Swedish school student Greta Thunberg didn’t believe that her one-person strike in front of the parliament in Stockholm less than a year ago would have much of an effect on her government’s climate change policies, but her frustration with the rate of meaningful climate action by governments convinced her to protest. Last August she stayed away from school to engage people on climate action possibilities. Her reasons for not going to school were simple: why bother going to classes if her very future was being completely compromised by accelerating climate chaos? Her implacable view was that unless she did everything she could to push back this chaos a formal education was worthless for herself, her generation and future generations. Has her one-person climate action brought change? Resoundingly, but not in the way that you might think. The election last September didn’t prove to be a game-changer for climate policy in Sweden. “The politics that’s needed to prevent the climate catastrophe—it doesn’t exist today. We need to change the system, as if we were in crisis, as if there were a war going on,” Greta told The NewYorker magazine last October. Although many politicians and even Pope Francis, a climate action crusader, have met with her and expressed their solidarity and admiration for her resolve as well as her courage, what Greta’s school strike in front of parliament did was to galvanize the world’s students. Many readers will remember the strike in Sherbrooke on March 15 this year. Several thousand people came out to walk from the Université de Sherbrooke to City Hall. Multiply that one action thousands of times across the globe, and you have the makings of a true youth civil disobedience climate action movement. Last week I had the honour to speak with a class of high school science students. I wanted to hear from them how they viewed the biodiversity/climate crisis. Several students felt invigorated by the global student strikes and were planning next autumn’s civil disobedience actions. One student told me that the surge of support from her fellow students had given her a new purpose in life. Many students have felt betrayed by older people. For example, although adults speak about caring about and loving their children and grandchildren, they fly often and sometimes even compound that massive greenhouse gas pollution by then taking a cruise ship—unquestionably one of the foulest vacation choices possible. There doesn’t appear to be any carbon emissions budget that adults adhere to. Some buy electric cars to ‘offset’ their absurdly grotesque energy consumption, and thereby attempt to assuage their guilty consciences with one more purchase. Perversely, the over-fifty crowd, born to consume more than any other generation before them, through their political power, politics and life examples are the harbingers of worsening ecological chaos. The teenagers I met resent this deeply. Where are older people in the climate action movements? Besides the traditional groups such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, which have helped forge a Green consciousness, Extinction Rebellion
“We must use this moment as crucial leverage to push the planet in a new direction. Let us try. If we succeed, then we have risen to the greatest crisis humans have ever faced and shown that the big brain was a useful evolutionary adaptation. If we fail—well, we better to go down trying.” Climate activist Bill McKibben After experiencing a record-breaking heatwave of 45.9C in France last week, scientists have concluded that the heatwave was at least five times more likely because of climate change. The climate crisis is real, so here’s a question: in order to achieve climate justice, since most people seem reluctant to change their damaging habits, what if individually and nationally we put into law strict carbon budgets? For example, if you flew frequently, your budget to indulge would be used up more quickly. Once you had depleted your budget, if you wished to continue to travel by air, either a massive tax of, say, 1,000% would be levied on each ticket, or you’d simply be prohibited from flying. Nationally, one more pipeline carrying dirty oil would exceed Canada’s carbon budget. The world’s population will be close to 10 billion by 2050 – World Population Day is on July 11 – and the individual carbon budget would need to shrink accordingly. In the short term, before there is a mandatory budget for climate justice, should we begin to speak about the criminal liability of governments and individuals for excessive use of fossil fuels? If this sounds too radical, consider that this conversation has already started in the USA with a group of young people suing the federal government for just that reason. We each need to question our own engagement in activities that will accelerate the breakdown of our climate, irrecoverable loss of biodiversity, and the impoverishment of billions of people. The term ‘climate apartheid’ is being used to describe how the wealthiest 10% of the population is ruining the lives of the other 90%. The urgency with which this conversation needs to take place becomes clear with a NASA report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last month that a massive shrinking of sea ice is occurring in Antarctica, raising sea levels. It’s as if we delegate our ethical responsibilities to our representatives in government to fix the problems of this world after voting them into power, thereby absolving the individual of doing anything. Back in 1992, 1,670 world-renowned scientists signed the World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity, which concluded with these words: “A new ethic is required – a new attitude toward discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and the earth. We must recognize the earth’s limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.” In 2018 over 15,000 scientists endorsed a second Warning to Humanity.
