Friday, June 30, 2006

O Canada: A younger Trudeau takes the lead

The environment has found a new champion. Justin Trudeau, famed firstborn son of Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, has added his voice and name to the fight to save the planet. Justin, who has inherited his father's intelligence and passion for social justice, along with his mother Margaret's beauty and gentle soul, has stepped into the fray after years of avoiding the political limelight.

Already an active board member and spokesperson for Katimavik, and Master's student at McGill University, Justin recently took the job of chairing the Youth Section of the Federal Liberal Renewal Commission. When asked why he has chosen now to make his stand, the young Trudeau's answer was characteristically passionate and honest.

"With the Liberals regrouping, weighing in right now provides a real opportunity to make a difference," he said. "We can all make a difference. We have to learn that it's not about sitting around waiting for something to happen or someone to take care of us. We live in a country of extraordinary privilege and along with that comes an extraordinary responsibility that we have yet to understand."

The main focus of Trudeau's considerable attention is the threat of global warming. While he acknowledges that we face countless environmental problems, he has chosen global warming because of its direct connection to individual human activity.

"No other environmental problem is looming so heavily upon us, with the inevitability of impact; that is so completely and directly related to our own consumption patterns," said Trudeau. "Our current economic model has no way of accounting for what we're doing. We're in a finite system, acting like we have an infinite supply of resources."

As Trudeau explains, in the past when we've pushed civilization beyond its resources to the point of collapse, a new civilization invariably has sprung up somewhere else. When Mesopotamia fell, Egypt rose; when Egypt fell, the Roman Empire rose; and so on through the centuries.

"What's different now is that we have a global civilization," Trudeau explains. "Where do you go when it collapses?"

For Trudeau, the solution is two-fold. First, we have to rethink the system. "Time was that the guy who could use tools faster and better won," he said. But this isn't about bigger or faster tools; it's about changing how we fundamentally measure success and failure.

"If we're going to handle this tipping point, we're going to have to learn to manage the change, and that means start changing right here and not worry about 'out there'," he said. "We have to invest everything we have in changing how we do business."

"Secondly, every single citizen in this country has to change his or her behaviour in a deep and meaningful way." For Trudeau, this means learning to do more with less and build small, sustainable communities, and uses the example of his own community in Montreal where he hopes to create a small energy co-op. Trudeau's goal is to get his neighbourhood to invest in solar panels, thereby making his community energy self-sufficient.

"When you generate your own power, you become more aware of your energy consumption," said Trudeau. "It's not about finding "The Solution", it's about finding a variety of solutions."

Another solution Trudeau is currently looking at is transportation. When recently faced with the decision of whether or not to buy a fuel-efficient car, his decision was both innovative and something that the elder Trudeau would have no doubt enjoyed.

"Instead of buying a car, I bought a bus pass and a new bike," said the native Montrealer.

And then he added, "Every single individual has the power to change the world. It's that simple." A sentiment, no doubt, his dad would have applauded.


Katimavik, Canada's leading national youth volunteer service program for Canadians ages 17 to 21 years old, was created during Pierre Elliot Trudeau's years as Prime Minister. Its mission is to foster the personal development of our nation's young people through a challenging program of volunteer community work, training and group interaction. Since 1977, Katimavik has enabled nearly 25,000 Canadians to be involved in more than 2,000 communities throughout this great country.

The Trudeau Foundation promotes research into the social sciences and humanities in Canada, and fosters a dialogue between scholars and policymakers working nationally and internationally on issues of human rights and social justice, responsible citizenship, Canada and the world, and humans in their natural environment.


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