by Jennie Moore, Director, Institute Sustainability at British Columbia Institute of Technology and Director, Ecocity Centre of Excellence at BCIT.
On April 22, 2020 we celebrated the 50th year of Earth Day, a global event that calls attention to the health of our planet. Specifically, it connects human causes of ecological destruction with the impacts we are and will continue to face as a result.
One of the most pressing challenges is global climate change, caused in large part by the combustion of fossil fuels. The International Ecocity Standards calls for “clean and renewable energy” The healthy condition for this standard states that “energy is provided for, and extracted, generated and consumed without significant negative impact to ecosystems or to short or long-term human health and does not exacerbate climate change.” (Moore et al. 2017).
In celebration of Earth Day this year, the film “Planet of the Humans” was released on YouTube. The film posits that the cause of environmental crises, including climate change and bio-diversity loss, is human consumption predicated on a myth of perpetual, unfettered economic growth made possible by ongoing technological innovation.
Specifically, the film focuses on green energy. It argues that because all green energy technologies require fossil energy inputs, they can only be seen as a complement to fossil fuels rather than a replacement. The film has sparked healthy debate among the scientific and popular culture communities alike. Taking its fair share of criticism for biased and outdated reporting, it nevertheless makes a salient point about the sheer scale of human demand on earth’s resources. .
Salient messages persist with regard to the impact humanity is having on global ecosystems and the challenges of managing the human endeavour through capitalistic institutions (Pitts 2019). As we find ourselves in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, some are drawing connections to the underlying un-sustainability of the global economy (Rees 2020) and argue for a total rethink about how humanity approaches the next 50 years.
The Just Transition movement is doing just that. It proposes an energy transition that focuses on people and how they are impacted by energy management decisions (IISD 2020). Aligning with the International Ecocity Standard for “community capacity/governance,” “equitable economy,” “well being/quality of life,” it argues that those affected by energy decisions should be involved in their making. Specifically with regard to climate action, the Just Transition movement provides:
a vision-led, unifying and place-based set of principles, processes, and practices that build economic and political power to shift from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. This means approaching production and consumption cycles holistically and waste-free. The transition itself must be just and equitable; redressing past harms and creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations(.)
(Climate Justice Alliance 2020)
With pressures on governments around the world to re-ignite economies through stimulus spending packages, the Just Transition movement is gaining momentum to ensure that spending helps bounce economies forward to a sustainable future rather than bounce-back to the unsustainable situation we were in. There are many connections between the International Ecocity Standards and the Just Transition movement. More information about what is happening and how to get involved can be found on the Just Transition Alliance web site.
Climate Justice Alliance. 2020. Just Transition: A framework for change. Online resource: https://climatejusticealliance.org/just-transition/ (Accessed May 5, 2020)
IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development). 2020. Just Transition. Online resource: https://www.iisd.org/topic/just-transition (Accessed May 5, 2020).
Moore, J., Miller, K., Register, R., Campbell, S., Eberlein, S. 2018. International Ecocity Standards (brochure). Oakland, CA: Ecocity Builders.
Pitts, Don. 2020. “Planet of the Humans movie draws outrage as it calls for economic slowdown,” CBC News, May 1, 2020. Available online: https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/planet-humans-michael-moore-economics-1.5549693 (Accessed May 4, 2020).
Rees, W.E. 2020 “The Earth is Telling us we must Rethink our Growth Society,” The Tyee, April 6, 2020. Available online: https://thetyee.ca/Analysis/2020/04/06/The-Earth-Is-Telling-Us-We-Must-Rethink-Our-Growth-Society/ (Accessed May 4, 2020).