(Opinion) CITIZENS SPEAK OUT ON CLIMATE CHANGE
Rossland’s “Climate Action Town Hall” meeting on July 4 saw a room full of concerned people at the Prestige Mountain Resort posing suggestions on how Canada should address climate change.
Richard Cannings, Member of Parliament for South Okanagan-West Kootenay, noted, “We are not here to debate climate change. That debate is over.” He introduced the “Sounds of the Heart” Doukhobor Ladies’ Choir, who filled the hall with their beautiful voices soaring in harmony. As Cannings commented, their songs were “a great way to get us in the mood to speak about important things in a collegial way.”
Some of the words from their songs seemed particularly apt for the task facing humanity now, and the songs were no doubt chosen for that reason. “My friends, arise and waken, look around at what you see; let your strong voices dispel the darkness — it all depends on you and me.” “So strive for truth, for peace and friendship, for happiness of all mankind.”
Cannings then shared some sobering figures. Global average temperatures, he said, have risen by .85 of one degree Celsius since 1880. Canada’s average temperatures have risen by nearly twice that much — 1.6 degree Celsius, since 1880. According to the Paris Agreement, of which Canada is one of 195 signatories, the world must limit temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, and must “strive” to limit it to less than 1.5 degrees. Otherwise, according to the best science available, life on earth will become very different, much less diverse, and much more challenging; and vastly more expensive for human society, both in economic costs and in the quality and numbers of human lives.
Cannings pointed out a few effects of climate change that many areas of the planet are already feeling: more extreme weather events, occurring more frequently; longer and hotter heat waves; drought, limiting agricultural production (among the other effects of drought); loss of Arctic sea ice; thawing of permafrost; and threats to local food sources, especially for northern indigenous people.
Cannings then spoke of the meetings among governments and within our own federal government about climate change. A meeting of “first ministers” has established four working groups to address:
1. Mitigation of climate change — how to slow it down to try to limit its disastrous effects;
2. Carbon pricing — to discourage thoughtless consumption of fossil fuels;
3. Adaptation and resilience: to help us meet the challenges of the unavoidable effects of climate change that we have already set in motion; and
4. Clean technology, innovation and jobs.
Cannings appealed to the meeting for “your ideas, to take back to Ottawa.”
Rossland Councillor Aaron Cosbey spoke about the various efforts being made in Rossland to address climate change and its effects, and concluded “we’re engaged on this stuff. We believe it to be very important. But two things about all that: when I say we did this stuff, I don’t mean City Hall did it all. Most of that stuff was done by dedicated volunteers, by groups around town who have the energy, the drive, the initiative, the smarts to put it together. City Hall facilitated a lot of that, absolutely — but it was done by people. And the second thing about all that is, it’s not enough.”
He emphasized that in order to limit average global temperature rise to 2 degrees or less, the world will have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent. He said, “We’re talking about a transformation of our economic and social structure on a par with what we went through in the industrial revolution, but sandwiched into a couple of decades. Unprecedented! If we can pull it off, we will have done an amazing thing.”
Greg Powell, Minister of the United Church in Castlegar, and a member of the West Kootenay Ecosociety, was a co-facilitator of the meeting. He spoke briefly about the “100% Renewable Energy Kootenays” campaign and encouraged people to sign on. He also helped, in the most charming way, to limit speakers from the floor to their allotted two minutes.
When citizens gave suggestions for addressing climate change, those suggestions included:
— a meaningful price on carbon;
— stop subsidizing fossil fuels and the fossil fuel industry;
— NOT expand fossil fuel extraction, and build NO more pipelines;
— a powerful international climate lobby (“citizens’ climate lobby”) for effective action on climate change;
— effective climate change policies;
— restoration of ecosystems;
— “to take the land under our care and increase its ability to sequester carbon;”
— reduce our meat consumption;
— introduce democratic reform: “we need a political system people really trust — proportional representation, so we can all pull together;”
— “shake loose from our growth-oriented economic theory;”
— political parties must work together for solutions, and “dump the power and dominance games;”
— reframe our values; “what is sacred? That which supports life. Leave behind what is not sacred.” “What will save us, is working together;”
— greater transparency and fairness about corporate taxation, and about trade agreements — “The investor-state dispute settlement systems in trade agreements counteract all these good ideas;”
— transportation alternatives, including more and better rail systems;
— eliminating planned obsolescence;
— we must consume less;
— we must honour treaties with First Nations.
Cannings spoke again in favour of a carbon tax, and asserted that there are ways to get around the issues of competitiveness and potential inequity. He also spoke about the BC provincial government’s push for Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) development, and said, “The provincial government here is very fond of saying things like, if we could only sell all our natural gas to China, we would be saving the world from climate change, because they would shut down all their coal plants and burn clean natural gas. But even if that were true, the fact is, the amount of methane that gets leaked from the drilling point in BC, through the pipeline to the coast, through the liquefaction process, gasifying it, burning it there — there are various calculations out there, but it becomes very similar to burning coal.”
As for jobs, said Cannings, jobs in the renewable energy sector are similar to the high-paying jobs people now occupy in the fossil fuel industry, but rather than being centralized in a few places like Fort Mcmurray, they tend to be more evenly distributed around the country.
At the end of the gathering, Cannings urged interested people to contribute ideas at a government website, http://letstalkclimateaction.ca. He also announced that there will be a town hall meeting on Proportional Representation in Castlegar, on September 1.