Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swede, has jolted the world awake by simply telling a hard truth: adults have stolen her generation’s future because we have not confronted the climate crisis. “I don’t want you to be hopeful,” she tells us, “I want you to panic. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is.” Her words have inspired millions of children globally to demand real action from their political leaders. This message is an essential one for Newfoundland and Labrador’s upcoming election.
Greta and her generation know all too well that to have any chance of a liveable climate for most of us, global temperature increases must be kept below two degrees of warming. To do this, emissions have to drop steeply, reaching zero—no emissions at all—by 2050. It would have been a whole lot easier if we’d started this decades ago. But we didn’t. And so now we need dramatic reductions, starting right this minute, to give ourselves a chance to maintain a somewhat stable climate.
But here’s the really hard message for oil producing governments like NL: dramatically reducing emissions requires cutting the supply of fossil fuels. They are the lead source of emissions causing the climate crisis. We need to keep oil, gas, and coal in the ground. We need to stop extracting much of what we’ve found and we definitely need to stop looking for more.
Yet the Liberal Party, following in the footsteps of past PC governments, has spent the last four years encouraging oil extraction. In the midst of the painful fallout of the oil price slide, Ball’s Liberals went all-in on oil. They vow to double production by 2030, and they’re pulling out all the stops to entice oil companies to drill over one hundred new offshore exploration wells within the next decade.
The Liberal government is making us increasingly dependent on a dying industry that is largely responsible for climate chaos.
Fostering an oil-based economy is a dead end. Major financial players know it. This is why the World Bank, HSBC, BNP Paribas, ING, and others are withdrawing from fossil fuel projects. Some liken this to an investor-led revolution. Capital is abandoning fossil fuel development out of fear investments will be become stranded and valueless. Likewise, churches, universities, charities, governments, and pension funds spanning the globe have committed to divest nearly $9 trillion from fossil fuels. There is also a rising wave of national bans on fossil fuel exploration and extraction led by France, New Zealand, Ireland, Denmark, and Spain. More are on the way.
Meanwhile, low carbon jobs and investments are booming. We may very well be in the midst of an historic tipping point. More people were employed in renewable energy worldwide than in oil and gas in 2016. Global investments in renewable energy production surpassed those in oil and gas production that year. The 2020s will be the decade of the great global transition from fossil fuels to green energy. But Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are in danger of being left behind unless we join in.
Every week, another city declares a climate emergency. Over 40 million people in our world live in a community that has declared one, including numerous eastern Canadian municipalities. This week even the British House of Commons signed on. The UK’s recent Net Zero report acknowledged the country’s out-sized emissions per person and massive historical contributions to the climate crisis. Parliament responded by vowing to enact deep emission cuts, hoping to trigger a cascade of similar actions from governments around the world. This is an open invitation to the NL government.
The climate crisis is not a partisan issue. It’s a survival issue. We desperately need all political parties to roll up their sleeves and get working on winding down the oil sector and growing a low carbon economy. Building a fair, green economy is NL’s lifeline and we need all parties to champion this shift.
Oil development was supposed to allow Newfoundlanders and Labradorians to shake off a long history of economic underdevelopment. It was supposed to make us the “masters of our own destiny.” Instead, we have come to know oil as a repeat of the same old story: natural resource extraction for export, undertaken mostly by non-resident companies who seize the lion’s share of the benefit. It leaves us with very few long-term jobs, and exposes us to enormous economic and environmental risks.
Greta reminds us that the future of coming generations is being sold off “so that a small number of people” can make “unimaginable amounts of money.” She implores us to take immediate action and to vote—in every election, at every level—for her generation. Her call should be at the forefront of our debates in the lead up to the May 16th election.
Angela Carter is a political science professor at the University of Waterloo and a researcher with the Corporate Mapping Project. She was born in Corner Brook and grew up in Topsail. Follow her on Twitter.