By Sharon Taylor –
The refrain from a childhood song says, “In this world of darkness, we must shine. You in your small corner, and I in mine.” It reminds me that our personal actions, no matter how small, have consequences. But does having a shorter shower or commuting by bike really make a difference to the huge environmental, economic, and systemic issues the world is facing? Can we have an impact on the world from our own small corner?
The UN has addressed these overwhelming issues in a series of discussions and agreements over many decades. At the Rio Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, Canadian Severn Cullen-Suzuki, then only 12 years old, galvanized the world with her plea, “If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it.”
In 2000, the global community agreed to the eight Millennium Development Goals to be achieved by 2015: to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; to achieve universal primary education; to promote gender equality and empower women; to reduce child mortality; to improve maternal health; to combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases; to ensure environmental sustainability; and, to develop a global partnership for development. Some progress was made, particularly in health outcomes, but it was uneven. Some goals were so broad they were hard to measure; others were achieved in some countries but not others. Economic and environmental emergencies derailed many efforts through the 2000s.
In 2015, the United Nations adopted the 2030 Development Agenda, Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The 17 goals therein are ambitious and far-reaching:
Supporting People: No Poverty, Zero Hunger, Good Health and Well-being, Quality Education, Gender Equality (Goals 1-5)
Supporting Communities: Clean Water and Sanitation, Affordable and Clean Energy, Decent Work and Economic Growth, Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, Reduced Inequalities, Sustainable Cities and Communities (Goals 6-12)
Supporting the Environment: Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action, Life Below Water, Life on Land(Goals 13-15)
Overarching Goals: Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, Partnerships for the Goals (Goals 16-17)
The Goals are not meant to be a step-by-step checklist of accomplishments. One goal cannot be met without addressing others: for example, an international forum this summer will explore the theme, Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world. To end poverty in all its forms everywhere (Goal 1), address food security and sustainable agriculture (Goal 2). To achieve sustainable agriculture, consider life on land and under sea (Goals 14 and 15). Studies show that when women and girls have equal access to education and opportunities (Goals 4 and 5), their health improves (Goal 3), and their communities’ prosperity and infrastructure improves (Goals 9, 10, 11); therefore, poverty is lessened. Each small achievement has an effect on other goals—sometimes planned, sometimes unintended.
Lots of people feel these goals are unattainable—there will always be poverty; we will never be free of fossil fuels. Canadian astronaut Colonel Chris Hadfield disagrees. In December 2016, he published a list of good news, including the following: world hunger has reached its lowest point in 25 years; fossil fuel emissions have not increased in 2016, and China has banned new coal mines.
We can’t fix everything from our living rooms or our computer screens, but we do have a role in creating a better world.
The first thing is to be informed: read over the goals and see where your personal priorities fit in.
Then look to your local community: who else is focused on that priority? If you are concerned about gender equity, look for volunteer opportunities with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Women’s Contact Society, or Boys and Girls Club. If you are concerned about the availability of healthy, local food, check out the Cariboo Growers Coop, the Potato House, and Community Gardens. Think long term: while food banks feed hungry people today, they do not solve the systemic problem of families not being able to afford food throughout the month.
Next, you might get involved in organizations that work in broader dimensions. The BC Council for International Cooperation has been working with local groups across the province to align their work with the Sustainable Development Goals. There are over 2,200 groups in BC listed on a searchable map available through the BCCIC website at bccic.ca. The BCCIC and its member groups will be promoting discussion of the goals before and during the upcoming BC elections so that we elect politicians willing to further the goals with government policies
For more ideas, check out The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/takeaction/
In the end, while we shine our light in our own small corners, we must actively support others’ light in whatever ways we can. Otherwise, the world faces a very dark future.
Sharon Taylor has lived in Williams Lake with her husband Rob for most of the past 35 years. Together they have raised four loving and compassionate children, taught hundreds of students in elementary school and at the university, and have been leaders in the Anglican church here and in Vancouver. Sharon now works with the Immigrant and Multicultural Services Society to help newcomers to Canada settle in the Cariboo.