Planet Earth Up in Smoke

By Tooker Gomberg and Angela Bischoff, Toronto, Canada.

Burning the planet at both ends will only bring the darkness sooner.

We no longer wonder if the world will end with a bang or a whimper. It will explode. We have seen it with our own eyes.

We had planned to burn the planet. It seemed appropriate enough – humans, especially we North Americans, are hastily burning the earth’s supply of oil, coal and gasoline in a blowout party of excess. We thought we’d dramatize that with a giant globe and a litre of gasoline.

With a few used bike boxes, a hacksaw, and some paper and paint, we created a humble 4-foot blue planet, continents and all. A loonie bought us a litre and a half of gasoline (what a deal – cheaper than spring water). A scrounged roll-up window blind (the perfect activist banner) was adorned with large lettering: “Stop Burning Fossil Fuels”.

The earth tilted precariously as we pedalled the globe on a bike trailer to the University of Toronto, outside the youth activist fair. We knew we had to act fast before campus security guards caught wind of our action.

The megaphone magnified our thoughts: “A few months ago in the Hague, the Netherlands, Canada failed Canadians, and the world, at the global gathering dedicated to resolve the climate crisis. On July 16 of this year, the world will try again in Bonn, Germany. We think Canada should show leadership – stop the subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, commit to reductions in fossil fuel production and burning, and invest massively in renewable energy, mass transit, and safe bicycle facilities.”

This was our ‘Countdown to Bonn’ campaign kick-off. In exactly 100 days, Canada would be amongst the world community negotiating the future of the planet’s climatic balance in Bonn, Germany.

The gasoline was poured over the earth. The torch was lit. A loud whooosh preceded the explosion.

Brilliant orange flames snarled outwards as our group was jolted with a touch of panic. It was dramatic, and frighteningly close to home, and our bodies. Ashes littered the concrete.

To shift the energy, Lyn lead us in an earth healing ceremony. In a circle, we passed around a squishy earth pillow, affirming our love for and commitment to protect our home planet.

The Kyoto Protocol commits wealthy countries to level off and reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases. European nations are prepared to get on with the task, and are already investing heavily in renewable energy sources like wind power and solar energy. Over the years, they have invested in energy efficiencies too, and use energy much more wisely than we do. Oh Canada, why so slow off the mark?

Surely Prime Minister Chretien has heard the dire news from Canada’s climate scientists. The arctic is rapidly melting away. Swathes of our permafrost are now defrost. Arctic sea ice is just 60% the thickness of what it was four decades ago. The polar bears and the Inuit alike are suffering from the rapid ecological meltdown. Drought and firestorms in the prairies, an ice storm in eastern Canada, a flooding Red River in Manitoba, a shrinking St. Lawrence Seaway, and thousands asphyxiated annually by smog are a terrible price to pay for wasting energy.

Mr. Chretien has little time for the environmental community, but for the largest corporations in the world – the oil and gas companies – he’ll gush praise and promises at their annual meeting of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, ensuring the federal government helps, rather than hinders, new oil and gas projects.

Apparently the Prime Minister believes that more oil and gas is good for business regardless of the consequences. A new OECD study just released compared Canada’s environmental record to those of other industrialized countries and concluded that Canada ranks second worst in the world, outdone only by the United States when ranked by per-capita measurements of water use, energy consumption, the generation of nuclear waste, and greenhouse gases and acid-rain-causing sulphur-oxide emissions. Are these the policies and priorities we expect from our government?

Each of us can and should ride our bike, compost our car, and weatherstrip around our windows. But we can and must also apply political pressure.

Take two minutes and pick up the phone. Reach out and touch somebody – like Jean or your Member of Parliament. Their job is to hear from you. Ask them to call you back. Imagine their voice mail boxes filling.

If you don’t know the necessary numbers, call 1-800-o-Canada for help. Or check out our handy website When your friends are over invite them to make a call too. Have beer, make calls.

We can take this issue from back of mind to the politician’s front burner by June. So many of us are worried and mourn the destruction of nature and the immorality of our toxification of the earth. A phone call a day keeps the despair away.

And when the Canadian delegation walks into the climate treaty negotiations in Bonn on July 16, we will be watching. They will know of our great expectations. And we will hold them accountable.