Growing opposition to Canadian government waffling on climate change

Sub-zero temperatures and fresh snow failed to stop protesters, who gathered this week on Parliament Hill to voice opposition to increased Canadian government waffling in its stance on climate change. More than 100 people bundled together in a tight circle on Monday (December 5th) to listen to a reading of "The Lorax" which was directed at the politicians in the buildings around them.

A mother helps her child trace her hand on a banner destined for Justin Trudeau to demonstrate that his actions will affect the generations to come.

Children in brightly coloured snowsuits climbed over the speaker in a desperate effort to glimpse pages of Dr. Seuss’s cautionary tale of the consequences of corporate greed and environmental exploitation. This was followed by rousing climate-justice themed singing and chanting.

From afar, the scene vaguely resembled the warm gathering of the Whos in Whoville at the end of another Seuss tale, “The Grinch who stole Christmas.”

Robb Barnes, the managing director of Ecology Ottawa, stresses the importance of this type of community-lead action. "All the parts of the environmental movement are really important. I think that neighbourhood level organizing (…) is the only way to change people's minds and move them forward on this issue."

The gathering, one of many that have taken place in recent weeks across the country, was sparked by the Trudeau administration’s approval of two new pipelines in late November.

Such protests and actions are becoming larger and more frequent. People have taken to the streets, to call for a halt on new fossil fuel projects and for implementation of more sustainable practices.

Protesters hold up a banner with the simple but clear slogan often seen at environmental protests: "climate leaders don't build pipelines".

Canadian youth have been particularly explicit about their rejection of pipelines such as Kinder Morgan.

"It helps show the urgency of the situation,” said Sophie Jean, a 19-year-old activist from the Montreal area.

“A lot of politicians don't understand, but youth, we understand the urgency of climate change and it's at the peril of our generation."
Jeff Shepard (left) and Gabrielle Depuis (right) participate in environmental actions to make sure politicians are held accountable.

A few weeks ago, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau ratified the Paris Agreement, a global accord signed in 2015 by world leaders who agreed to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees.

This is the agreed-upon temperature that the scientific community has determined that we must not surpass in over to avoid climate disaster. However, following the recent approval of the two new pipelines, this target does not seem attainable considering the amount of carbon they are projected to emit.

"There's no complicated math or science behind it,” said Gabriel D'Astous, a 24-year-old local activist. “It's crystal clear that if the Canadian government is going to uphold its bargain from the Paris Agreement, it can't build new infrastructure that allows for fossil fuels to be dug out of the ground."

The Inuits of Clyde River rally outside of the Supreme Court on November 30th, 2016 before the court heard an important Indigenous Rights Case.

Renowned climate scientist John England of the University of Alberta has been studying ice melting patterns and rising sea levels for 50 years. He believes that changes must be made now.

In a recent interview with the National Observer he said, "I can say without any question that the impacts on this environment are serious and they have consequences for everyone around the globe."

This chalkboard was created by 350.org to demonstrate the impact that Canadian pipeline approvals will have on the environment.

Climate change will eventually affect people of all cultures, socio-economic statuses and walks of life. The actions Canadians take now will have an impact on generations to come.

Amelie Halls, a fourth-year student at the University of Ottawa, said, "Kids are our future. It's so important to educate them on matters that are going to affect their future (…) which could drastically affect their ways of living and their quality of life."

Amelie Halls (right) protests the Kinder Morgan pipeline approval with other friends from the University of Ottawa.

The recent pipeline decision was seen by many as one that would benefit the economy and create new jobs, particularly in Alberta, whose economy has been hard hit in the last few months.

According to Chelsie Klassen, a spokesperson for CAPP (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers), the oil sands need to be expanded because with growing demands, Canada needs to rely on both oil and renewable energy. "I don't think that it's an either or,” she said. “I think that both will be required for an energy future that has such high demands."

However, according Marc Jacobson, a leading researcher on renewable energy from Stanford University, we have the technology and resources at hand for the world to be able to run on 100% renewable energy by 2050 if we begin to make the transition now.

Thousands of people gathered in November 2015 to send a message to world leaders at the COP 21 conference: (renewables are) 100% possible. Source: http://www.100possible.ca.

Roger Peters, one of the founders of the Ottawa Renewable Energy CO-OP, notes that the price of renewable energy, particularly solar, has dropped significantly in the last few years. When his co-op first started years ago, it cost 50-60 cents per kilowatt per hour but in the last six years, the price has dropped to only 19 cents.

As Tim Jordan, a second year student majoring in Carleton's Sustainable and Renewable Energy engineering program pointed out, "People don't want to spend the money when there's a cheaper alternative. That's why it's the responsibility of the engineers and the designers in the green energy field to make it as competitive as possible."

Indigenous leaders and their communities are often on the front lines of opposition against new fossil fuels projects.

In some areas, Canada is making some progress towards increased renewables use, especially in the energy sector. As Alex Depaiva, a TA in Carleton's Environmental Studies program said, "There should be a bigger push to renewables because between hydro, wind and solar and tidal power we could totally do it, it's just switching people over gradually."

According to Depaiva, Canada relies a lot less on oil than people think. Oil sands pipelines are mainly being expanded to create a product that our country can sell to foreign markets.

Protesters play a game modelled after "snakes and ladders" with Catherine McKenna (Minister of Climate Trudeau as the player icons. (Photo taken by Alex Cool- Ferguson)

"What we need to make the transition to a greener economy is a greater market for renewables," he said. "If you truly wanted to stop oil sands production, we would need to find another economic outlet (…) and if you wanted to fill that place with renewables, you need to find some market or way of shipping electricity as renewable energy."

Canada’s transition to a renewable energy based economy is possible. Renewable energy is constantly dropping in price and increasing in efficiency. It also has a huge potential to generate jobs. If done in time this could help Canada curb its emissions enough to stay within the terms of the Paris Agreement.

Up until this point, it appears that the federal government plans to continue to expand the oil sands unless it faces significant public opposition. “I think it's important that we push things from the ground up,” said Depaiva.

If the last few months are any indication, it's becoming clear that many Canadians will no longer allow new fossil fuel projects to be implemented without a fight.

“That pipeline (Kinder Morgan) in BC may never get built,” said Roger, citing the legal and physical challenges that the community activists have posed and are planning.

99 youth from across Canada were arrested on October 24th to help draw media attention to their disapproval of new fossil fuel projects.

Even before the pipeline's approval, Canadians have been speaking out and calling upon the government to keep fossil fuels in the ground. Throughout the last few months, youth have risked arrest; organized sit-ins and many communities across the country have held protests and vigils.

D’Astous has been heavily involved with these actions and remains positive regarding what the public is capable of.

"I've met so many beautiful people and so many powerful communities that are fighting and resisting in their own ways,” said D'Astous.

However, with so many economic interests currently at stake, and a federal government, which is increasingly reluctant to honour its campaign commitments, to what degree they will be successful still remains an open question.

Despite the approval of new pipelines by the Canadian federal government, the opposition to these projects shows no sign of slowing down.

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