Prominent Canadians Weigh In: Elizabeth Renzetti

Elizabeth Renzetti is a regular columnist and feature writer for the Globe and Mail. She is also the author of two acclaimed books: Shrewd: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls and Based On a True Story. She was the 2020 winner of the Landsberg Award that recognized her for her work raising awareness about women's equality issues in Canada. 

What early life experiences triggered your interest in climate issues?

Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother's family in rural Nova Scotia. My great-uncle Freeman was a huge influence -- he had a farm where he grew a variety of crops and he always seemed profoundly in touch with the land. A couple of years ago, I wanted to plant a tree on our front lawn and the city arrived with a Freeman maple. It seemed like destiny. We call the tree Freeman, and it's already part of the tree canopy on our street.

What worries you most about where we are at with the climate emergency?

So much! The pressure on water resources. The burden we're placing on the next generations to fix our mistakes. Vanishing habitats for animals and sea life. But I try not to give in to panic, because as Frank Herbert taught us (in a book about ecology), "fear is the mind killer." You can take your worry and do something productive with it.

What green lifestyle change have you and your family started because of the pandemic?

We no longer have a car! Now it's bike or foot or public transit. If we need a car for a longer period, we're part of a car share. Also eating less meat. I also seriously think about whether I need to travel somewhere by plane for work or pleasure. And that's fine, I've always liked trains much more than planes.

What green lifestyle change are you finding most difficult to take on?

I think just talking about it with other people. Sometimes I'd feel like I'm being a nag or a hypocrite or a defeatist and it was just easier not to say anything (don't we all feel that way?) But my thinking changed when I read climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe's book Saving Us, which tackles this very topic and offers useful advice on talking to others about climate crises.

Do you have a song, musician or other artist that inspires you and gives you hope as you grapple with the pandemic and climate change?

You can't look away from Edward Burtynsky's photos of environmental degredation,which are both beautiful and horrifying. Also I loved Jenny Offill's new novel Weather, about a mother semi-paralyzed with fear about the climate emergency who still has to get her kid off to school every morning.

If a young relative were to ask you in five years' time "what did you do when the climate was tanking," what will you say?

I wrote newspaper columns about it! That was my small contribution. And marched. And voted for politicians who advocate change.

What gives you hope about the future of the climate and life on this planet?

It's a cliche, but the young people who are tired of living in an exploitative economic system that degrades the planet. When I was living in Berlin, my daughter and I went to the huge school-strike protests and it was amazing to see all those kids out there, questioning the status quo.