Calling on Youth to Save Our Planet
After the success of Earth Hour last Saturday, the obvious question for Canadians worried about climate change is: What next?
And the obvious answer is: Look to our youth to lead the fight against this global challenge.
Nearly 10,000 people, most of them young, jammed Nathan Phillips Square on Saturday to show their support for Earth Hour, the 60-minute initiative led by the World Wildlife Fund to turn out lights and reduce power consumption. They also came for a free concert by Nelly Furtado, a huge supporter of Earth Hour.
And hundreds of thousands of other young people in the Greater Toronto Area and across Canada took part in school events, community marches and candlelight parties to celebrate Earth Hour.
True, skeptics were out in force too, smugly telling reporters or writing in their columns and blogs that Earth Hour was little more than a public relations campaign that did more harm than good.
But young people are not cynical or jaded like many adults. They believe they can truly make a difference - and they can.
One person who believes strongly in today's youth is Al Gore, the former U.S. vice-president who won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global warming.
Gore sees the path to saving our planet winding through American pop culture, which is aimed mainly at youth. And to speed that process, he is launching a new $300 million advertising campaign in the hope of influencing the outcome of the U.S. presidential race and, ultimately, to get top politicians to act on climate change.
It is being described as one of the most expensive public advocacy campaigns in U.S. history.
The campaign kicked off last night with a 30-second spot on American Idol, the most-watched program in the U.S. In the coming days, other ads will air on The Biggest Loser and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.
The ads equate the climate-change movement with other major initiatives, such as banning racial segregation and putting a man on the moon. Future ads will feature bipartisan pairs, such as Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi with former far-right Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Can you imagine former prime ministers Brian Mulroney and Jean ChrÃƒ©tien appearing on the same TV spot in Canada?
Gore's campaign, dubbed "We," will also feature online organizing and partnerships with grassroots groups, including the 2.7 million strong Girl Scouts.
He is putting up his own money to fund most of the campaign, including his personal profits from the book and movie An Inconvenient Truth, as well as the $750,000 he received as his share of the Nobel Prize.
Gore fears U.S. politicians are too timid to make the cuts in human-generated emissions needed to reduce global warming. And so he wants to change public attitudes about climate change and to show elected officials that voters really do care about it. "When politicians hear the American people calling loud and clear for change, they'll listen," Gore said in a statement issued earlier this week.
Canadians have much to learn from Gore's new campaign. Most of our elected officials are as timid as their U.S. counterparts when it comes to climate change.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks very little about it, and last Saturday during Earth Hour his official residence in Ottawa was ablaze with lights.
For his part, Liberal Leader StÃƒ©phane Dion started out strong when it came to global warming, but his recent record of backing almost every Harper initiative has sullied his image, including that of being a defender of the environment.
To regain that high ground, Dion should copy Gore and make climate change the centrepiece of his campaign platform. He should enlist young people, who are eager to join in this fight, to help spread the message that saving our planet is not a "liberal" or "left-wing" issue, but one that cuts across all parts of the political spectrum.
Bold steps are needed to combat climate change.
Turning out lights, either during Earth Hour or any hour is important, but as Gore says, it's much more important to change laws.
And doing just that starts with our youth.
Bob Hepburn's column appears every Thursday.
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