I still have a dream

Published Tuesday, August 20, 2013 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

Fifty years ago this month, a single strong voice rang out over a throng of a quarter million people, to an entire nation and the world beyond.  “I have a dream,” Martin Luther King declared on August 28, 1963, and then shared his vision of an America free of racism.  With powerful images and passionate words, King inspired millions to turn away from what was, and believe in what could be.  It became his signature message, and endures even today as a rallying cry for dreamers everywhere – including those who believe that a sustainable world is within reach, if we only choose wisely and commit strongly.

King’s opening words were not about his dream for the future.  Instead, they reminded his listeners of the failures and unfulfilled promises that had led to an untenable situation for the visible minorities of the day.

When it comes to climate change, it’s fairly easy to pinpoint what’s brought us to where we are.  Emissions from our unbridled use of coal, oil and natural gas are making our atmosphere retain more of the sun’s energy, making things hotter.  Just last week, Canada’s north experienced a heat wave that shattered previous records by 10 degrees C.  A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture, so we are seeing more weather extremes, particularly heavy rain events.  Sea levels are rising due to warming oceans and melting ice in mountain ranges, Greenland and Antarctica.  

But King quickly moved on to his key point.  “I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream,” he proclaimed, and went on to share it so eloquently and memorably.

Well, in spite of the environmental difficulties and frustrations of this moment, I still have a dream too.

I have a dream that one day we humans will come to deeply internalize this simple, unshakeable truth: our wellbeing is impossible without a sound and stable environment.  Intuitively, we already know that; we depend on air, water and food, the gifts of a healthy planet.  But our behaviours suggest otherwise.  I dream of the day we accept this basic truth so deeply that our actions become guided by it.

I have a dream that one day we will acknowledge the two core issues at the very heart of climate change – overpopulation and overconsumption – and dare to propose compassionate, respectful, creative solutions.

I have a dream that one day our leaders will realize that their ultimate judgement will come not from polls or the next election but from history and the next generations, and govern accordingly.  

I have a dream that one day the economic system underpinning our society will be enlightened so that success is measured by quality of life rather than by growth, because perpetual growth is impossible in a finite world.  I dream that environmentally destructive products and behaviours will be made to cost more, and sustainable products and services be made to cost less.  If buying cheap is a built-in human folly, let’s work with it rather than fight it.

I have a dream that one day we will all be granted the clarity and wisdom to see shale gas, tar sands, pipelines and other such infrastructure for what they are: purveyors of yet more of the poisonous, addictive substances that are creating our climate troubles, well hidden behind alluring promises of short term prosperity.  I dream that we will instead turn our full passion and focus to energy efficiency, renewables and just consuming less.

I have a dream that one day humanity, the only species gifted with the ability to think into the future, will come to understand that we have a moral obligation – a deep moral obligation – to ensure the wellbeing of those who will come after us.

Finally, I have a dream that one day we can gaze out upon the beauty of this place and rest peacefully in the knowledge that paradise has not been lost.

These are my dreams, these are my hopes.  To paraphrase Martin Luther King, let sustainability ring.  May it become a rallying cry for the better world that is within our reach.