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Montrealers march for a cleaner tomorrow

by Archives December 7, 2005

Last Saturday, activists, concerned citizens and students were among the 7,000 people that took over the city streets, urging the 189 nations participating in the Montreal U.N. Climate Change Conference to do more to curb global warming.

Braving the cold, people dressed in costumes, chanting slogans, waving banners and blowing whistles were all part of an International Day of Climate Protest it saw an estimated 100 million people take part in similar marches in 32 countries, including Britain, the U.S. and Japan.

The Montreal march began at separate starting points and eventually joined up at Saint Urbain Street and then turned south toward Rene Levesque Boulevard where U.N. meetings were being held at the Guy Favreau Complex.

There, Sierra Club campaigner Elizabeth May delivered the message protestors were waiting to hear.

“We will move the world ahead. We will not wait for President Bush. Together we can save the climate. Together we will stop fossil fuels from destroying our future,” said May.

Simultaneously, nations of the Kyoto Agreement, a climate agreement to curb carbon emissions that came out of a similar summit in Kyoto, Japan, were holding their first meeting since the pact came into force in February.

Canada is among those nations that have signed on to Kyoto, agreeing to reduce the amount of carbon emissions they pump into the air by set amounts between the years 2008 and 2012.

“A good planet is hard to find,” one banner proclaimed. “Stop the Hot Air – Save the Arctic, Save the World,” another said, as the friendly marchers rallied in below freezing temperatures.

“It’s hot in here, there’s too much carbon in the atmosphere,” chanted one group to the beat of drummers.

Many were there to accuse the U.S. government of burying its head in the sand and refusing to take any action on climate change.

“We are here representing the people of the United States who want action to be taken,” said Ted Glick, head the Climate Crises Coalition (CCC), also one of the organizing bodies.

Five environmental groups, including Greenpeace and the CCC, delivered a petition signed by 600,000 Americans to the U.S. Consulate in Montreal hours before the march.

“The petition urges the Bush administration and the U.S. Congress to help slow global warming,” said Glick, who accused the U.S. delegation of trying to obstruct progress at the conference. “Sixty per cent of the American people want action taken on global warming.”

Most countries at the U.N. Climate Change Conference have signed on to the Kyoto Agreement. Only the U.S. and Australia have refused to sign.

Besides getting those countries on board, the aim of the conference is to outline ways to meet Kyoto targets and what to do after it expires in 2012.

“The main aim for us is to get countries like the United States to make a further commitment to fighting global warming,” said Glick.

Increased pressure on nations by activists, especially the U.S., to take climate change seriously comes from the wide consensus among scientists that greenhouse gases are building in the atmosphere at a rate that has begun to trap heat and raise temperatures.

Many at the protest said that a sense of urgency is growing, They point to recent research that suggests that the Arctic ice packs are shrinking and the deep-ocean circulation in the North Atlantic is slowing.

“This protest is important because time is running out,” said Steven Guilbeault, the director of the Greenpeace movement for Quebec.

“Ten years ago we thought we had a lot of time, five years ago we thought we had a lot of time, but now science is telling us that we don’t have a lot of time,” he said.

“Global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter, that’s what we’re dealing with.”

Spencer Baddick, 18, and hundreds of his fellow students from Middlebury College in Vermont made the trip by bus to protest his country’s do-nothing stance when it comes to the climate.

“We are here to express our own views,” he said.

Baddick conceited that the march would not do anything to affect change in the U.S. position.

“We want to show that there are people in the United States who care about the climate and are becoming very concerned about the future.”

The U.S. has been noticeably missing from the conference. Their steadfast stubbornness to remain outside Kyoto has been equally noted.

Harlan Watson, the head of the US delegation to the negotiations, was blunt when he announced at the opening of the meeting that “the United States is opposed to any such discussions.”

Jennifer Morgan, International Director of the World Wildlife Fund’s Climate Change Program, was on hand at the march to urge the U.S. to “listen to these tens of thousands of people.”

She places blame squarely on the U.S. for a lack of progress on reducing greenhouse gases.

“The U.S. administration is the biggest obstacle to progress at this meeting, they have come here to slow things down,” Morgan said. “The best way to put pressure on the Bush administration is to move forward without it.”

At the end of the march, which included Native American musicians, drummers and messages from grade school children from across Quebec, protesters symbolically held their breath for a minute.

But despite the worldwide show of unity, there is pessimism that the ten-day U.N. conference will achieve a workable plan beyond Kyoto. Any new post-Kyoto plan is expected to include present members-though countries are slowly realizing the strict economic sacrifices and some say they may nix the plan-as well as developing nations and the two countries expected to become the world’s two biggest producers of carbon emissions by 2050, China and India.

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