The United Nations International Day for Biological Diversity (May 22) focuses on biodiversity as the key provider for our food and health. Also called World Biodiversity Day, it emphasizes the critical link between a healthy ecology of diverse communities of beings and the viability of long-term human welfare. It has long been known that the climate emergency has become a key catalyst in negatively transforming our planet’s ability to provide food and sustenance for humans and all other animals. Whereas past mass extinctions of species occurred over millions of years, the current mass extinction of flora and fauna started with the Industrial Revolution and most disturbingly has accelerated to new destructive heights in the last 25 years. Not only have rising carbon dioxide levels and ocean temperatures caused vast changes to marine life (notably through the destruction of many coral reefs), but also the stability of our atmospheric climate has been weakened to such an extent that the vast majority of recorded heatwaves have occurred in the last 25 years, resulting in ravaged places with seemingly unending wildfires and, paradoxically, flooding. California is a case in point. All of these crises have been spawned by western countries’ apparent total disregard for other people as well as for their planetary cousins. In his recently published book Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? climate activist Bill McKibben outlines the greed, the misinformation and ultimately the culpability of corporations such as Exxon that knew back in the 1970s that fossil fuels contributed to climate instability. He also details the deceit of coal baron billionaires who foster a new age of ecological disasters. Multinationals with untold millions at their disposal have lobbied governments to push for an agenda of the super-rich that celebrates hyper-individualism at the expense of social justice and a chance of prosperity for many of the world’s poorest people. Governments, including ours, have succumbed to these groups and individuals to such an extent that an insidious plutocracy has put democracy in dire peril and threatens to strip the Earth of its insects and amphibians as well as most other wildlife. People who dare to confront the anti-Earth lobbyists are suffering dire consequences. May 20 is World Bee Day, acknowledging the crucial part pollinators play in providing food for all beings. Yet the Canadian government, unlike France and other European countries, refuses to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, which have been shown to be toxic to bees and other insects. Recently, Louis Robert, a Québec government scientist, gave the CBC documentation showing that the pesticide industry controlled some of the decision-making abilities of the Québec Ministry of Agriculture. As a result, he lost his job. Please see tinyurl.com/whistleblower-pesticides-fired The climate emergency and the acceleration of the biodiversity crisis have caused a monumental shrinking of habitat. The abandonment of lands due to sea level rise and extended heatwaves has pushed flora and fauna populations to the brink of extinction, and humans are not exempt from this carnage. Consider the 93 deaths
The May 6 headline said it all: Human Society Under Urgent Threat from Loss of Earth’s Natural Lifehttps://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/may/06/human-society-under-urgent-threat-loss-earth-natural-life-un-report Our Earthly inhabitants are at a dangerous crossroads. In 2002, the biologist E.O. Wilson said that humans and the other species on Earth are caught in the bottleneck of an accelerating ecological crisis. Industrial countries have lost their way, without the certain knowledge that we are capable of extracting ourselves or indeed willing to exit this relentless multi-faceted extinction squeeze on species ranging from insects to primates. Within just 150 years they have succeeded in threatening our planet’s viability. If humans won’t acknowledge and actively respond to the dangerous situation we have drifted into, we will sink with the remaining creatures into the quagmire of our making, for without pollinators, soil and seas we are doomed. The daily scientific news is relentless: unless we change our ways, and soon, climate change will cast an unchangeable veil of greyness across the planet. The U.N. Climate Report last November warned that we have 12 years to drastically reduce our fossil fuel emissions so that global temperatures don’t exceed 1.5 °C. As the respected environmental activist Bill McKibben has stated through his many books, starting with his 1989 treatise The End of Nature, the world is rapidly moving towards “climate chaos”. On May 6 this year The U.N. Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services published its critically important 1,800-page Global Assessment Report. The outlook for us and our fellow Earthlings is becoming progressively bleaker. This fact is well established, but North Americans, and their politicians in particular, behave as if there were no planetary bio-climatic crisis. Québec’s Biodiversity Atlas demonstrates how serious the situation is in southern Québec, but few people know of this document. Yet one single person can inspire the rest of us to rise to the enormous challenge, “where the voice that is in us makes a true response, where the voice that is great within us rises up”. Last year a schoolgirl named Greta Thunberg did just that, galvanizing her fellow teenagers to find their voices and demand that adults protect them from the ravages of climate change. After centuries of feeling alienated from Nature, can we find our way back home – our only home? The path is tortuous, but we can focus on a vision that will allow us to succeed. Earthly community is the way forward. The 17th-century English poet John Donne wrote: “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main… Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…” Now we know that our involvement must move to embrace all creatures. People are finally reacting strongly to government indifference, and speak of the climate and biodiversity crisis as a deeper symptom of our general malaise: increasing social injustice, over-population and capitalism’s mantra for unlimited growth on a finite planet are among the grave concerns that are being voiced. A multitude