It is around a campfire along the Bell River, north of Senneterre in Abitibi-Témiscamingue, that I let go of the emotions I had experienced while attending the United Nations Conference on the Climate Change that took place in Paris.
Several days after the COP21, I was still in shock. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of heads of state people, ministers, former presidents, world-renowned activists, predominant specialists and members of the Canadian and Quebec opposition people that I was fortunate enough to meet.
I had the chance to have one-on-one talks about Québec's future (and even criticize some of our government policies) with Philippe Couillard, David Heurtel, Pier-Karl Péladeau, François Legault, Thomas Mulcair, Stéphane Dion, Catherine McKenna and Manon Massé.
I had the incredible to witness a moment that will probably make history, and that is, the adoption of the Paris Agreement. Few people will have such an opportunity to accomplish something similar during their lifetime and I am fully aware of that. . I will probably never have the chance to experience another moment like this, and I still barely realize the extent to which this moment is important.
I knew that once back home, I would need a good dose of humility and realism in order to be able to let go of the emotions
that I had experienced. I would need time to put into perspective this wonderful show that the COP21 was.
After getting off the plane bringing me back from France, a seven-hour drive gave me some time to look back on my recent experience and to come back down to earth. I was on my way to my sister’s cottage located way up north.
Her cottage is the kind of place where you dream to be when you feel like being in wild open spaces. Located at the gates of James Bay, it is a solar-powered rustic building, without running water. From the bank, we can see the first raging rapids. The low rumbl
e of the rough water is a soothing background sound. The spindly and disheveled black spruces make up most of the scenery and, are a reminder of the harsh climate.
Every time I am over for a visit in Abitibi, I always make it an obligation to go there for a few days.
At the glow of the campfire on which our meal was being cooked, my brother-in-law, Simon brought me back to reality. “Concretely, what will the Paris Agreement change? Wasn’t it all just a big show?”
I answered the same thing I had answered the media
s during the past few weeks: “I hope things will change for good. My impression is that it was more than just a show. The agreement's architecture seems to be good. The dice have been rolled, but we'll have to wait and see what the countries really do.” Hidden behind this beautiful answer of mine even I had doubts.
I wish to maintain a critical perspective, even though I understand all the difficulties associated to this battle against climate change. I know one thing for sure, and it is that most of these difficulties are caused by us consumers. So long as we keep buying more than is really necessary, so long as we keep buying things meant to break as soon as the warranty expires, and so long as we are not more demanding concerning the environment, companies will continue to take advantage of the situation and keep behaving like they do.
We think that we will go biking more often with the best bicycle. But rarely do we worry about the one we already have that we throw away, and which largely suited our needs. We convince ourselves that we will be do more outdoor activities with a new coat without ever considering all the harm done to the environment.
We think that having the latest gadget will make us happier, but in fact....
The real problem is that the prices of our consumer goods do not reflect their actual cost. They are not representative of the real environmental and social damages that they cause.
On this level, the Paris Agreement has failed. The environmental externality costs will not be calculated in the value of products we consume each and every day. Therefore, it will be up to the businesses to adopt good practices and to then justify their sometimes-higher prices. It will also be up to the citizens to make conscientious choices, to buy less and to buy better.
If international treaties are incapable of solving the question, then who can? What can we do for our society to change? How do we bring people to choose a simpler way of life, one that is globally sustainable?
After a long discussion, Simon and I came to the same conclusion: We must find a way to bring people outside so that they can reconnect with nature. Why? Because nature connects us with something real.
In fact, most of my happiest memories are the simplest ones: those four months spent in the Yukon, sleeping in my tent or under the stars; the days spent outside despite the -35 degrees, building igloos or cross-country skiing in the light of a headlamp; our kayak excursions in the rapids on the Bell River and finishing it off with a nice meal cooked on a campfire; the evenings spent looking out at the sunset on Lake Kipawa after a day of canoeing; the nights spent sitting in the snow staring at shadows the moon-lit trees cast in the water on the other side of a running stream.
It is those moments, by their sometimes-disconcerting simplicity, that makes us realize that we can be happy without all of those material possessions. These are the moments that show us the beauty of nature and how important it is to protect it. These are the moments that connect us with something bigger than ourselves.
We must find a way to bring people outside so that they can reconnect with nature. Why? Because nature reconnects us with something real.Simon
Simon ended the conversation by saying something that made me thinkgot me thinking:; “People have to reconnect with nature because that is where we come from.” . For a few moments, I kept staring at the fire thinking silently of Paris, of the COP21, of our consumptioner issues as a society, and of I wondered at how to to simplify our lives. I looked up to admire the typical Abitibi scenery typically “abitibien” and asking remember thinking to myself: “Wwhat more do we need?”
Happiness is foundlies in simple things. If everybody would realized that, our planet would be much better off.
Guillaume Rivest - Master’s student in Environmental Studies