On October 24th, 99 young people were arrested in Ottawa calling on Prime Minister Trudeau to reject the Kinder Morgan tar sands pipeline. Together, they gave the Canadian Prime Minister a ‘Climate 101 Crash Course’ which starts with the most basic lesson -- climate leaders don’t build pipelines. (Credit: Robert van Waarden | Survival Media)

Commentary  Climate 101: Change in action

Why I got arrested in Ottawa

A few months ago, a study released by Oil Change International put the immediacy and threat of climate change in new terms: if we want even a 66 per cent chance of limiting climate change to two degrees celsius, fulfilling our international commitments, and preserving earth’s remaining biodiversity, then no new fossil fuel infrastructure can be built. That means no new wells, mines, terminals or pipelines.

Unfortunately,Justin Trudeau does not believe that this reality applies to Canada. He regularly appears on TV supporting Canada’s need to develop new pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Last month, he approved the Pacific Northwest Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) pipeline and terminal, despite the fact that it would add 4.9 million tons of Carbon dioxide every year. The proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline, if approved, will be even worse for the climate. It will transport 890,000 barrels of tar sands per day, the most carbon intensive form of oil in the world. The emissions will be the equivalent of adding 34 million cars to Canadian roads and will make it next to impossible to keep global warming under two degrees celsius. Additionally, with 400 oil tankers travelling the coast of British Columbia each year, it would make an oil spill off the coast much more likely. Despite all this, Trudeau is posturing to approve the pipeline.

From ‘overhauling’ the National Energy Board, the regulatory body that approves energy infrastructure, to an ‘ambitious’ carbon tax, Trudeau’s climate politics have failed to deliver on his campaign platform of bold climate action. I am tired of Trudeau claiming to be the ‘Minister of Youth,’ while at the same time supporting projects that threaten our future along with that of the country. Justin Trudeau has made it clear that the statements he made on the campaign trail won’t be fulfilled, and Canadians deserve better than a Prime Minister who would rather take selfies than deliver on his mandate.

Trudeau has a choice: he can approve Kinder Morgan and make the already daunting task of limiting climatic warming to two degrees celsius all but impossible to reach. Or he can reject the Kinder Morgan pipeline and begin to follow through on his commitment to bold climate action.

According to polls, 45 per cent of Canadians aged 18-25 voted for the Liberal Party, making Canadian millennials responsible for the Liberal majority win in Ottawa. By 2019 young people will be the largest voting block in Canada; we voted the Liberal government in and now we need to hold them accountable. This is why I went to Ottawa for the Climate 101 protest: to put my body on the line to disrupt the status quo, and demonstrate the lengths that Canadians, especially young Canadians, are willing to go to prevent Trudeau from making the wrong choice. On October 24, I, and 98 other like-minded young people, crossed a police barricade and got arrested on Parliament Hill. We demonstrated that our power for change does not solely lie in the voting booth space; it also lies in our ability to come together to protect our futures. In this sense, Climate 101 was a success. We were covered by news outlets all over Canada. We nationalized the conversation around Kinder Morgan by showing that Canadians all around the country (and even Americans) are willing to participate in acts of civil disobedience to stop the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

For far too long, the burden of direct action has fallen on mainly Indigenous peoples who, on the frontlines of extraction projects, are given no other choice but to defend land and water with their bodies. For example, the Tsleil-Waututh nation in B.C. have been organizing against the Kinder Morgan pipeline since it was proposed, and Indigenous environmental activist Vanessa Gray physically shut down Enbridge “Line Nine” last fall, despite the enormous risks. Gray is potentially facing life in prison for her brave acts of resistance while I walked away with less than a parking ticket. It is high time that these acts of civil disobedience be brought to places of power, and that they be done by privileged peoples. There is a lot of power in this privilege, and it needs to be leveraged.

Climate 101 was an attempt to utilize that power. Organizers trained over 125 people in civil disobedience, many of whom had never participated in such displays of protest before. We heard speeches from frontline activists and how much our actions meant to them. We got up early the next day, chanting “climate leaders don’t build pipelines” all the way to Parliament Hill.

Getting arrested in an act of solidarity with land defenders all across the continent was one of the most powerful moments of my life, and has inspired me to keep fighting and organizing in any way I can. Climate 101 was not about one day or one pipeline — it is about growing a movement. People may have doubts about the efficacy of the protest or its authenticity, but the action will only lose its relevance if this movement stops growing, and if youth stop taking a stand, both for our futures and those on the frontlines.

If young people come together, we can take matters into our own hands and create the ‘real change’ that Trudeau initially promised. By taking actions in solidarity with people on the frontlines and in our own communities, we can enforce the necessary moratorium on fossil fuel infrastructure, contribute meaningfully to upholding Indigenous sovereignty, and build a better future for everyone.