Cross-posted with the Canadian Youth Delegation’s blog here.
This year, I was lucky enough to be selected to be a part of the Canadian Youth Delegation, a united front of ten youth across Canada who are attending the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and COP 18, in Doha, Qatar.
As we’re heading into the second week of COP 18 and the negotiating processes, I’ve decided to reflect upon the reasons why I wanted to be a part of the CYD this year. After much thought, I’ve finally been able to identify the five most important reasons to me:
1) Climate change is not just about climate. It’s about people.
There seems to be a clear point lacking in the framing of stories related to climate change. Climate change just doesn’t affect our planet, our environment, or cute polar bears we see on Greenpeace ads. Climate change affects people badly, at a devastating scale.
Extreme weather conditions caused by the warming of our planet are displacing people at an accelerating rate, increasing the numbers of environmental refugees. People’s homes and safety are being jeopardized by environmental disasters. Hurricane Sandy is the most recent example of this.
Not only that, famine is more prevalent in “developing” nations due to floods and droughts, shifting the seasons in which people harvest their food. Industrial projects all over the world, which contribute the most to the global greenhouse gas emissions, pollute the air, water, food systems, and land in which people depend on for their livelihoods.
2) Climate change is about power. Resource extraction and pollution is about environmental racism.
We fail to see how the problems of climate change and that the destruction of our planet is related to one of the many ways in which racism is played out on a systemic scale.
The part of the world that is most impacted by climate change is the global south in developing nations, with a majority living through poverty and still bearing the brunt of globalization and free trade.
Canada has the Tar Sands, which alone can create the carbon offsets for the entire planet. I remember going up to visit the Tar Sands, up in the Athabasca River in northern Alberta. I visited Fort Chipewyan to interview residents there about the impacts the oil industry had on them. You wouldn’t believe what the community has to go through.
The air they breathe in is completely polluted. Toxic “tailings” produced by industry after tar sands are extracted are dumped into ponds, which as a result flow into people’s waterways and food systems. Fort Chip is a community that is still trying to live off the land, which means that people there are still hunting bison and muskrat. They used to drink straight out of the river system. Now that can’t happen because of contamination. Dramatic cancer rates continue to occur due to the exposure and contact of toxic wastes. Human rights violations, like those experienced by the residents of Fort Chipewyan, should never be allowed to happen.
The case of Fort Chip is not solitary. Indigenous communities across Canada have suffered the impacts of colonization, and now the neo-colonial impacts of resource-extractive industries. And until the Tar Sands are shut down, colonialism and environmental racism will consistently be reinforced.
3) Tar Sands are expanding. Pipelines need to be stopped.
Tar Sands expansion is supporting the development of the Enbridge Pipelines which has severe ecological and health impacts for B.C.’s west coast.
A month ago, more than 4000 stood together with First Nations for the “Defend Our Coast” rally to send a strong message to the provincial government. This resistance is triggered by the knowledge that having another pipeline to expand the tar sands would be detrimental to our environment. Earlier in August, I was privileged enough to attend the Unis’tot’en action camp, put on by the grassroots Wet’suwet’en people to build solidarity and action to stop pipelines, such as the Pacific Trails Pipelines and Enbridge, from going through their traditional territories. Communities are standing up across the nation and are resisting for their livelihoods.
4) The Canadian government has failed to represent us at the international climate negotiations and as a youth, I want to hold them accountable.
Canada backed out of the Kyoto Protocol last year. Copenhagen was a complete failure. We need urgent action to stop climate change. We definitely need to put the well-being of people over polluters. However, the Canadian government is choosing to ignore this. For three days in a row, Canada was given the “Fossil of the Year” award again at this year’s COP. How embarrassing. It’s no wonder that last year’s delegate stood their backs on Environmental Minister Peter Kent.
5) Apathy is dead and I want to create change.
My friends want change. My community wants change. I’ve witnessed such an immense amount of passion and power here from my peers. Young people want to see change happen. They’re thirsty for it. And more so than ever, we need to build upon this momentum and passion. And I’m so ready to do so.