Canadian Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq arrives in Lima, Peru this week for the annual United Nations climate talks. Under the Harper government, Canada has been a global embarrassment on this most urgent collective problem facing humanity.
Each December for the past nine years, the Harper government has been singled out by activists and civil society for obstructing meaningful global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Several years ago, Harper and his then Environment Minister Peter Kent had the ignominious distinction of being the first to formally withdraw from the Kyoto agreement.
The Conservative government’s obstructionism on the climate file is explained by their commitment to expanding the Alberta tar sands and other fossil fuel industries. Harper puts the needs of Big Oil above everything. It’s why they have muzzled scientists; it’s why they have antagonized First Nations; it’s why they have removed protections for fresh water ways across the land. And it’s why they are doing everything they can to block or at least weaken any new binding international agreement on climate change.
Harper’s ham-fisted boosterism for the tar sands and his government’s aggressive push for new pipelines to increase the rate of expansion of this destructive industry has sparked growing resistance.
Last month’s standoff on Burnaby Mountain, where over 100 people committed civil disobedience and were arrested in protest of Kinder Morgan’s pipeline plans, was but one example of an increasingly dynamic movement. There’s a new awareness about the dangers of Canada putting all its eggs in the Big Oil basket.
Beyond the visible protests, there’s also a new sensibility about environmental issues in general; a new common sense is slowly taking root. You get a sense of this from the electoral success of all the municipal candidates in Burnaby and Vancouver who oppose Kinder Morgan.
The politicians and pundits who defend Big Oil and attempt to debunk climate activists and pipeline opponents seem increasingly flailing and desperate in their arguments. Their main talking point against the Burnaby Mountain protesters was that some of them travelled in vehicles that used oil. This is like arguing you can’t oppose sweatshops if you wear clothes. It’s absolutely pathetic, but this is the intellectual level of Big Oil’s defenders.
Rather than stooping to this low level of argumentation, we should take the conversation to a higher level. The necessary transition off of fossil fuels is the biggest social, political, economic and technical challenge in the history of humanity. Here’s how I described the task ahead of us three years ago, in an article on rabble.ca:
“We are going to need a revolution. An energy revolution. A social revolution. To achieve all this we are going to need to summon an unprecedented collective will to take back the public sphere, including the media, and we will have to re-imagine our democracy, our cities, our societies and our daily lives.”
In the policy sphere, this needs to translate in ambitious new investments in renewable energy and in science. Pipeline opponents are not arguing for an end to jobs or the economy. Not at all. We are arguing for a new economy, a just economy, which will create jobs that will be intellectually demanding and even spiritually rewarding, building whole new energy infrastructures and transportation systems.
None of this will be possible without getting rid of Harper, and moving beyond the stultifying neoliberal consensus.
We can only hope this week in Lima is the last time the UN climate talks have to suffer the Harper government. Next year there will be a federal election – in October at the latest – so that there can and should be a new Canadian government in place before climate talks convene in Paris in December 2015.
The Paris UN summit is being billed as the most important yet, because that’s when a new binding agreement is supposed to be signed, even if it won’t likely take effect until 2020 at the earliest.
A change of government in Ottawa is long overdue, and for the sake of the global climate it couldn’t come at a better time.
In 2015, Harper must be defeated. Let’s make that our collective New Year’s resolution.