Gratitude makes the journey better and so does kindness

Tag: air pollution

Where To From Here (Or Why Changing Our Ways Can Spare Some Of The Trouble Ahead)

Originally published as a column on CFJC Today and Armchair Mayor News on February 13, 2017. 

Again, a week of many happenings. Like many of you who heard the story of the Kamloops couple who stopped to offer their help at an accident scene on the Coquihalla and were hit by a car that lost control, I kept hoping that Anna and Matt Grandia, parents of two, will both survive and recover. Sadly, Anna Grandia passed due to her severe injuries. The pain her family goes through and for the rest of their lives, is impossible to put into words.

Yes, it is unfair and senseless; these things always are. Following such tragic stories, you’d expect most of us drivers would learn something and apply it. Speed can kill, speed and winter weather conditions even more so. Yet if you drive around Kamloops and outside the city limits too, you come across speedy, careless drivers whose recklessness not only puts their own lives in danger, but mine and yours too.

What are we learning from reading or watching the news? How far does the message reach? Too often, a simple shrug and the next piece of news moves our attention from stories such as this, heartbreaking as they are.

Albert Einstein once defined insanity as ‘doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ In case of driving recklessly and the mild consequences the reckless or drunk driver faces, compared to the pain he or she causes to others, well, they are, for the most part, severely disproportionate.

This is not an argument for sacking and punishing people for the sake of doing so. It’s about protecting everyone and making sure rules that keep everyone safe are being reinforced. Because let’s face it, heartbreaking stories seen from a distance elicit a certain response. Yet being in that story changes the terms completely. No one should have to go through something that can be prevented.

Whether it is protecting all people in a community from the ill consequences of dangerous driving, or protecting the community (up to the level of province, country and beyond) from any kind of peril brought upon by someone’s actions, we all need to be able to see where changes need to be made and do all that we can to see them implemented.

Two events I attended at TRU this past week added to the argument. On Tuesday I attended a talk by Naomi Klein. True to her reputation, she said it as it is and in no way sparing the ugly bits: environmentally speaking, we are in a rough spot, our commitment to the Paris agreement not only lacking some touches here and there, but being the complete opposite of what it should be.

With a powerful wind of climate change denial blowing incessantly from the south of the border, and our provincial and federal governments’ commitment to extracting and using more fossil fuels instead of reshaping our ways to sustainable alternatives, things are really not looking good. No, such things are not immediately visible, nor are they served as reminders in our media. We want to keep a sunny optimistic attitude as a society, and we believe that somehow things work out regardless. Again, I am reminded of the definition of insanity by Einstein. Powerful stuff.

Better regulations for industrial polluters that would prevent more carbon from being added to a constantly heating atmosphere, plus better and unbreakable ways to reinforce the regulations, that would get things moving in a different direction.

A forum on air quality, also held at TRU and hosted by Dr. Michael Mehta, professor of geography and environmental science, who has been recently and diligently monitoring the air we breathe using sensors peppered all throughout Kamloops, brought yet another problem forward. The air in Kamloops is often farthest from clean.

From the pulp mill emissions to idling, to air traffic pollution and residential wood burning in town, our air, on a bad day (and they are not rare, unfortunately), is but a collection of small particles and gases that can and do cause serious health problems, in some of us more than in others.

There are solutions, the forum participants, which included the Green Party, NDP and Communist Party candidates for the May 2017 provincial elections, concluded. Things need to change if we are to see better air days.

Better regulations and better ways to reinforce them, not for the benefit of corporate profit but the well-being of the community, yes, it can be done. Our brains are wired to find solutions when a problem is identified. As it happens, denial often gets in the way.

Future bad happenings can be avoided. We now know that leaving things unchanged will have us find ourselves, yet again, to the fork in the road labeled ‘crisis’. Trouble is, which each time we return to one crisis or another, we may find that the time we have left to change things may be drawing short or that we may have had one too many freedoms normally granted by a democracy, taken away from us, which renders action and change far more difficult.

