Canada’s role in global environmentalism has become a hot topic as the clock to the Copenhagen Climate Conference, later this month, winds down. At a colloquium last week, environmental activists and students from McGill and Concordia universities said Canada has neglected an opportunity to be a world leader on global climate change.
The event, entitled Canada and Climate Change: Epic Fail?, attracted approximately 60 people. The crowd milled around, drinking drinks out of reusable glassware and eating appetizers off reusable flatware, as they waited for the discussions to begin. Finally, the organizer, former student of sociology at Concordia and member of Climate Action Montreal, Cameron Stiff, got the ball rolling.
“Our goal here tonight is to gain a deeper understanding of this issue, of the actors at play, the stakes of the game, what can and can’t be established in Copenhagen in two weeks, of what our government is and is not doing, and what the alternatives might be.” he said.
As the evening rolled on, the issues, actors, and the game 8212; as they pertain to Stiff and his compatriots 8212; became clear; much of the conversation was centred around Alberta, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and the Kyoto Protocol.
“What’s happening in the tar sands is out of control,” explained Shannon Walsh, a socially-engaged filmmaker whose documentary, H2Oil, demonstrated the effects of Alberta’s oil industry on Native populations and the environment. “These processes are so carbon intensive. Even if we all stopped driving our cars, every single one of us in Canada, we still couldn’t meet Kyoto.”
Some of the crowd’s energy lat week was focused on the question of whether Kyoto-based targets for greenhouse gas reduction represent a realistic target for Canada.
The Harper government has expressed some resistance to the protocol, which aims to control and reverse climate change on a global scale, once saying the Canada would would not be able to reach its target. Instead, the government said it would act on greenhouse gas emissions through the Clean Air Act, announced in 2006.
The Kyoto Protocol’s power to reverse climate change is limited…
…said McGill biology professor Catherine Potvin. Despite targeting large groups of influential countries, she said, the protocol leaves many countries out.
Developing nations, for example, are not required to reduce emission levels unless developed countries supply the necessary funding and technology.
But government shouldn’t wait for developing countries like China and India to start acting, Stiff said.
“Canadians are among the most prodigious polluters in the world,” he said. “As we watch cancer rates rise around the tar sands perimeter and throughout the world, as we witnessed hundreds of ducks die a grizzly death in a tailing pond last year, and as we see the evidence of the interconnectedness of all things stacked up, how can we see and not recognize where this path ends?” Stiff asked.
If the country’s decision-makers can’t see where the path ends, Stiff said, maybe the public will be able to see where it begins.
“Young people scare the living hell out of politicians,” said British Columbia NDP Member of Parliament Nathan Cullen, in an attempt to inspire the crowd. “You’re spooky and have all kinds of idealistic ideas and now you’re organizing and connecting to one another like we’ve never seen before in the history of the human kind. The potential that exists within you and the network that you have is unbelievable,” he added.