In preparation for the People’s Climate March on September 21 in New York City, which is projected to be the largest climate march in history, the People’s Climate Tour came to Montreal on September 3.
The event was organized by Divest McGill, Divest Concordia, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU), the Concordia Student Union (CSU), and international environmental organization 350.org, featuring talks from two guest speakers: Ellen Gabriel, a human rights activist from Kanehsatà:ke, and 350.org founder Bill McKibben. The speakers explored issues related to the fossil fuel industry, such as the contamination of natural resources and the disproportionate effect of climate change on people of colour.
SSMU VP External Amina Moustaqim-Barrette opened the talk by connecting the issue of sustainability to broader social justice issues, speaking from her experience at a conference on climate justice in the Philippines. Moustaqim-Barrette said that “doing migrant justice work is a form of climate justice work,” as people are often displaced by climate change and subsequently migrate to places, like Canada, where they are likely to be taken advantage of by migrant worker programs.
In the speeches, Gabriel focused on Indigenous views and practices for sustainability, while McKibben focused on the scientific proof of the damaging effects of climate change. Both speakers outlined the necessity of immediate action in order to combat these issues.
“Indigenous groups,” Gabriel said, “have criticized the way colonizing peoples have been treating the earth long before scientists discovered problems associated with unsustainable extraction practices.”
Gabriel also condemned political leaders such as Stephen Harper, Barack Obama, and George W. Bush for encouraging environmentally damaging extraction methods, such as fracking and pipeline projects. “It is the role of government to protect the people; it is not the role of the government to trample on the rights of the people. It is the role of government to always be the one to look out if there is any danger for the people. And they have failed you, miserably.”
Jon Milton, an audience member and student at Champlain Regional College St. Lambert, echoed these criticisms of how politicians have dealt with climate justice to The Daily after the event. “Indigenous treaty rights are some of the only legal mediums for environmental defense, after Stephen Harper gutted the environmental regulations of Canada.”
Gabriel concluded on an apologetic note, acknowledging the fact that it is the current generation of young people who will have to grapple with issues left by the detrimental practices of the past, and urged the audience to instill immediate change.
According to McKibben, scientists sounded the alarm bells about climate change 25 years ago and have shown that, in particular, Canada will be severely affected by climate change since it is so close to the disappearing ice of the Arctic.
“They told us that was going to happen, and nobody did anything – none of our leaders, none of our systems reacted the way that you would think that they would,” said McKibben.
He said that 350.org was founded in response to the need to heed these warnings at a grassroots level. The organization aims to bring all people together, but especially those with less power – such as young people and the economically disadvantaged – in a collective manner that will be much more effective than people trying to create change individually.
While the event was popular – tickets sold out – it did not conclude without criticism. A member of the audience interrupted McKibben during the talk. The audience member criticized the way that the People’s Climate Tour is being run, citing a lack of Indigenous involvement and overrepresentation of “zionist organizations which are [carrying out] the genocide of Palestinian people.”
McKibben responded by recognizing the importance of Indigenous involvement, saying that it has been an important aspect of how 350.org has been organizing, and added that it will take everyone working together in order to combat climate change.