Sunday, August 19, 2007


It has been 18 years since my local newspaper, The Oshawa Times, ran my very first column. I had no journalistic training, but I managed to convince the paper's editor that I had something to say. I told myself that this was my golden opportunity to change the world. A good friend advised me that the responsibility of a good columnist was to "inform and incite" and I took his counsel to heart.

My initial foray into the world of journalism wasn't exactly Earth shattering (or saving, for that matter.) My first column was a lengthy and poorly written piece about biodegradable plastic bags, but it was a beginning, and marked a profound change in my life's journey. It hangs framed above my desk in my office, a constant reminder of both the opportunity it presented, and the need to constantly hone my art.

Much has happened in the ensuing years. If my column were a child, it would have very recently celebrated its passage into adulthood. And while I would like to think that my writing has matured over the years, the need to "inform and incite" is a thousand times greater than it was less than two decades ago.

What little progress we have made in areas such as recycling and energy conservation has been outstripped by our seemingly endless need for more, better, and newer stuff. Consider the following:

The average size of a new house has increased dramatically over the last twenty years. In 1984, the average home was about 162.2 square meters (or approximately 1,745 square feet). By 2003, that had increased to 227.6 square meters (approximately 2,450 square feet).

Twenty years ago, virtually no one carried a cell phone. Today we discard between 100 and 150 million cell phones annually.

Ditto for personal computers. In 1943, Thomas Watson, Chairman of IBM stated, "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers.” In 2004 more than 1.5 million computers were discarded in Ontario alone. Only two per cent of these were diverted away from landfills.

It's important to note that we don't discard computers and cell phones because they no longer work. We constantly want to upgrade to newer and more powerful technologies.

While we have made significant improvements in fuel efficiency over the last few decades, more of us are driving larger cars, longer distances. The net result is that fuel consumption has increased dramatically. For example, in the UK from 1970 to 2000, the amount of energy consumed by the transportation sector increased by 87 percent. Road transportation increased by more than 90 percent during this period, and air transportation increased an incredible 130 percent.

Our planet - our only home - is paying the price for all of this self-indulgence and so are we. We are fatter, lazier and unhealthier than any generation in history. We have so much stuff that our monster homes can no longer contain all of it, making storage companies the newest growth industry. We have moved past the tipping point of climate change. At this point all we can do is grab onto something solid and hang on for the ride.

In short, we have matured little in the last 18 years. As Guy Dauncey wrote recently in his landmark essay, Choosing the Lightness of Planetary Childhood, "We are the binge generation - the ones who wanted it all. We are the last of the innocents who believed that this tiny Earth, floating in the vastness of space, could provide for all our wants, however wild or stupid."

It's time we grew up and starting taking responsibility for our actions. What I have learned over the last 18 years is that one individual may not have the power to save the world, but we each have a part to play. In the words of Edward Everett Hale, "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something I can do."


Where there’s life there’s hope. Visit Guy Dauncey's inspiration website, provides consumers in Canada and the U.S. with information about cell phone recycling locations and other community-specific recycling, reuse and environmental programs. is an award-winning program of the Canadian Association of Food Banks that recycles used cell phones and printer cartridges. The proceeds are returned to the local food banks from where the phones and cartridges were donated.


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