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Unusual friends in unusual places

A weekly Science Matters column by David Suzuki with Faisal Moola - April 14, 2008

www.davidsuzuki.org

These days, the environment is at the top of the polls as an issue of concern, and global warming is often the lead story in the media.

What a change!

A few years ago, I would have been grateful to see any coverage of environmental issues anywhere.

Maybe Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth and the scientific reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have served as a global wake-up call. It's clear from the audiences turning out to my speeches that a lot of people want to make a difference.

Perhaps the most surprising thing to me is the reaction from people and organizations that I normally wouldn't expect to be interested in environmental conservation.

In one example, a young professional hockey player named Andrew Ference from the Boston Bruins approached the global-warming experts at the David Suzuki Foundation to see how he could reduce his own carbon footprint. Andrew even went as far as to encourage his colleagues at the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) to do the same.

The result was the launch of the NHLPA Carbon Neutral Challenge. In accepting the challenge, individual NHL players purchase high-quality Gold Standard carbon credits to offset the greenhouse gases produced by their travel to and from games. The money used to purchase these credits is invested in renewable energy projects, such as wind farms, which produce green power that doesn't contribute to global warming. As I write this column, more than 500 NHL players have signed on to compensate for the carbon they produce during their season.

Although purchasing carbon credits doesn't reduce the production of emissions from burning fossil fuels that cause global warming, it is a step to compensate for travel that can't be avoided by putting a comparable amount of non-polluting energy on the grid somewhere.

Another surprise came when I attended a dinner hosted by a well-connected business leader a few months ago. When I mentioned that the planet was rapidly approaching peak oil, the point at which maximum global oil production is reached and energy prices start to rise rapidly, he seemed surprised. I expected him to respond in horror to the consequences of a world without cheap oil. After all, he's a business leader.

Instead, after thinking about it for a few minutes, he floored me with his answer.

"I can make money on this," he said.

After dinner, I thought a bit more about my host's response. In his world, the person with the most popular way to do something for less money wins.

My host's reaction thrilled me. Perhaps he'll latch on to a great idea such as using renewable energy to power all his factories and show his competitors that he isn't afraid to try something new -- something innovative.

New solutions to old problems can only come from new ways of thinking. And having a diverse group of thoughtful people, from Canada's corporate leaders to our best athletes, come up with creative ways to attack global warming can only be a good thing.

The world has seen this type of innovative thinking before. High fuel prices caused by the Arab oil embargo in the 1970s required innovation on different levels: inventors and entrepreneurs developed and marketed solar power cells, car dealers imported cars that were cheaper to operate, urban planners designed multi-purpose neighbourhoods, and governments started legislating fuel-efficiency standards.

As more and more people wake up to the fact that we all share the resources in our global village, it is foolish to let party lines or old ways of thinking get in the way.

As parents, employers, employees, consumers, and citizens, we all have influence in one way or another. It's time for all of us to reach out to others with our ideas and open ourselves to theirs. You never know when you'll meet another person who wants to be a friend to the environment. Right now, our planet needs all the friends it can get.

Take David Suzuki's Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org

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