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Election 2021
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The Run

Are We Going to Fight Climate Change or Not?

We can’t eat our cake and have it too when it comes to fossil fuels.

Michelle Gamage 2 Sep 2021TheTyee.ca

Michelle Gamage reports on climate for The Tyee. Find her on Twitter @Michelle_Gamage.

[Editor’s note: This essay was originally published as the Aug. 31 issue of The Run, The Tyee’s federal election newsletter project. You can read more here and you can subscribe here to get the newsletter when it’s fresh.]

Remember how this was going to be the summer we bounced back from the pandemic, cracking cold ones in leafy parks with friends or making out with random strangers as COVID-19 restrictions eased?

Yeah, me neither.

Instead, it’s the year every Canadian looked around and realized they were living through climate change-related extreme events.

In B.C. 569 people and one billion marine animals perished during a heat wave. Fires hid the sun, destroyed a town and have burnt an area one-quarter the size of Vancouver Island.

What perfect timing for a federal election. Climate is guaranteed to be a central issue — big names are already calling for a leaders’ debate on the parties’ plans. After all, as Simpsons memes and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change like to remind us, things are just going to get worse from here. A lot worse.

Fossil fuels and the greenhouse gases they emit are the biggest drivers of human-caused climate change. So for me, the election boils down to a single decision we need to make about the future of fossil fuel use in Canada. Choose to benefit ourselves, or work to save lives at home and around the world.

Choosing ourselves means we choose fossil fuel expansion, making as much money as possible while there’s still global demand. This choice makes us wealthier in the short term, and we need money to fund wildfire crews, protect coastal cities from sea-level rise and retrofit our homes to protect our families from extreme weather events.

We’d also choose to adapt to climate change, not fight it.

Meanwhile the rest of the world would be scrambling to protect their citizens from ever-increasing wildfires, heat waves, floods and droughts.

The Lancet says over five million people die each year due to extreme heat events. The World Health Organization says 150,000 die annually from climate-related health impacts, which could jump to 250,000 deaths by 2030, from things like malnutrition and malaria.

Canada is the seventh-largest emitter per capita in the world and the largest per capita among G20 economies. Are we willing to read daily headlines about catastrophic loss of human life and sleep soundly knowing we played a part in causing it?

There’s also no guarantee we can spend our way out of climate impacts. If it was that easy, wouldn’t every B.C. resident have been issued a heat pump or air conditioner during the heat wave?

Here’s our other potential future: We can choose to do our part to protect the rest of the world and move off fossil fuels. This comes with a lot of opportunity as we radically rethink our economy and our power grid. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argues we can make the switch without leaving any of the country’s 200,000 fossil fuel industry employees behind.

Canadian leaders are trying to say we can have it both ways, exporting oil while fighting climate change. It hasn’t worked so far.

It’s time to choose.

Voters can track which way a candidate would lean based on their stance on pipelines. Do we expand fossil fuel expansion, or take our losses and walk away?

If candidates want to choose fossil fuels, ask how that money will be used to protect the most vulnerable people from climate change. If they’d choose to divest, ask what the plan is to protect workers as we overhaul the energy industry and destroy livelihoods.

Ask how government spending will be divided between urban, rural and Indigenous communities. Ask for their four-year plan and their 20-year plan. Have them explain what preventative actions they will take and what resources they propose to mobilize when disaster strikes.

Climate change is here and our friends, family and everyone we know are going to be impacted by it, from here on out, for the rest of our lives.

We can’t change that. But we can choose our strategy to navigate and mitigate it and elect a party whose credible plan will best help us weather the storm. We’re all in this together, let’s get to work.

THE RUNDOWN

Additional readings reeled in from around the web.

Demand mass mobilization: Eighty years ago Canada rallied its citizens and overhauled its entire economy to fight fascism. Two years ago it (imperfectly) closed down the entire country and overhauled public health measures to fight COVID-19. Imagine what we could do if we treated the climate emergency like, well, an emergency.

Keep an eye on climate champions: 350 Canada endorsed a handful of candidates with proven track records when it comes to fighting climate. Don’t see your riding? Use Environmental Defence’s guide to analyze your local candidate’s climate plan (and avoid so-called climate “solutions” that aren’t).

Remember who you’re fighting for: Climate change doesn’t hit everyone equally. It’s the poorest and most marginalized who take the brunt of it. As some parts of the planet get ever hotter and dryer, poor people struggle to work, First Nations communities struggle with wildfire threats and marginalized communities struggle to keep cool, even in wealthy cities like Vancouver.  [Tyee]

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