UN Paris climate summit

Transitioning off fossil fuels is ‘100% possible,’ but we’ll need a bigger climate movement

We already know Paris agreement will fall short of what’s needed
Photo: niOS

On November 29th millions of people will be marching in over 2200 communities around the world, including Ottawa, Vancouver and many other communities across Canada. While the Global Climate March corresponds with the start of the United Nations Climate Summit, pressuring governments to forge a strong agreement in Paris is only part of the story.

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Any agreement in Paris will fall short of what is needed, even if the Canadian government plays a positive role. In addition, our federal and provincial governments are not going to be deciding on what they will commit to until after the talks in Paris.

The acid test for the climate justice movement is not how big these marches will be; the challenge is to keep the movement growing in size, power and sophistication. The last year has seen impressive progress including explosive growth in divestment campaigns and the defeat of the Keystone XL pipeline. The question is if this progress will continue or stall.

We know a rapid and just transition off fossil fuels is necessary, but it is only possible with a much bigger climate justice movement relentlessly forcing governments and other institutions in the right direction.

In Vancouver, where I live, it is possible to think of rising carbon levels in the atmosphere as a future environmental issue but in rural B.C., like much of the world, it is a different story.

It is well known that people in interior communities are already losing jobs because of trees killed by the pine beetle, which is directly linked to rising temperatures. The fossil fuel industry is already devastating forestry dependent communities.

Burning fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, has also already made B.C. sea water so acidic that oysters cannot reproduce. Oyster farmers now have to raise oysters in tanks of treated water until they are old enough to survive the acidic ocean water.

The near-term prospect of sea water so acidic it won’t support commercial shellfish operations is already casting doubt on the wisdom of investing or starting a career in the shellfish industry. The biggest threat to livelihoods, in Canada and around the globe, is now the carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels. Pipelines, coal ports, and plants to supercool fracked gas into LNG are direct threats to every community and economic sector.

The climate justice movement needs to become strong enough to definitively cancel the “social licence” for coal, oil sands and fracked gas expansion projects. Voicing opposition to all fossil fuel expansion is the best ways to pressure our governments to take strong action in Paris and beyond. The vast majority of fossil fuels must be kept in the ground to have a future worth living. And the indigenous groups who are refusing to allow pipelines, LNG terminals, and other fossil fuel projects to be built on their territories are shouldering a load we all need to share.

We need a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy based on principles of social and environmental justice. Respecting and defending the rights of First Nations, expanding public services, and fighting for good jobs that pay a living wage are all necessary aspects of transitioning to an economy that serves people and respects our planet.

Supporting the transition to renewable energy is not enough. Concepts held sacred in our society need to be cast aside, including the idea that infinite growth in consumption and extraction is possible on a finite planet. This is not going to be a smooth and easy transition, but the alternative is unthinkably worse.

Many of the things that need to be done would make our lives better. Riding quiet electric buses and trains instead of sitting for hours idling in freeway traffic jams would be a good thing. So would seeing welders going from building oil sands pipelines they feel ashamed of to welding towers for wind turbines which make them feel proud.

In the last year the Papal encyclical on climate justice, the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change and The Leap Manifesto have greatly advanced the dialogue about this just transition should be shaped. The climate justice movement is growing in size, power and sophistication.

Come out and march on Sunday, Nov. 29. And recognize that these marches are just one place the movement can add members and build the power needed for the exciting journey we are on together.

The Global Climate March in Vancouver starts at 1p.m. Sunday at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The Ottawa March starts at 1pm Sunday at Ottawa City Hall. For information on 2200+ other global marches see GlobalClimateMarch.org.

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