Changing the conversation
Panel shares their thoughts on our sustainable future
by Ryan McNutt - March 20, 2009
It began with harrowing questions about the future of our planet. It ended with a joyous sing-a-long that had the capacity crowd on its feet.
That last night’s Dialogue for Change panel made such a transition does not mean that the world’s problems were solved in its two hours, or that the audience’s concerns about global climate change and environmental sustainability were all erased. Still, there was something truly inspiring about seeing such a diverse panel of environmental leaders share their thoughts on where our society has gone wrong and where it needs to go next.
“I thought we were done with ‘change’ with Obama,” said Jian Ghomeshi, opening the evening with a laugh. “Clearly, he lied to us.”
Seated in the middle of a semi-circle of chairs at the front of the Ondaatje Auditorium, the host of CBC’s “Q” led the panelists through a series of provocative questions that saw them challenge the political and economic status quo and address a larger, fundamental question: who, or what, will enable us to become a more sustainable society?
“The ‘who’ is rather easy – it’s us” answered Jeff Moore, founder of Just Us! Coffee Roasters Cooperative. “Or, if you will, ‘just us.’ We really can’t afford to wait for anyone else to do it.”
If the audience was left with a single theme for the evening, it may have been urgency. All four panelists argued the need for immediacy in tackling problems such as global climate change, perhaps none as passionately as Green Party leader Elizabeth May. “When we say we’re running out of time, I mean December 2009,” she said, referring to the forthcoming United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen.
Ms. May saved her harshest words for Canada’s current federal leadership. “[The Americans] have Obama, and we still have George Bush,” she said to applause. “Until we see a change in political will, we won’t be able to make these broader changes.”
David Orr may have been the most unfamiliar of the four participants to many in the audience, but the global expert in sustainability education provided several of the discussion’s most valuable insights. “We know better than we act,” he said, explaining that the real crisis of sustainability is the need to inspire genuine political and social change, not just a “greenwashing” of the issues.
In one of the evening’s most passionate discussions, all four panelists rejected fatalist views that the state of the earth is too far gone to make it worth changing course. “There’s just as much hubris in saying that we’re too late as in saying it’s not a problem,” said Dr. Orr. “Optimism and pessimism both ask us to do nothing. But not hope – hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up. You don’t know if you’re going to win, but you’re willing to labour after it.”
That each of these panelists largely focused on their own field when discussing possibilities for change – Ms. May and politics, Mr. Moore and business, Dr. Orr and social thought – is perhaps not surprising. But anyone who turned up expecting singer/songwriter Raffi Cavoukian to break into “Baby Beluga” were almost certainly impressed by his passion for the world that will be passed down to future generations.
Defining sustainability as “a code of conduct for how we need to live together,” the global troubadour explained how a philosophy of child-honouring needs to link future generations more closely with the planet: “We’re talking here about the theft of futures…it’s a fundamental human rights issue.” He, like the others, emphasized the enormity of the challenge ahead: “It’s not incremental change that we need – it’s systematic change.”
And since Mr. Cavoukian argued pessimism is “a luxury that we can’t afford,” it's only fitting that the evening’s conclusion was also the event's emotional highpoint. "Raffi Cavoukian the Activist" transformed into "Raffi the Performer" as he took to his feet and sang along to his brand new song, “SustainABILITY.” With a reggae beat behind him and a childish swagger in his toes, he pulled each of his fellow panelists to their feet to sing about “kindness & compassion…restoring every nation.”
The tune was catchy, sure, but judging by the number of attendees who stuck around the lobby to chat after the panel was over, last night’s ideas may have been every bit as memorable.
The Dialogue for Change panel was sponsored by Dalhousie' College of Sustainability.
SustainABILITY: Raffi performs the world premiere of his new song at Dialogue for Change. Watch the video