Friday, January 4, 2008

The Search for Meaning – Realizing a Sense of Community

One of the biggest arguments for the existence of taxpayer-supported schools, as opposed to private schools, is that, due to the diversity of social and economic classes present, students learn about the realities of our pluralistic society and thereby develop a sense of community that extends beyond their own backgrounds. In many ways, inculcating this sense of community is key to developing a better world.

A while back I had an article published based on an environmental questionnaire I developed to help the reader determine whether he or she has that sense of community along with the realization that even small steps can effect big changes in the world. What follows is a slightly amended version of that article:

… As a world community, we need to realize that each of us makes daily choices and decisions that either worsen or lessen our negative impact on the world, and that the power of individuals working toward a common goal is not to be underestimated.

To help clarify your own outlook, take the following questionnaire:

Environmental science tells us that idling cars contribute tremendous amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Instead of idling your car for five or more minutes while slowly approaching the window of your favorite drive-through, are you willing, once a week, to make coffee at home and put it in a readily available thermos cup? You can still enjoy your caffeine fix, yet at the same time save some money, time, and air quality.

At least once a week, are you willing to use a clothes drying rack instead of the dryer? This readily available inexpensive device requires only three or four minutes to arrange one’s wet clothes on. The benefits: reduction of hydro usage, the saving of money, and, especially in winter, adding some much-needed moisture to the air inside the home.

When the time comes to replace your lawnmower, will you consider an electric, as opposed to a gas powered model? Studies suggest that the latter, operated for one hour, emits pollution equivalent to driving a car about 160 kilometers.

Will you replace your conventional light bulbs with energy efficient fluorescent ones? They can be a real money saver over the long run and improve our air. It has been estimated that having at least one such bulb in every Canadian household would be the equivalent of removing 60,000 greenhouse gas-emitting cars from our roads.

Will you carpool to work at least once a month?

Will you turn down the temperature on the water heater (a task simple for even the most technically challenged, a group I sheepishly admit to being a member of)?

Are you willing to regularly turn out the lights in unoccupied rooms?

Will you alter the power settings on your computer so that the monitor, the largest consumer of power on the PC, turns off after 5 or 10 minutes of inactivity?

When the time comes, are you willing to buy a smaller, more energy efficient car?

If you were renovating or building a new bathroom, would you be willing to substitute a low-flow toilet that uses only 6 litres of water as opposed to a conventional one that uses 13 litres per flush? This environmentally sound technology will likely also save you over $100 per annum in water costs, by the way.

Your Score:

If you answered yes to 7-10 of the questions, the chances are that you are environmentally aware and are willing to take steps to reduce your ‘environmental footprint.’

If you answered yes to 4-6 of the questions, you are probably moving in the right direction and should read more about environmental issues at websites such as David Suzuki’s (

If you answered yes to less than 4 of the questions, you are probably more concerned about your own immediate comforts and conveniences than you are about the health of your children, your grandchildren, and the future of the planet. Try to start cultivating a sense of community.

Readers will probably have noticed that most of the measures found in the questionnaire entail very little personal sacrifice or inconvenience. In adopting several of them, our lives can go on pretty much as they always have. However, over the course of time, we may discover that we are profoundly changed because our relationship with the world has changed. Indeed, perhaps the greatest collateral benefit of embracing conservation is the forging of a sense of community, the awareness that what we do has an impact, not just on ourselves and our families, but on the larger world as well. With it may come the understanding that despite the environmental shortcomings of our governments and our businesses, we have within ourselves the power to make a real difference.

The final question to be answered is, “Are we willing to exercise that power?”

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