From rules pertaining civilians to those concerning the industry, locally and country-wide, if we care about our collective well-being and our children’s right to inherit not only a better world but also the courage to speak up and influence change when change is due and needed, we ought to change some of the rules we have in place.

As said many times by many wise people throughout history, change starts with bettering ourselves at a personal level by reviewing our values. That way we can be objective in seeing what needs to be change at the level of our community and beyond.

Transparency Is All That Protects Us

Originally published as a column on NewsKamloops on Friday, September 25 2015. 

The recent the Volkswagen scandal is, at best, the story of a company that got caught red-handed. Perhaps it will also open the road towards looking more into companies that use proprietary software the unlawful way.

Proprietary software is no ‘one ring to rule them all’ but it sure comes close to it. Volkswagen AG showed that temptation is real, applicable, and, if you do it right enough no one is smarter, at least for a few years anyway.

The problem is, once people discover the trickery, the proverbial fan will spread the bad matter everywhere, from deceived customers, to angry environmental protection agencies, to governments who are pressed to look after our clean air needs, it will stink. As it does at the moment.

Volkswagen’s tomfoolery costs us all, whether we bought the objects of contention or not. With almost half the cars in Europe being powered by diesel, pollution takes an even uglier turn than we expected. The rigged cars add approximately 1 million tonnes of pollutants into the atmosphere and no amount of mea culpa, in German accent or not, can undo the damage that’s been done or stop the said cars from polluting further until the company fixes the problem.

That Volkswagen AG has been cited as one of the most sustainable large companies over the years makes it a sad compounded tale. A company of that scale is more than an individual suddenly stricken by evil intentions. If you as much as imagine meeting rooms full of people who could give their thumb-ups to such decisions or veto it, it makes little sense, if any, that a collective of people acted like one mind whose goal was to make money on false claims.

Public deceit is ugly in general. Public deceit that causes harm globally and increases the risk of death for us all. Just two years ago the World Health Organization declared air pollution a carcinogen and attributed up to 7 million premature deaths to it.

If we look back into the recent stories of deception that costs many people their lives (think smoking and cancer for example) we can allow ourselves to believe that some policy makers did not know any better, or that those who did and chose to mislead the public anyway because they were shareholders themselves or had ties with the industry made us all realize that the price of lying is a high one, almost always paid in human lives.

In a time when pollution and climate change are becoming too evident to ignore and the global community has to come up with laws that will stall the crash course, it is downright criminal to add the burden on the environment knowing that you do.

The case of the peanut company president that was sentenced to 28 years in prison for fraud that caused at least 9 people to die and sickened hundreds should have been a cautionary tale for all companies that dabble with deceit of any kind. Too late for Volkswagen AG to come clean but what about all the other companies that lie, hide it well and hope they’ll never get caught? How about us customers buying their products?

The question remains: why would anyone engage in lying and deceiving knowing that someone, somewhere, might just discover the trick? According to what we know of the human mind, the perceived benefits of what is to be gained often eclipse the risks of being discovered. It may be hard if not impossible to understand for those of us who want to go to bed knowing their conscience is clear (there is no better, softer pillow indeed) but it sure paints an accurate picture of human behaviour in general. History and literature abound with examples.

No subscriber to the infamous Ashley Madison affair-encouraging website thought ‘what if I get discovered?’ or they did not think it deeply enough to keep away. Lies are like defective vehicles, they really cannot take you far. Truth is solid ground, lies are not. The price of being caught is always higher than the price of saying no to lying, no matter how tempting the promise.

Deception hurts, at every level. In case of companies or governments, even more so because it makes us feel like we did not pay enough attention, or we were not diligent enough to know better and somehow prevent it. Having our trust betrayed is always a hard blow.

The only tool that can ensure our protection, at least to a certain extent, is transparency. The more we know of corporate affairs and of our own government’s actions, the more we realize that transparency is often not at the forefront of their actions.

Which is what gives election time such monumental importance. It’s a chance to look closely at what we want, reappraise our own values as individuals and communities too, apply the required scrutiny to candidates and their parties and choose wisely. As if our lives depend on it, because they do. Our children’s too.

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