October 20, 2014

Sci + Tech | January 9, 2014
The real change in climate change
Canadian environmental protection up to the people, not politics
Written by | Visual by Kristian Picon | The McGill Daily

Canada is home to some of the world’s most calendar-worthy natural landscapes, one fifth of the world’s freshwater resources, and rugged ‘outdoors-y’ environmentalists. Yet the federal government is all but protective of the nation’s massive natural resource endowment, not to mention the social security and well-being of Canadians.

Canada currently ranks last in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries in terms of environmental protection, and is the only country to have pulled out of the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty governing the reduction of carbon emissions. On a national level, the Conservative government has cut major programs like the Federal Environmental Assessment, the Contaminated Sites Action Plan, and the Action Plan on Clean Water, jeopardizing our clean water and air resources while expediting megaprojects in oil and mineral extraction.

Francois Choquette, an New Democratic Party (NDP) Member of Parliament and Deputy Critic for the environment, told The Daily that the Conservative government dismantled and cut funding to important environmental programs, leaving weak regulations on the transport and carbon sectors that will contribute to a three degree Celsius warming over the next century.

“We are still waiting on [the government’s] regulations on the polluting industries of oil and gas”

The current scientific consensus is that anything above a two degree Celsius rise (compared to 1990 levels) in global temperature will be irreversibly damaging, causing more intense and frequent extreme weather events, significant water shortages, and failing crop yields in developing and developed regions. Choquette told The Daily that despite these harsh realities, “We are still waiting on [the government’s] regulations on the polluting industries of oil and gas.”

The NDP proposes a more rigorous plan that involves investing in renewable energies, working alongside First Nations and Inuit peoples, and regulating carbon emissions to stay within the two-degree limit. The NDP also aims to restore the losses many environmental organizations have experienced under the Harper government, such as the Federal Environmental Assessment Act, the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, and endangered species habitat management programs.

But even if the NDP were to go into power next term and keep all their promises, would it be enough?

Cameron Fenton, founder of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition (CYCC), believes that true change comes from the people, not politicians. Fenton told The Daily that “[communities must] push back against the political and financial power of fossil fuel corporations. Until we’ve taken away their power, no political solution will be enough.” Fenton went beyond the environmental dimension to say that “climate change is a symptom of deeper inequalities in our economic and political systems.” Climate change is not only about the carbon dioxide; it’s about our broken economic system.

This is especially relevant to the younger generation, hardest hit with sky-high student debt and youth unemployment rates. Fenton started the national CYCC movement in 2009 to challenge federal politics and build a “unified youth voice on climate change.” Fenton believes that this movement “isn’t a fight against pollution [but] a fight against polluters.”

Fenton sees hope in the fossil fuel divestment movement and encourages students to jump on board. According to Fenton, “[It has] taken off faster than any campaign on climate change […] [and] directly challenges the power of the fossil fuel industry” in an unprecedented way. The divestment movement points out the nation’s carbon bubble – the idea that though a lot of value is put into the fossil fuel industry, once the world starts to seriously target climate change the fuel will lose its value. Fenton said this movement is also “[pointing to] the fact that Canada’s heavy investments in fossil fuel extraction are putting everyone’s economic stability at risk, from pension funds to University endowments.”

“Our current economic model is jeopardizing the very planetary conditions that sustain life”

The national climate action movement has spurred on many local organizations, including Climate Justice Montreal (CJM). CJM’s Kristian Gareau, like Fenton, is disappointed but unsurprised by the federal government’s dismantling of environmental legislation given the current corporate culture.

“Our current economic model is jeopardizing the very planetary conditions that sustain life,” Gareau told The Daily, and the consequences are unequal in spread. “Our governments are willing to bail out the economic elite, while the rest of us are stuck with the bill,” he noted.

Gareau, like many climate justice activists, said that, “We need system change, not climate change.” Climate justice opens up a conversation about the so-called winners and losers of climate change, and allows the community at large to explore alternatives to the current economic paradigm.

In a political climate where the federal government favours corporate tax cuts and pipeline expansions over human health and environmental sustainability, it is up to the people to shake up the conversation and shift the power.

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