Are Manitobans dismally poor citizens when it comes to environmentally friendly behaviours? A newly-released Statistics Canada study suggests that we are.
We’re last in recycling, which only 88% of us do, far behind second-last place Newfoundland and Labrador’s share of 94%. We’re second-last in the country in using low-flow showerheads (46%), composting (23%), lowering temperatures (50%), and even in using compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs; 50%), though the numbers are from 2006, so recent promotions, such as Manitoba Hydro’s CFL campaign last fall wouldn’t have affected the numbers.
We’re also second-last in the country in “very active” environmental behaviour, which is defined as participating in four or more environmental activities, and have the largest share of households that are “less active.”
While the numbers are disappointing, I can’t say I’m surprised. The oft-heard whining about parking (already over-abundant and relatively cheap) and traffic jams (practically non-existent compared to most major cities) in Winnipeg is a constant reminder of our idolization of the car and stigmatization of more environmentally-friendly alternatives. The surprised expressions I receive regularly from sales clerks when I say “I don’t need a bag” for the already-over-packaged single item I’m buying confirms our zombie-like acceptance of ever more trash and our resistance to change.
So what’s the reason? The Statistics Canada study points out that environmental activities increase with greater income, education, and homeownership, of which the first two may play some role in Manitoba. The Canadian Press article (available here and here) on the issue quotes Randall McQuaker of the Resource Conservation Manitoba as pointing out the lack of consequences associated with sending our trash to the landfill. Certainly, an abundance of prairie land has allowed us to revel in car culture and urban sprawl while filling up our landfills without much cost or afterthought.
Cheap land doesn’t explain it all. There’s a lot more we can do – more of our public institutions and big corporations stepping up to the plate with public awareness advertising and leadership by example would be a great start. The article mentions hospitals that don’t recycle – let’s make it easy for people to do the right thing.
Visionary leaders make a big difference – bans on free plastic bags and curbside waste limits should be looked at seriously. More can be done to encourage the recycling of electronics, which otherwise leach toxins into the ground, and composting. It shouldn’t have to be hard to be nice to the environment.
Here’s to hoping we can put a green foot forward and make some significant strides soon.