Commentary  Climate justice now!

Climate change will force the migration of marginalized groups

Last Monday, over 100 young people observing Parliament’s Question Period took the unprecedented action of standing up and speaking out against climate change. Ordinary Canadians understand why we spoke out: climate change is happening now and our society requires immediate, transformative action. But members of Parliament (MPs) and the mainstream media have been unable to comprehend this outburst. Accusations of conspiracy immediately began to fly: Was it an NDP ploy? Were injuries faked?
In fact, the action was spontaneous, but it was effective nevertheless. For a few moments, MPs were forced to listen to reason. Many McGill students were there, and we will tell you about the frustration of seeing our decision-makers bickering and lallygagging when they were supposed to be making important decisions. Meanwhile, Canadians nationwide are ready and willing to take action on climate change. Industrial workers are ready to start building wind turbines and solar panels. Indigenous people are ready to start responsible forest management on their traditional lands. Rural communities are ready for an agricultural system that puts human and ecological health first.

And Canada’s youth are ready to give voice to these concerns, having attended Power Shift Canada. A global phenomenon, Power Shift assembled 1000 Canadians, and gave us the skills and knowledge to act on climate change in our own communities. It’s no wonder that the nation’s youth, inspired by success stories and distress signals alike, could not keep quiet in the face of Parliament’s negligence.

Our leaders in government and the media have also missed the substance of our concerns. While we urge Parliament to pass Bill C-311 (the Climate Change Accountability Act), we also call on Canada to sign the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. Our rallying cry of “climate justice” is a cause beyond environmentalism. We recognize that climate change will have as profound an effect on societies as on ecologies.

Billions of people over the next century are faced with mass migration, the result of rising seawaters and deforestation. Changes in rainfall and temperature will alter the range of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, which already claim millions of lives every year. Drought and flash flooding bring the threat of starvation to all areas of the world. We’re looking at increases in the frequency and impact of natural disasters, threats to the food system, and conflicts over scarce natural resources.

For populations already on the margins, life during a time of climate change is only getting harder. Ecological and social crises will erode already precarious human rights protections in many areas, increasing the likelihood of inequitable impacts. We are not all on equal footing when it comes to adapting to climate change. In Canada, Inuit and First Nations have been the first to feel the impacts of a warmer Arctic, as hunting patterns change and habitable lands shrink. But melting ice has also brought an increase of military activity and natural resource exploitation in their territories. Meanwhile, the tar sands are fuelling global warming at the expense of downstream First Nations and the boreal forest they depend upon to live. Canada faces major internal migration if the marginal populations of tomorrow are made landless by the mainstream choices of today.

Can we avoid this injustice? Canada became powerful by polluting the atmosphere with carbon. As polluters, we must pay. We cannot take the carbon out of the atmosphere, but we can invest in the enrichment and empowerment of marginal communities around the world, and especially at home, while developing a carbon-zero economy. That’s why, for more and more youth, the answer to climate change is climate justice!

Trevor Chow-Fraser holds a BA (2008) in East Asian studies and English literature. Send him justice-grams at