Seeds of Change

Clara Sellers

[This article ran in the April 2008 issue of The SCOOP.]

On Saturday, March 29, millions of people worldwide turned off the lights in their homes and businesses between 8 and 9 p.m. to mark Earth Hour. Power consumption in Ontario was reduced by five percent, and in Toronto by over eight percent. I was out of town, but I hear that the lights were off all down Princess Street and that the student ghetto was completely black. While this reduction in electricity use is impressive, I feel as though the real significance of Earth Hour is symbolic in that it affirms the power of individual action. Through the combined personal efforts of millions of people around the world, Earth Hour produced real, visible change. However, Earth Hour is not enough. Turning off our lights for an hour once a year is not going to save the planet. We need to take Earth Hour and its message beyond March 29 and make environmental consciousness a part of our everyday lives.

Last week, I launched an environmental focus group at Sydenham High School as an expansion of the school’s active social justice committee. We spent the meeting brainstorming, first forming a list of current environmental problems and then discussing actions we, as students and as a school, can take to address these issues. The list of environmental problems was daunting, yet we felt that we needed to address these problems by making simple changes within the school. We are currently organizing a tree sale at SHS and an Earth Day clean-up of the village of Sydenham. We are also hoping to revamp the school’s recycling program, introduce recycled paper for printing and photocopying, reduce food packaging in the cafeteria, start a composting program and take steps to reduce electricity and water consumption at the school.

Indeed, if asked, most of us could easily name the above list of earth-friendly habits. For many of us though, myself included, it is difficult to believe that simply turning off the lights when we leave the room will make a difference. If we are going to take steps to reduce our ecological footprints, we want assurance that our efforts will pay off. We want results. However, Earth Hour has now shown us–albeit briefly–the collective power of these individual actions.

I am certainly not saying that using reusable shopping bags and taking shorter showers, even if we all do it every day, is going to solve the world’s environmental problems. Governments and corporations have huge roles to play in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation and must step up to the plate if our collective efforts are to be successful.  However, our personal purchasing decisions, voting choices and lifestyles do have far-reaching impacts. I am reminded of a passage from “The Real World of Technology,” the series of Massey Lectures that Ursula Franklin delivered in 1989. Here she explains what she refers to as the earthworm model for social change:

“Social change will come through seeds growing in well prepared soil–and it is we, like the earthworms, who prepare the soil. We also seed thoughts and knowledge and concern. We realize there are no guarantees as to what will come up. Yet we do know that without the seeds and the prepared soil nothing will grow at all.” 

With planting season approaching, it is fitting that we challenge ourselves to be earthworms, with our individual actions preparing the soil for the seeds of a greener world.