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Our Sense of Entitlement Could Be the Biggest Barrier To Solving Climate Change

04/21/2015 06:13 EDT | Updated 06/21/2015 05:59 EDT
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FILE - In this Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015, file photo a plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, N.H. After failing six years ago to craft a global agreement to fight climate change, world governments are hoping that this year will mark a breakthrough in the slow-paced U.N. climate talks. In Geneva this week, negotiators from more than 190 countries are working on an early draft of a deal that's supposed to be adopted in Paris in December.(AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

Every now and then, when I pause to ponder the biggest barriers to fixing the many environmental challenges we face, there's one troubling word that keeps coming to mind. It's not "technology," "money" or even "Exxon."

The word is "entitlement." Could this be the unflattering descriptor that will define the age in which we live?

A troubling mindset

When former federal cabinet minister David Dingwall was questioned about a generous buyout package he received in 2006, his oft-quoted reply was, "I am entitled to my entitlements." It caused much outrage. But as the biblical expression goes, let whoever is without sin cast the first stone, because perhaps we're all a bit guilty of entitlement.

For example, we seem happy to accept the gifts provided for free by our planet -- food, water, air -- but less willing to invest much time, energy or money into ensuring that future generations can receive the same.

We're adamant that electricity rates stay at artificially low levels, even when we know that fossil fuel-fired electricity is our gain for our grandchildren's pain.

We seem to feel entitled to cheaper gas and toll-free highways but appear to be conveniently indifferent to their longer term environmental or fiscal consequences.

We're entitled to low taxes (in fact, some of us even take part in that ultra-low tax world of the underground economy), even as we refuse cutbacks and demand more of government services like health care and education.

In one ear, we hear that people are stretched to the limit and that a carbon tax, a much-needed price penalty on pollution, simply isn't affordable. In the other ear, we hear of record pickup truck sales, and that more Canadians than ever are taking southern vacations in winter.

Perhaps the biggest symptom of societal entitlement is the fact that the province of Alberta, one of the richest jurisdictions in the world, is having trouble balancing its budget. God help us all.

Soothing spam

Today's pop culture isn't especially helpful either. "You deserve a break today," we hear. We're encouraged to buy now and pay later. And if we find ourselves bankrupt, we're reassured it isn't our fault. In fact, it seems to have become unfashionable to suggest that any failure is our fault.

Bless the brave leader who might logically point out that living beyond our means fiscally or ecologically is not sustainable; out the door they go. We may sometimes forget our responsibilities, but we never forget our rights.

Bottom lines

So where from here? Rants may be therapeutic but they are not very productive. Perhaps a few key messages spring out of this one.

First, if we are so self-absorbed in our worlds that we won't spare the time, effort or energy necessary to ensure the well being of our own offspring, we have some grim moral issues. Perhaps it's time for a long stare in the mirror and a reassessment of what really matters in the end.

Secondly, repaying debts, whether fiscal or eco, is usually less a matter of resources and more a matter of priorities. Where there's a will, there's a way. Complaints about tough economic times are a bit less believable when emailed from iPads in SUVs sitting in the local drive-thru. Would any of us really want to trade places with our grandparents?

Finally, perhaps an age of "it's all about me" needs to yield to a concern for the greater good of all, and a collective recognition that with every party comes a responsibility to clean up the mess afterwards. No one's entitled to leaving a mess for someone else to cope with, clean up or try to fix.

I don't know about you, but I'd much rather be remembered as a citizen of the Age of Responsibility, Age of Enlightenment or Age of Togetherness; all sound better than the Age of Entitlement.

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