BAPE (Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement) earlier this year. We must first and foremost focus on reduction at the source and reuse.

Repair is an essential solution to limiting the environmental and socio-economic impacts of electronic and appliance manufacturing at a time when fewer than 19% of Canadians repair them when they break down, according to our recent study. Équiterre made recommendations to the government this year to encourage the use of refillable containers. We also promoted a guide to encourage businesses and consumers to opt for reusable containers. And to highlight the City of Montreal’s decision to finally pass a regulation requiring an opt-in for promotional flyers (instead of allowing automatic distribution), Équiterre mobilized our supporters outside of Montreal to write to their mayors to call on them to do the same.

Land use planning recognized for its impact on the bio-climatic crisis

Land use planning is at the root of the problem, but also at the core of the solutions when it comes to climate change and biodiversity loss. Ecosystems are being carved up by roads, cleared for urban and industrial expansion, dug up for minerals... Our current economic system, and to some extent our governments, do not prioritize the living world.

Quebecers are aware, and concerned. Équiterre has received messages from citizens from all over the province who are concerned about the way the land is being developed and the way environments are being altered. The strong mobilization against the proposed 3rd Link tunnel between Lévis and Quebec City (which, by the way, fails the climate test) demonstrates that it’s time to rethink transportation and land development practices.

Last June, following extensive public consultations, the Quebec government finally released its new policy on architecture and land use planning. Although its focus areas are good, there is nothing concrete yet, so we’re waiting for an implementation plan in 2023.

Encouragement for sustainable food and agriculture

In February, the Ministry of Agriculture responded to our request by announcing an investment to encourage Quebec farms to adopt agro-environmental practices (an investment which was recently boosted because of the enthusiasm of our farmers). A mobilization effort by Équiterre to encourage the federal government to provide similar support could potentially impact the future federal strategy on sustainable agriculture, recently released for consultation.

To support the movement for sustainable food in institutions, Équiterre launched a new web portal this past spring. And in just one year, the members of our community of practice, Commun’assiette, exceeded their procurement targets, coming in at 60% local food in their institutions.

Calling out greenwashing

There was no shortage of examples of industry or governments touting their so-called "green" or "sustainable" products and policies in 2022.

The fossil gas industry attempted to take advantage of the energy challenges in Europe caused by the war in Ukraine to revive a number of fossil gas projects in Eastern Canada as a solution. We called them out for being dishonest, explaining how Europe's energy needs will have been largely resolved years before this new infrastructure would be operational.

While on the subject of gas, Équiterre helped quash the promotion of a new bi-energy electricity-gas program, which would not only pollute, but could end up costing consumers 17% more. Équiterre also set the record straight on Énergir’s advertising push on renewable natural gas. We also helped create awareness about hydrogen, often touted as an energy solution, but which has many important caveats.

And when the Quebec government updated its Plan for a Green Economy, which will only get us to 50% of our inadequate climate target, we didn't let it go by unnoticed.

And of course, the decline of fossil fuels

It’s a highlight that we're happy to repeat year after year, even if the final chapter cannot come soon enough. There were a number of hugely important victories in 2022.

After a vast mobilization, Quebec is finally legally protected against the fossil fuel industry, becoming the first state in the world to ban oil and gas development within its borders. Quebec also put the final nail in GNL Québec’s coffin in early 2022.

This spring, the Canadian government unveiled the most complete plan so far for reducing GHG emissions toward our 2030 target. It recently released a plan to limit new public funding for fossil fuels internationally and to prioritize investments in clean energy. The next step: tackling domestic fossil fuel funding.

But the big black stain of the year was the federal government’s approval of the Bay du Nord oil project. Équiterre has not stopped fighting. Along with Sierra Club,we’re challenging the government’s decision in federal court. We will continue to mobilize Canadians against the project, raising awareness about the threats to both biodiversity and the climate.

When the path ahead is strewn with obstacles, we don’t always take the time to look back at the road traveled to see how far we've come, and to be proud and grateful for the multitude of voices and expertise in the environmental movement. Équiterre is fortunate to have been working in collaboration with many other groups, notably this year during the provincial election through Vire au vert, and for through our involvement at COP27 on climate and COP15 on biodiversity.

Together, we’re strong. We’ll continue to stir the pot, we’ll continue to move forward and change social norms in the years to come. Our future depends on it.

I encourage you to talk about these issues with your friends and family in the New Year. It’s through discussion and reflection that we can move forward.

Thank you for being involved, thank you for your support.

Happy New Year 2023 ✨

Executive Director

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