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Canada is warming faster than we thought. What can we do about it?

While global temperatures have increased 0.8C since 1948, Canada has seen an increase of 1.7C – more than double the global average. And in the Arctic, the warming is happening at a much faster rate of 2.3C, the Changing Climate report says

A new report leaked one day early from Environment and Climate Change Canada shows that Canada is experiencing warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, with Northern Canada heating up at almost three times the global average.

The “Changing Climate” report was prepared in a similar way to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, as a synthesis of a hundreds of peer-reviewed studies. It included details on a familiar catalog of the impacts we can expect, not limited to increases in precipitation (particularly in winter), “extreme fire weather” and water supply shortages in summer, threatened freshwater systems, marine ecosystem collapse, and a heightened risk of coastal flooding. As the Toronto Star noted, the report concluded that “even if countries around the world stick to their commitments under the 2016 Paris Agreement, Canada is still likely to experience a range of consequences like rising sea levels, shrinking glaciers and Arctic ice cover, increased risk of summertime water shortages and more frequent droughts, floods and wildfires.”

In some ways, this information is new – the degree and scope to which this land has and will be impacted has never been collated with this much certainty before. The idea that Canada will be impacted more than average by climate change may alert some people who have bought into the selfish and false talking point that we will not be terribly adversely impacted by this crisis, that it could even be a good thing for us. It may jolt others out of complacency. But for people who are already grappling with the full scale of the climate crisis, there’s been more than enough scientific evidence and Indigenous knowledge shared to indicate that this is an emergency. As the Northwest Territories Chapter of the Council of Canadians wrote, “We’ve seen the changes; now we have the data. But still there are people crying ‘fake news’. Those of us wanting a livable planet need to step up the push for a Green New Deal for Canada and the NWT.”

We wrote about our takeaways from the special IPCC report on 1.5C late last year for people interested it fighting for climate justice, and thought we would reiterate some of them in the wake of this Canada-specific report.

The most important thing to remember it’s still within our reach to avoid most of the future impacts the report describes. We have the solutions. We have many roadmaps for a fair transition on the necessary timeline, but to get there we will need to multiply the people power pushing for them.

Right now, there’s heartening signs of people-powered momentum behind a cross-cutting vision for climate justice under the “Green New Deal” in the United States. I’m excited to be working with a broad coalition of organizations and grassroots leaders across many movements to start pushing for a Green New Deal for Canada too. But I also know there is a long history of pushing for such cross-movement visions for climate justice without enough headway – if this time is to be different, we must forefront bottom-up organizing and a ‘movement ecosystem’ approach of many different tactics pursuing different tactics that push in the same direction. 

As my colleague Dylan Penner wrote last week, “A Green New Deal in Canada has the potential to accelerate our collective work for jobs, social justice, and a livable climate…It’s an opportunity to meet much bolder climate commitments, create a just transition that ensures good jobs for workers, respects Indigenous rights and climate justice, and throws neoliberal “solutions” into the dustbin of history. If you’re: fighting for a livable climate; fighting for a just transition for workers; fighting for Indigenous rights; fighting pipelines and other fossil fuel expansion projects; fighting attacks on public services and workers’ rights; fighting Scheer, Ford, Kenney, etc., and the rising forces of far right extremism they’re amplifying; let’s talk about how we can work together on it.”

So on that note, here are some of the most important things to keep in mind as we run headlong into this path-breaking fight for a liveable future with good work and Indigenous rights:

1. Corporations and billionaires are the leading causes of climate change.

We are bombarded with a lot of “change your lightbulbs!” and “remember to compost!” messages around climate change. But 100 fossil fuel companies have been the source of 71 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions. Just 42 people own as much as poorest 3.7 billion people. Through undue political influence, both the ultra-rich and the corporations they control have led a well-documented and ongoing effort to dismantle environmental and labour protections over the past few decades. With respect to climate change, this has meant funding the climate denial movementunwinding our existing environmental laws, hindering efforts to implement climate policy, and an aggressive pursuit of new fossil fuel extraction opportunities while they still can (often in extreme new forms like fracking or the tar sands).

So, while swapping cars for bikes and other individual consumption changes will definitely play a role to staying under 1.5ºC, we won’t be able to make meaningful progress on emission reductions unless we also rein in the corporate power that is blocking necessary systemic changes. 

The good news is while corporations and billionaires have the money, we have the people. If we can channel people’s climate anxiety towards working on systemic change instead of just changing their lightbulbs, we can build a world with both a fairer distribution of wealth and an economy that runs on renewables.

2. There are no shortcuts

As in any crisis, there are many people pushing false solutions in the hopes of turning a profit. For example, fossil fuel companies have been pushing carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies to justify their continued expansion, but the technology is unproven and more expensive than almost any other way to reduce our emissions. Likewise, electric vehicles are part of the solution, but so is the harder and less-talked about work of building affordable and comprehensive public transport systems. Grassroots organizers and land defenders worked hard to keep false solutions out of the plans for the Green New Deal in United States so far, and we will be working to do the same.

A quick and useful test for whether a policy will actually help promote climate justice is:

  • Will this actually help keep 85% of our fossil fuel reserves in the ground?
  • Does it support or put power in the hands of impacted communities, not corporations or the wealthiest parts of society?

