People have differing opinions on how change happens. Some believe in holistic visions directing change through a mass-list of goals (e.g. Leap manifesto, Project drawdown, Green New Deal). Others assume that change should start with specific solutions centered around a niche system (e.g. agroecology, energy efficiency, afforestation). Yet many more propose that change stems from our collective values, beliefs and motivations (e.g. consumer education, nature walks, minimalism). Nevertheless, the innumerable environmental, economic and social equity issues we face require substantial, often systemic changes.
What are sustainability transitions? Well, sustainability is a long-term sustenance process that ensures needs are met in the present and for the future. Next, transitions involve a long-term reformist and structural change often at the level of societal systems. Sustainability transitions together is defined as a response to persisting sustainability problems in society through radical transformation.
So, whether sustainability transitions take the form of market signals that shift consumer and business behavior, or it is directed by changing cultural forces and community interventions, here are some ways that environmental and urban change can occur:
Description. Example. Action Step.
1. Policy Change – Change can happen through a centralized body such as our government. When new policies are enacted, it leads to a sweep of change in the society. As climate change becomes more pressing in mainstream society, governments all over the world, including in Canada, have been setting legislations that transform how individuals and organizations carry out processes. In 2018, a pricing system for carbon emissions came into law through the GreenHouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act created by the federal government of Canada. This system applied to provinces that do not implement their own carbon tax according to federal reduction standards. Because of this, many provinces introduced their own legislation and policies to address climate change. Since Canada has a unique, two-tiered approach that features both federal strategies and provincial initiatives, individuals often must know which tier deals with what to be successful in policy appeals. Check this out to have a comprehensive understanding of how the Canadian constitution divides government authority.
2. Rallies, Marches, & Gatherings – These are approaches that directly counters and refuses engagement with the dominant system. Activities such as marches are often used as instruments in procuring social change. Examples of social change in Canadian History includes Viola Desmond Challenging Racial Discrimination and National Indigenous Peoples Day. Viola was a Black female civil rights activist who is featured on our $10 note. Her wave of activism began when she chose to sit at an all-white sitting area in a public theater. National Indigenous Peoples Day commemorates the contributions indigenous peoples have and continue to make in Canada. Their struggles, the healing process, and the rise of entrepreneurship amongst their younger generations continues to be brought to the table in much needed discussions for solidarity. Movements in society often take years, but actions build on each other until it gains traction. Social change can start from rallies, political outreach, and even simply a tweet. Using public spaces safely can help bring about an organized collective and direction. Write a letter to your local municipality, community organization, or region representative today on an issue you believe needs to be addressed!
3. Legal Action – Courts are used extensively in environmental change. Governments, NGOs, and businesses may take each other to court over jurisdictional questions, actions or failure to act on legal obligations. Indigenous people can use the courts to confirm and uphold their rights. Various legal expertises helps defend Canadians’ rights to a healthy planet. They take matters to court on individuals or communities’ behalf ranging from working on wildlife protection, to demanding environmental assessments prior to oil explorations, to challenging the use of chemicals harmful to our air and waterways. You can volunteer at such firms to make this kind of work possible day by day!
4. Technology Innovation – Technology is often responsible for creating different business, cultural and social environments to which we adapt. A large part of economic growth is thought to be technology innovations. They increase productivity and make processes more efficient. For example, in the field of renaturalization, automated technologies such as drone surveys and electronic data collection are used as tools when working in dynamic ecosystems to visualize and implement a project. Location-specific restoration technologies are particularly being applied due to the ever complex nature of our environments. If you know of, or work in an NGO or company that supports ecosystem restoration, create partnerships that will fulfill our carbon pledges!
There has been a recent flux of engagement in the research of sustainability transitions, and how they can be more guided, established in solutionary frameworks. Sustainability transitions can be driven incrementally, through dynamic interplay of different societal dimensions, or through pathways and processes. Of course, sustainability transitions can happen in many more forms than those listed above, but with well-informed research, a guided goal, and a band of supporters, we are more than capable of re-shifting the focus to sustainable living.
DRIFT. (2022). Sustainability Transitions Studies. Drift for transition. http://drift.eur.nl/research/sustainability-transitions/.
MacRae, R. (2021). Weeks 1 & 2: Solutions [Online handout]. Retrieved from York University ENVS 2403 Moodle site.
MacRae, R. (2021). Weeks 1 & 2: Theories of Change [Online handout]. Retrieved from York University ENVS 2403 Moodle site.
Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP. Canadian Climate Change Policy Developments. Canadian Legislation and Regulations. Accessed May 29, 2022. http://www.osler.com/en/resources/regulations/focus/canadian-climate-change-policy-developments.
University of Alberta – Office of Sustainability. What is Sustainability? https://www.mcgill.ca/sustainability/files/sustainability/what-is-sustainability.pdf
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