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Opinion piece in Telegraph-Journal puts the urgency of addressing the climate crisis in focus

The Telegraph Journal published an opinion piece today (copied below) by freelance writer Janice Harvey, “Where are we 40 years later on the environment?

Harvey, also known as a university lecturer, president of the New Brunswick Green Party as well as once serving as the Executive Director of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, is a panelist at the Council of Canadians upcoming AGM in Saint John, October 23-24. Find out more information here.

In reviewing the last 40 years of environmental action through the lens of celebrating the Conservation Council of New Brunswick’s 40th anniversary, Harvey captures the urgency of addressing the climate crisis.

The appalling federal state of affairs on climate action is laid bare. In particular, the recent actions of the Canadian government at international negotiations leading to the creation of a post-Kyoto Protocol agreement on climate change,  are particularly cringe-inducing.

The South African delegation led the Group of 77 developing nations – except for a group of small island states – in walking out of the most recent round of negotiations, after the Canadian delegation suggested replacing the Kyoto Protocol with an entirely new global-warming pact.

Developing nations were upset that Canada and other industrial countries would consider copying parts Kyoto into a new treaty. As reported in the Toronto Star, “…Joanne Yawitch, a South African negotiator, said, “You can’t do a cut and paste on a ratified treaty. You have to reopen it and negotiate what you would cut and paste. And we think that the risks are that you might end up with something…considerably weaker.”

“The Kyoto Protocol binds 37 industrial countries – including Canada but not the United States – to reduce greenhouse gases by 5.2 per cent from 1990 levels by 2012.”

This is but the most recent example of the Canadian government failing to do our part in addressing the climate crisis. The Canadian delegation also disrupted progress at recent negotiations by refusing to agree to using 1990 as a common base year for all countries.

Canada’s current commitment of a 3% reduction of emissions below 1990 levels (described by the Canadian government as a 20% reduction – below 2006 levels) is the weakest of any industrialized country. Intensity-based emission reduction targets, prioritizing false solutions (such as carbon capture and storage) above real solutions (such as the rapid expansion of public renewable power) and refusing pay our fair share to international mitigation and adaption funds are other examples.

What’s really happening in Canada?

Corporate (and government) interests in the tar sands are an important reason why we haven’t committed to a plan with effective hard caps on industrial emissions. Real climate action cannot occur while billions of barrels of crude continue to be extracted from the tar sands, Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

Federal and many provincial governments want Canada to become an “energy super power” by committing our resources to an unsustainable export-oriented trade model. Statistics Canada reports that emission increases between 1990 and 2002 were due in large part to exports, and the largest source of this growth is associated energy exports. Meanwhile NAFTA locks Canada into unsustainable exports and gives energy corporations significant rights at high social and environmental costs.

We need change.

The climate crisis demands urgent action to transition to a low carbon future. Climate justice demands that we address the root causes contributing to the climate crisis including unsustainable production, consumption and trade that are driven by corporate led globalization. Real solutions must be based on democratic accountability, ecological sustainability and social justice.

Take action:

Join the International Climate Day of Action on October 24. Find out how the Council of Canadians is participating at our new climate justice webpage and at www.350.org

Where are we 40 years later?

by Janice Harvey

This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the founding meeting of the Conservation Council of New Brunswick, a membership-based non-profit that has served as New Brunswick’s environmental conscience and advocate since that time. This is not an insignificant milestone. CCNB was one of the first three environmental groups to form in Canada (the other two were Toronto’s Pollution Probe and Vancouver’s SPEC), the vanguard of the modern environmental movement in Canada and North America. The first Earth Day, widely considered to have launched that movement, happened the following year.

On Friday, the Conservation Council and St. Thomas University’s Environment and Society Programme will co-host a symposium to examine the legacy and future of the environmental movement. What has changed? What progress have we made?

Here’s what CCNB’s first president the late Ken Langmaid, a soils scientist who worked for the agriculture department, said at the founding meeting in October 1969:

“The pollution of land and air and water, the destruction of wildlife, the unwise use of our forests, the indiscriminate employment of chemicals in agriculture – these are but some of the ways that man is ruining the world in which he lives, and which it is his duty to serve. The above evils can’t be regarded separately, but are in many ways related and ought to be fought with a common purpose. We’ve got the most pressing moral problem facing the world today in contamination and misuse of our natural resources.  And we haven’t got time to fool around.  We have to do something starting today – not tomorrow, it’s today.”

Forty years later to the week, the media is covering the release of a new book by Tim Flannery, best-selling author of The Weather Makers, called Now or Never: Why We Need to Act Now to Achieve a Sustainable Future.  Cynics and climate change deniers will call Langmaid and Flannery ‘Chicken Littles.’ After all, warnings of impending doom have been broadcast for 40 years and so far we’re okay. Or are we?

The signs today are ominous. A new article published in the scientific journal Nature in September identifies nine Earth subsystems that are critical to maintaining conditions conducive to human thriving. Thresholds for three of these – climate stability, loss of biodiversity and interference with nitrogen cycles – have already been crossed while trends are negative for the other six.

As for climate change which Flannery is writing about, scientists have set a desirable concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at 350 parts per million (see www.350.org). We’re up around 387 ppm now, which means we have to stabilize and reduce CO2 emissions as quickly as possible or risk triggering what they call ‘dangerous’ climate change. What that will look like remains to be seen, but Gwyn Dyer’s Climate Wars, Flannery’s Now or Never, and the recent film The Age of Stupid all offer plausible scenarios of social and political upheaval.

Forty years ago Ken Langmaid and his fellow CCNB founders were not wrong. Neither were Donella Meadows’ group at MIT in their report Limits to Growth, Barry Commoner in The Closing Circle, Kenneth Boulding in his essay “The Economics of the Coming Spaceship Earth,” nor many others who were writing about the biophysical limits to resource consumption and pollution. Had the industrial world heeded that warning, we would be in a very different place today.

Flannery is not alone in saying the time is now. Australia, parts of Africa, the polar regions, the lodgepole pine forest in British Columbia are all suffering the effects of climate change. By mid-century our children will experience a much different world than this one. But where are our heads? Buried, apparently.

Just yesterday, representatives from the Group of 77 nations led by South Africa walked out on Canada’s delegation at the Bangkok climate change negotiations to protest against Prime Minister Harper’s efforts to derail a post-Kyoto agreement on emissions reductions. He was a no-show at the recent special session of the UN on climate change, and has already announced he will not be attending the Copenhagen summit in December when world leaders will sign a ‘now or never’ agreement as Flannery calls it.

Meanwhile, back at home Harper appears on stage with Yo-Yo Ma, plays some 40-year old Beatles tunes, and sees his approval ratings soar. Compare the media coverage of the Canadian negotiating position in Bangkok with coverage of the piano player – the player wins hands down.

What progress have we made after 40 years? Not much, apparently, and we have 40 fewer years to turn things around.