Likewise, there are no shortcuts in social movements – we cannot solely rely on flash-in-the-pan petitions and rallies. We need to make sure we also have a deeper organizing strategy that includes being out talking to people at their doorsteps, parks, and workplaces, building strong coalitions well beyond the ‘climate movement’, and taking leadership from grassroots efforts. It’s an approach that I’m excited to see many taking to heart as we get ready to launch our work on the Green New Deal.

3. Indigenous-led “Keep it in the Ground” struggles are winning

Staying under 1.5ºC means keeping more than 85 per cent of current fossil fuel reserves unextracted, and any fair distribution of the extraction of these last barrels would leave a miniscule amount for wealthy countries like Canada. While this is well-accepted in climate research it is still largely considered heresy in Canada. The good news is that movements to stop new fossil fuel projects are winning. Not just here with Northern Gateway, Energy East, Trans Mountain, and Keystone XL, but in Peru with the Achuar struggle against extraction in the rainforest, in Germany with Ende Gelände, in Kenya against the Lamu coal mine, and many other places world-wide.

These movements are using tactics that range from lawsuits to direct action to popular mobilization and are drawing in supporters by connecting the dots between these projects and a multitude of injustices – not just greenhouse gas emissions. And they are having material impacts on fossil fuel production levels, but perhaps more importantly, on the discourse about companies’ and countries’ continued plans to expand extraction. We can’t keep playing whack-a-mole with each new project proposal indefinitely. We need these struggles to create the political possibility for policies to phase-out extraction. There is already evidence this is happening, with fossil fuel expansion moratoriums starting to be proposed by local governments and some left-wing candidates, and an emerging consensus on the left that we can’t afford to continue fossil fuel expansion. 

As we scale up these keep-it-in-the-ground efforts, a lesson to keep in mind is that they haven’t tended to be as successful when projects only impact communities that have been on the front lines of fossil fuels for decades already in comparison to the high-profile pipeline struggles that pass through cities with dense and relatively wealthy populations. We need to get better at fore-fronting these struggles too (think the now-built Line 9b, Line 67, and Grand Rapids pipelines, or the still-ongoing Alton GasLine 3, and Teck Frontier efforts) if we are going to turn the tide. Another concern is that the costs and risks of these struggles to block new fossil fuel projects are still being disproportionately borne by First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities, especially with respect to legal challenges.

4.  Broad, bold, local coalitions can make climate action happen 

It’s often clear the climate movement is saying no to new fossil fuel projects, but less clear what we are saying yes to. We have to get better at communicating our vision for the future and getting buy-in from all pockets of our communities. That’s the exact strategy and dream behind the plan for the Green New Deal, and why we are so excited about it. 

We already have many roadmaps for what a Green New Deal would lay out, for how to get to a fully renewable economy in a fast and fair way – try the Solutions Project, Indigenous Environment Network’s principles for a just transition, the eight volume Radical Realism for Climate Justice, Gordon Laxer’s reports on tar sands phase-out, or Tony Clarke’s Getting to Zero if you’re interested in reading more. And we already have the levers to get onto these pathways, from the groundswell of Indigenous-led efforts to block new fossil fuel projects discussed above, to community-owned renewable energy projects, to postal workers using their union to push for the postal service to become the hub of the next economy and everything in between.

What’s missing is organizing on the scale we need to get these justice-based visions of the future widely understood and then implemented. I think a big part of getting there is recognizing that the exact solutions and the strategies for a just transition look different in different places. So much of the push for a just transition will need to come at the local level — we won’t win this with an air game of op-eds and online petitions. 

Luckily, there are more and more inspiring examples of organizers building powerful coalitions that unite health care, labour, Indigenous rights, anti-racism, feminist, and other advocates in envisioning and pushing for local iterations of a ‘Green New Deal’. Two examples of these bold, intersectional coalitions that we’ve been excited to help build are the Nova Scotia 2030 Network, the Northwest Territories’ Common Front who have put forward locally-relevant and irresistable visions for fast and fair transitions in their homes.

5. Listen to frontline communities

The central injustice of climate change is that those who are the most impacted are also the least positioned to avert it. Against these odds, communities on the front lines of extreme fossil fuel extraction and climate impacts are leading the way – from pushing for the science-based 1.5ºC target in the first place, to blocking new fossil fuel projects, to building community-owned renewable energy projects.

Taking a “nothing about us without us” approach to climate change means taking leadership from these frontline communities and showing up to support them, both locally and in the Global South where the impacts of climate change are set to hit the hardest (even with this new report’s conclusions factored in). 

6.  Make space for your grief

We are living in an unprecedented and emotionally fraught time. Climate change anxiety is a valid and logical response, and so is anxiety around racism, the creeping rise of fascism, ongoing colonialism, and the other overlapping crises we face.

But even though it can be easier to disengage than to lean into making change, in order to build a new, fairer, renewable society, we need to be able to channel our emotions into actions. We need to process this grief. We need to somehow move through it, and our best chance for doing that is moving through it together. Getting involved in community organizing around climate change can be one of the best ways to deal with climate anxiety, because alongside putting that worry to powerful action, you are surrounding yourself with a network of people who are also actively recognizing and processing the moment we are in to its full extent instead of evading it.

It can also be helpful to remember that climate change is not a zero-sum game, so even if staying within 1.5ºC of average warming, or avoiding the worst of the impacts Environment Canada has spelled out in this report seems impossible to you (it’s not!) the science is pretty clear in saying every fraction of a degree of warming we prevent will still tip the balance towards a safer and fairer future. Even if we miss, we’ll land in a vastly more liveable future than if we let nihilism set in.