Last night I went to hear David Suzuki at his Hamilton stop to the If YOU were Prime Minister… tour. This is a 50 city tour to “turn concern into concrete action”. Here in Hamilton the event was held in Hamilton Place which was close to full. In the lobbies there were displays from local ecological and political action groups. There was thus both large scale mobilization (Suzuki asked us to “vote” for the environment by filling out a card/petition for Ottawa) and there was local mobilization. He asked us to take the Nature Challenge, “10 easy life tweaks”.
One of the interesting points Suzuki made was that widespread concern about the environment is not new, the problem is getting concrete action. In 1988 there was a similar groundswell of concern, but politicians despite lip-service, didn’t deliver change. “If YOU were Prime Minister…” is about mobilizing us to concrete action at the local, national, and international level. It is about keeping an accountable focus on the environment.
So, what would I do if I were Prime Minister? First, I would develop a program that encourages communities to implement traffic calming so that our communities are more livable and not transportation corridors. I love the idea of the woonerf – Dutch for “living street”. For an extreme take, see Why don’t we do it in the road? by Linda Baker. Second, I would develop a national road toll system so that commuters have to pay for using all highways. The funds raised would go directly to public transportation along the corridors where the tolls are raised. The more traffic, the more funds for public transportation. This might work as traffic calming on the large scale. The idea would be to retake our streets and fund alternatives to highway use, two initiatives that would affect the carbon dioxide emissions from transportation, a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.