The Hague, Netherlands – November 27, 2000
By Tooker Gomberg and Kelly Reinhardt
On Friday we burned our Canadian passports. We did it in outrage at our country’s deplorable performance at addressing the climate catastrophe, a.k.a. climate change. The Canadian government has been woefully lacklustre on the home front, but what set us off was Canada’s negotiating position at the World Conference on Climate Change in The Hague, Netherlands.
Of 180 nations attending, the position of the Canadian government was the worst of them all. Bottom of the list, according to the International Non-governmental agencies that awarded “Fossils of the Day.”
Day after day the Canadian delegation proposed loopholes to ensure the continued growth of their beloved petroleum industry, until finally the talks ended in failure. Coming to an agreement at the Hague was the first ecological test of the millennium for the governments of the world. Thanks to the intransigence of Canada, the United States, Japan and Australia the global community of nations failed the earth.
As Canadians, we hung our heads in shame amongst the global delegation at the conference. Just as in the 1960’s US draft dodgers came to Canada as conscientious objectors, so too have our consciences pushed us to action.
There is a profound feeling of sadness knowing we may not be returning to our native land any time soon. We hope that our families and other Canadians understand that our commitment to the planet transcends borders, just as the environmental problems do.
An emission from a coal-fired power plant doesn’t stay in the country it was produced, but travels freely in the atmosphere, creating smog, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Extracting and burning the oil from Alberta tar sands leads to islands disappearing in the Pacific. And the meltdown of the Arctic is well underway, as documented in a new film prepared by Canada’s International Institute for Sustainable Development entitled: Sila Alongotok: Inuit Observations on Climate Change (http://www.iisd.org/casl/projects/inuit_video.htm).
While the conference in The Hague was underway last week, Epcor, Edmonton’s city owned electric utility had the temerity to announce the building of another massive 400 megawatt (million watt) coal fired power plant. Exactly the wrong thing to be doing if you care about the climate.
But the Canadian government has ensured a loophole, a scheme of trading so industry can continue abusing our mother — just buy her flowers and trees once in a while and everything will be all right.
Alberta, remember, is the province that gave birth to the ultimate “carbon trade”. TransAlta Utilities invested in cow farts in Uganda. By funding a switch to a diet that resulted in less methane being emitted by cow flatulence they earn a credit to pump carbon into our atmosphere by burning coal with abandon. Obscene, but true.
The scientific community is telling us clearly that we need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases by 60-80%. That means phasing out the use of fossil fuels, as Greenpeace urges, over the next three decades. The Kyoto agreement set a target of 5% reduction by 2012. Too small a step. Timidity won’t get us where we need to go.
There is a most beautiful book entitled The Home Planet. It is an oversize collection of photographs of the earth from space. The photos and the words of people who have travelled off our home planet are transcendent. We are one people, dependent on one planet. There are no borders.
The photographs of the atmosphere show it as a thin layer, like the skin of an apple that blankets our planet and keeps the temperature just right. As we pump the exhaust from 500 million cars, and an exploding number of power plants, the thermostat is being cranked straight up, and the temperature is rising to dangerous levels.
So we must choose. Continue with business as usual, or get down to the work at hand. What’s stopping our country from leading the transition to dramatic reductions in our need for energy, and massive investments in renewables like wind and solar? Only political will.
With little effort Canada could move from the end of the line to front place. Replacing all the windows in Canada with super efficient ones, and turning all our cities’ organic waste into biogas, would get us to double our Kyoto target in ten years. So why all the kicking and screaming? According to the David Suzuki Foundation Canada, Canada could cut emissions by 50% and improve the economy to boot (http://www.davidsuzuki.org/energy/index.htm).
For now, we are remaining in the Hague, home of the World Court of Justice, seeking climate justice. Ecological justice. We are talking with lawyers and exploring our options.
When it comes right down to it, if you had to choose allegiance between your country of citizenship, and the Earth that gives and sustains life, which would you choose?