And looking ahead to 2040, what roads should be taken for society to be on a good footing?
It’s this type of reflection that’s at the basis of the Transition Pathways project, an approach in which Space for Life and the Université de Montréal are inviting citizens to evaluate the recommendations of experts on subjects related to the ecological transition in Québec. The project harnesses the knowledge of several disciplines, and of multiple role-players, in order to collectively identify the paths that have the potential to lead Québec society in a more desirable direction towards that transition. The Transition Pathways project is structured around three major challenges: the digital transition, feeding ourselves without depleting the Earth’s resources, and inhabiting the territory in a restrained and resilient way.
Last fall, virtual citizen workshops brought together some 50 participants who were presented with the results of work and of consultations carried out with experts on the convergence of the digital and ecological transition. Those workshops were an opportunity to find out about challenges that lie ahead and the choices to be made to arrive at a future that would be both favorable and equitable for all.
Digital: invisible pollution
“Our digital consumption produces twice as much greenhouse gas as the airline industry,” pointed out Mélanie McDonald, head of the project for the Université de Montréal, during these workshops. Not only are Internet data being consumed like never before, but we’re continuously multiplying the acquisition of digital equipment. Did you know that every Canadian uses three times more data per year than the world average? The group relies on figures from a Cisco company report that predicts that by 2021, individual annual consumption in Canada would even reach 1711 GB/year, compared to 426 GB/year for the world average, and 1065 GB/year in Western Europe. For Canadians, that would represent up to 71 full days spent on Netflix! That growing use of technological tools has major environmental consequences. These statistics set the table for productive exchanges. The first finding: it’s hard to ignore digital’s ecological footprint.
Digital, a collective issue
Just as worrying, the question of accessibility to digital was raised. Participants were invited to assess certain proposed solutions, such as:
- the pooling of resources (in libraries, condos and businesses, for example);
- creation of a Québec digital commission;
- implementation of an ecotax system based on consumption and needs, to the benefit of a digital green fund;
- awareness-raising and education in connection with the opportunities and challenges of the digital transition.
What emerged from these discussions was that every choice will have an impact on a group or sector of society and that it will be difficult to assert the rights of some over those of others. One thing is certain, if we wish to continue using digital tools in a context of ecological crisis, we have to start acting right now and attempt to reduce, among other things, unnecessary consumption. But what’s unnecessary for one person may prove to be essential for someone else! What’s the right way to use digital versus the wrong way? It’s not that simple...
What became clear was that success in achieving a convergence of ecological and digital transition rests in part on the choices of each citizen. And the behaviors advocated to reduce consumption at the source were thus evoked as constituting part of the solution: getting things repaired instead of replacing them and buying reconditioned appliances, or, at a minimum, behaviors that respect the 4 R’s (reduce at the source, reuse, recycle, recover). There are classics you just can’t beat!
We will definitely have to do more than change our habits, and sooner than later. The exchanges were rich, and the solutions exist. Mélanie McDonald stressed the importance of engaging the strengths of all of Québec society in the debate about ecological transition. Whence the importance of creating platforms for exchanging ideas with citizens. These workshops turn out to be a good example of what’s needed!
Society will be profoundly transformed by the ecological crisis, and we have the possibility of making choices, at least partially, rather than undergoing the consequences of that transformation. Let’s be proactive!
The Transition Pathways team is currently working on ecological challenges related to food and to land management. Space for Life, relatedly, will be offering two series of corresponding citizen workshops starting this spring. Stay informed.