Confronting ecological collapse

Canada’s climate groups need a ‘kick in the butt’

Photo: Peter Blanchard

When I wasn’t paying attention, another environmental group — Blue Dot — came into existence, joining the many other large Canadian groups claiming it has the right strategy to help save Canada from environmental devastation.

Your ad here
Don't like ads?
Automated ads help us pay our journalists, servers, and team. Support us by becoming a member today to hide all automated ads:
Become a member

An initiative of the David Suzuki Foundation, Blue Dot says it “focuses on building a ground-swelling of support” to convince Members of Parliament to introduce “a gold-standard federal environmental bill of rights.”

Blue Dot also urges municipalities to adopt a pro-environmental position, and hopes to pressure Parliament to amend the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to include environmental protection. Hey, this shouldn’t be hard. Just kidding. A dozen or so other groups have been working on the same goals for at least a dozen years with little success.

With only 115,000 individual members — but still growing — and modest funding, I don’t see how Blue Dot can be more effective than any of the others in fighting what’s commonly referred to as “climate change.” (I’ve decided that the term “climate change” no longer describes the devastation the earth is experiencing. From now on I will use the term “ecological collapse.”)

Canada is seriously failing to meet its carbon emission reduction targets, and a federal government that claims to be fighting ecological collapse supports development of the tar sands.

These groups and networks need to change radically if they hope to have any success at all fighting ecological collapse.

“Canada, which represents one half of one per cent of the planet’s population,” writes an angry Bill McKibben of 350.org, “is claiming the right to sell the oil that will use up a third of the earth’s remaining carbon budget.”

Scientists say that if the world is to hold global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius this century every bit of fossil fuel should remain in the ground. A two-degree increase could spell catastrophe, scientists warn — through drought, sea-level rise, crop failure, wildfires, flooding, and disease.

Faced with this frightening information, you would think that the environmental community would be well organized and have effective strategies in place. Not so.

Canada now has at least 25 organizations that claim to be fighting ecological collapse. The 25 seldom work together. In fact, they are just as likely to see other groups as rivals. They don’t tend to share campaigning information. They compete for funding. Their bosses protect their own isolated empires.

Tremendous capacity

The largest groups have tremendous capacity. Six of the largest groups employ roughly 180 people: The David Suzuki Foundation (60), Environmental Defence Canada (25), Greenpeace (20), Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society (18), World Wildlife Fund of Canada (36), and Nature Conservancy Canada (20).

And some of these groups have identical goals and similar campaigns. There’s also serious duplication of work by groups working in other areas. At least 20 groups work on water issues; 18 on forests; 16 on wildlife; 12 on land issues; 11 on oceans, and so on. In addition, hundreds of small groups across the country work on these and many other issues.

Individual groups complain that they lack funds, but if they worked together and cut out overlap and duplication of programs much more money would be freed up.

I researched the funding of groups and discovered that, in 2014, the country’s top environmental and conservation groups received about $20 million, much of it in the form of donations from committed individuals.

These groups have three national networks, and several regional ones. Most groups belong to the Climate Action Network. CAN has more than 100 members, but when it comes to action it’s pretty much a do-little network.

CAN doesn’t bring together the power of its members to take action. It’s mainly a communications vehicle that shares groups’ information. It claims to lobby government, but my impression is that it complains politely. It has a conflict of interest because it is partly government funded.

Radical changes required

These groups and networks need to change radically if they hope to have any success at all fighting ecological collapse.

To begin with, there needs to be a dramatic change in attitude. Even though we are facing climate calamity, groups don’t put themselves on the line. They’re too Canadian-polite. They’re not in the right place psychologically to deal with the crisis. They should be on an “at war” footing. They need to acknowledge that we are in a life and death situation.

Sit-ins? Targeting the country’s worst fossil fuel corporation? All possibilities need to be discussed.

The time is long past for sending petitions to Parliament, holding protest marches with a couple of hundred folks, and having nice visits with MPs.

More urgent action is needed. First, groups could hold a staff meeting, write the term “climate calamity” on the blackboard, and start talking about what can be done to slow carbon emissions from Canada. Then, facilitated by a hard-nosed campaign strategists, groups need to meet together and start developing joint strategies. They need to be less reluctant to confront and attack the people and institutions that are blocking change.

The best results would almost certainly come from working together and developing joint campaigns, probably through the Climate Action Network. Twenty-five groups representing millions of Canadians would be hard to ignore.

Sit-ins? Disrupting government communications? Targeting the country’s worst fossil fuel corporation? All possibilities need to be discussed.

Right now, with no serious opposition, Prime Minister Trudeau and the corporations know they can do as they please.

If groups can become less concerned about protecting their own interests, they could easily reallocate a million dollars to launch a meaningful campaign.

Need to involve the public

Groups need to re-evaluate the difficult problem of motivating the public about ecological collapse. Because they are afraid to discourage people, many groups in Canada and elsewhere never tell us the real seriousness of ecological collapse. I don’t think this is the right approach anymore.

On one hand groups ask people to get involved in supporting their work – on the other hand, they say people shouldn’t worry too much. It’s no surprise that people aren’t motivated.

Only 57 per cent of Canadians say the country should do more to address climate change. A September Abacus Data poll suggests that perhaps only 22 per cent of Canadians are radicalized on the issue.

A lot of time has been lost, but the movement should immediately start telling the truth about the destruction that’s coming, and rally as many Canadians as possible.

The environmental community will be angry and in denial about this article. After they calm down, it will be great if they realize they must go through a revolutionary process.

Nick Fillmore is a Toronto freelance journalist and activist who often likes to dig into places where he’s not wanted. He thinks this is what journalism is supposed to be like. Nick is a frequent contributor to Ricochet. Please visit his blog and subscribe. It’s free! nickfillmore.blogspot.com

You might also be interested in...
Fight for 15
B.C. needs a brisk boost to $15/hr minimum wage
Michal Rozworski
December 7, 2017
Justice and equality
Canada must end discrimination against immigrants living with HIV
December 21, 2017