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When Writing Letters isn’t Enough

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
When Writing Letters isn’t Enough

Through following mainstream media, since the utter disappointment of the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen last year, one could easily think that the threat posed by human-induced climate change has disappeared.  However, this is far from the case.  2010 is set to be the hottest year on record, over 50 million environmental refugees will have been displaced due to climate change, and biodiversity loss is growing significantly as climactic changes become more drastic.  The resource exploitation and environmental destruction leading to catastrophic climate change is only increasing everyday.

On Tuesday, November 16th, the topic of climate change returned to parliament hill with full force; with the forming of a “People’s Assembly for Climate Justice” in the hallways in the morning, and the killing of Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, which had already been passed by the House of Commons, in a surprise vote in the Senate in the evening.

My day started when I walked into the visitors’ entrance of the Canadian parliament.  Though, unlike most visitors, I wasn’t there just to observe.  I walked through the doors with a clear intention to bring the discussion on climate justice to those who refuse to discuss it; and I was not alone.  A banner was dropped from the second floor of the rotunda that said “If they wont get to work on Climate Justice, we will”, and I quickly ran to the centre of the room where I was joined by other concerned community members who also organize as a part of Climate Justice Ottawa, and we did exactly as the banner said we would, we got to work.  We started a “People’s Assembly on Climate Justice” and called on all people from the various communities in Canada to come join us.  Our demand was that the government discuss how to restore the integrity of ecosystems, how to ensure just transitions for workers, and how to support grassroots solutions to climate change with all community members across the country, starting with us.  We had five steps for climate justice to personally deliver to politicians; but instead of speaking with us or our many allies rallying outside, we were hauled out of the rotunda by parliamentary security and charged for trespassing.

While in detention, it was suggested to us that we should look into “more respectful” ways to offer our opinion to decision makers.  However, what this suggestion failed to see was that when we voted, hoping for them to mitigate emissions and to make adaptation plans for environmental refugees, they allowed emissions to rise more than 24% since 1990 and reduced refugee quotas by 40-60%.  When we wrote reports about the abnormally high cancer rates in downstream communities from the leaching of toxins from tar sands tailings ponds, they approved a tailings pond with only 3-sides, so toxins now will not only leach, but outright flow into the muskeg.  When we petitioned for politicians to pass bill C-300, which government the authority to withhold public funds from Canadian mining companies committing human rights abuses and degrading the ecosystems of communities abroad, members from three parties stayed home or voted against the bill, leaving the communities without even the smallest recourse when Canadian companies destroy their health and the environments they live in. When we had rallies for sustainable community-based jobs across the country, they spent $2.8 billion subsidizing oil companies that strip mine indigenous lands and take workers away from their communities.  When we wrote letters asking for the preservation of traditional arctic cultures that are disappearing as the ecosystems they are connected to change at an unprecedented rate, they focus on securing sovereignty over the arctic so they can drill for more oil when the ice these cultures are based on melts away.  I put my freedom on the line in the Canadian parliament that morning, because I, along with thousands of others, have tried “more respectful” ways, and they don’t listen.  So, I, along with my friends, decided that we needed to bring the message directly to them, because if they aren’t going to get to work on climate justice, we will.

That evening, the issue of climate change was brought up in parliament once again, but this time not in the hallways, but instead in the senate.  Bill C-311, which, under pressure from the government, unelected senators actively avoided talking about for 193 days, came back onto the agenda by surprise.  This bill, the Climate Change Accountability Act, called for Canada to honour its commitment to lower greenhouse gas emissions to 20% below 1990 levels by 2020.  Though, while it called for much less than what those most affected by climate change are calling for, and it allowed emissions to remain high enough to still risk setting off many dangerous feedback loops and make entire nation disappear off the map – it was a first step in the right direction and it was all we had.  However, senators had little interest in actually discussing the important bill, and the question was soon called, meaning went to a vote while many senators were absent; because these senators we absent, the bill, which had already been passed in the House of Commons six months earlier, died.  The juxtaposition of this with a grassroots movement starting a conversation on climate justice made it clearer than ever; power holders will do everything possible, including circumventing any semblance of democracy we have, to allow their friends to continue profiting from the destruction of ecosystems and communities.  This is about a lot more than writing letters and asking politely.

Every movement in history used civil disobedience and direct action as key parts of demanding change.  Where would the civil rights movement be without Rosa Parks taking direct action by riding in the front of Montgomery bus and lunch counter sit-ins? Would we have overtime pay and weekends without the labour movement taking direct action through worker’s strikes?  Human-induced climate change, and all the injustice it causes and is caused by, is morally unacceptable.  It is time to show our “leaders” that we are not going to let them roll over our communities and ecosystems any longer.  It is time for people from all walks of life to reclaim power and engage in or support mass civil disobedience.  This is why, I, a busy, Alberta-raised, university student with a part-time job, was willing to risk arrest and state repression to confront climate injustice.  And I will do it again, and next time, I hope you’ll join me.


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tasharpeters (Tasha Peters)
Ottawa, Ontario
Member since Août 2010

About:

Tasha is originally from big city Alberta, with roots in a settler family along the Peace River. She is a student and grassroots organizer with Climate Justice Ottawa. She is also an avid commuter cyclist and works at the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa's Bike Coop. During the UN Climate Conference in Cancun (COP16) she will be attending as a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation. Tasha is particularly interested in the intersections between environmental issues and social justice.

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Commentaires

Fantastic post. The

Fantastic post. The government's inaction does not reflect deep concerns of most Canadians on climate change. The government is not listening to our letters or petitions, so you've taken action. And not because it looks good on a resume. Because our planet and people's lives depend on it. Keep it up.

Your commitment to the cause is great

I know a lot about this stuff. So, being tired with reading more, I Googled "When Writing is not enough". And here I am wanting to join you in action, but in Australia. Would like to see direct action like yours down here. Was in Ottawa a few weeks ago, when the new Governor General was installed - what a lovely city to walk around.

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