A series of anti-environmental decisions by the Trudeau government have left many Canadians wondering who is on the side of future generations. In Canada, the short answer is: communities, localities, regions, towns and cities.
The federal government and most provinces simply do not have the political will to do the right thing. That’s why they keep failing. They fail to apply. They fail to achieve the promised results. They buy pipelines and approve massive new fossil fuel projects.
If we go back a little over fifty years to the first Earth Day, it is easy to realize that we have come a long way in terms of our collective understanding of complex environmental problems and how to solve them.
In the early 1970s, on the heels of groundbreaking works like Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” major movements began to understand and address environmental issues as a collective responsibility.
In the late 1960s, the “Club of Rome” brought together some of the best minds of its generation to study what would happen to the world if we continued to consume and pollute as we had before.
They commissioned a major analysis which was published in March 1972. Titled “The Limits to Growth”, it was a wake-up call that explained that the planet was doomed if we did not change our approach to development and population growth. This was, of course, before we heard of global warming.
A few months after the publication of “The Limits to Growth”, in June 1972, the United Nations held its most important meeting on the environment in Stockholm, Sweden. This Stockholm Conference placed environmental issues at the forefront of international concerns. It was the start of a methodical and objective approach that was supposed to help nation states make the right decisions.
In 1992, at the Rio Conference, the world began to take a broader view. Understand that environmental issues must be viewed alongside economic and social issues. The term sustainable development has come to be used to describe the requirement for governments to consider the effect on future generations whenever they implement a new policy.
In the early 1970s, Canada got its first Ministry of the Environment. Large central government agencies, such as the EPA in the United States, were then the norm. Today, this tendency to create an all-knowing top-down bureaucracy is beginning to reverse itself. Grassroots, local communities, NGOs and ordinary citizens concerned about the planet began to play a major role. They don’t have the megaphone of complacency from the negligent federal government, but they are the ones doing the work.
This comes at an important time as more and more Canadians say they suffer from environmental anxiety. We constantly receive information from credible sources such as the United Nations IPCC. The best scientific minds in the world agree: if we don’t reduce greenhouse gases, we won’t be able to avoid catastrophic global warming. People want action and they can feel part of the solution by getting involved at the local level.
“HE KNOWS THE SECRET HANDSHAKE”
We have a Prime Minister who, now in his seventh year in office, has been a total failure when it comes to meeting our international obligations to fight climate change. He knows the secret handshake, attends international conferences, says all the right things, and then approves massive new oil projects like the Bay du Nord offshore oil project.
Trudeau’s minister, Stephen Guilbeault, now has his ears full when he tries to attend events with former colleagues from the environmental movement. They still can’t believe that someone who has been lecturing everyone on the climate for decades can change his tune so easily.
A few months ago, Canada’s highly respected (and independent) Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, Jerry V. DeMarco, tabled a report in the House of Commons that lifted the lid on Canada’s dismal performance. . Thirty years of broken promises to reduce greenhouse gases have actually seen a more than 20% increase in emissions since 1990.
As the Commissioner noted, “Canada has already been a leader in the fight against climate change. However, after a series of missed opportunities, it has become the worst performing country of all G7 countries since the historic Paris agreement in 2015 (the year Trudeau took office).
Trudeau’s desperate performance is not unique. Joe Biden took office with the most comprehensive climate plan ever drafted. In Biden’s first year as president, the United States burned 25% more coal than in Donald Trump’s last year, and Biden has just released large amounts from the US Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Nothing happened with his plan.
In this context, cities and towns across Canada are becoming more and more actively involved in projects that will lead to significant GHG reductions. They also play a crucial role in helping people and institutions adapt to climate change.
Where federal and provincial governments have lagged on climate, local governments – closest to citizens – have heard the message and are beginning to lead on climate.
People like Trudeau talk about a good environmental game because they know it helps them get elected. Provinces push for more oil and gas extraction, then oppose any effort to internalize environmental costs. The public is tired of being fooled because every time they put their trust in someone to finally take action, they get another gigantic oil project as a reward.
This year, on Earth Day, let’s take the time to get involved, to play an active role.
This is my fifth year as Chair of the Board of Directors of Earth Day Canada/Jour de la Terre. I listen to my own grandchildren and know that they and their friends are sincerely concerned about the environment. We have better children for the planet. Let’s work to have a better planet for our children.
Tom Mulcair was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017.