Remembrance Day

Shared sacrifices of the past show way forward on climate

Remember the extraordinary resolve our society showed the last time it faced an existential threat
Photo: Graham Ballantyne
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There are times in history when events demand that people leave their comfort, their complacency, and even their sense of personal safety in order to contribute to something that is bigger than themselves.

This is why millions of Canadians don poppies on their lapels leading up to Remembrance Day each year.

All over Canada we hear a similar refrain that the sacrifices of previous generations should not be forgotten or taken for granted. Even those with serious concerns about war and militarism will wear a white poppy as a way of commemorating while also sending a message against war.

Part of the reason remembering is so important to many is that it reminds us of what we are capable of achieving through our collective sacrifices.

As Remembrance Day approaches again, I can’t help but feel that this message has been lost — that the remembrance that many of us are currently engaging in is as superficial and fake as the plastic poppies themselves.

A new mobilization

We are right now faced with a threat arguably more dangerous than the rise of Nazism, and instead of rising to the challenge, as past generations did, we are in the process of burying our heads firmly in the sands of the world’s growing deserts.

In failing to recognize climate change as the emergency it is, we are collectively playing the role of Neville Chamberlain, naively believing that the monster before us can be bargained with and appeased. We don’t want to accept that slaying this monster will require sacrifices from all of us. We take our comfort and the political and economic status quo for granted.

The severity of the crisis we are now in was laid out in the starkest terms last month by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a UN body dedicated to providing the world with an objective, scientific view of climate change and its political and economic impacts.

According to the IPCC, we have exactly 12 years to reduce emissions by 45 per cent and until 2050 to reduce emissions by 100 per cent, or else face a series of catastrophic ecosystem collapses. This requires “rapid and far-reaching” transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. We need to fundamentally change the way we are doing things, and we need to do so rapidly.

"We’ve now got a call that is comparable to the call when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941,” David Suzuki said in a recent interview, drawing a connection between the mobilization Canadians undertook during the Second World War and the one that is now required in light of the IPCC report.

Strong government intervention

It’s worth remembering just how Canada responded to the call of the Second World War: with strong government intervention in the economy.

What our government did not do was equivocate over whether certain actions might offend the sacred tenets of free market ideology. The entire gamut of wartime production was put under the control and supervision of the newly created Department of Munitions and Supply. Where existing industry could not meet wartime needs, Crown corporations were created to do everything from construct homes for industrial workers to produce vehicles and weaponry.

We also found ways to finance our extraordinary wartime needs that didn’t cripple the nation with debt. We used the Bank of Canada to provide the federal government with interest-free loans that could be used to ramp up war production. Meanwhile, we tightly regulated the banks to ensure that the government’s spending money into existence would not cause inflation.

We also asked those earning higher incomes to pay their fair share. By 1948 Canada had introduced a series of new tax brackets with the top marginal income tax rate reaching as high as 84 per cent.

Of course, taking this kind of action now seems unimaginable. The Trudeau government just spent $4.5 billion on a pipeline and continues to subsidize the fossil fuel industry to the tune of about $3.3 billion per year.

But then again, two consecutive summers when over a million hectares of B.C.’s forests have burned also once seemed unimaginable. As unimaginable as category six hurricanes. As unimaginable as entire neighourhoods of Quebec City and Trois Rivieres under water.

Remember our collective capacity

Fortunately for us, it is not possible solutions that we lack. But we need the political will to do whatever it takes to avoid catastrophe.

This Remembrance Day we need to remember not just the sacrifices of soldiers but also the extraordinary resolve our society showed the last time it faced an existential threat. We need to find inspiration in this resolve and demand that our political leaders rise to the occasion or get out of the way.

Quebecers can begin this process by attending the demonstrations being held in cities throughout the province this Saturday.

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