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I became a mom seven years ago this week. Like many new parents, I was gobsmacked by the depth of love and devotion I felt for this tiny being who was suddenly placed in my care and entirely dependent on me. It’s incredible, the feeling that you would kill and die for someone without a moment’s thought. That you would do absolutely anything within your power to keep them safe.
I’ve had two more babies since, and in the intervening years I’ve also become much more aware of the existential threat all of us—including my babies—must grapple with: climate change. I think about it every day, when I look at my children’s faces and wonder if we, as a society and a global community, are going to get it together in time to assure a safe and habitable world for their future.
So you understand why what I’m about to say might feel a bit strongly worded.
The IPCC released another report this week that yet again emphasizes that the window to act in order to secure such a future is open right now—and rapidly closing. That every single action we take at this moment has tremendous consequences for the future. That we absolutely, without a doubt and as quickly as possible, need to transition away from fossil fuels as the underpinning of our entire society and drastically lower our carbon emissions over the next eight years, reaching net zero just before my youngest son reaches the age his father is now.
If we fail to do this, my children—all of our children—will face food shortages, violent conflict, extreme weather events, and a whole host of other life-threatening consequences. These babies I rock to sleep at night will be imperiled as adults by the legacy of our failure to act.
I cannot—I refuse to—accept this as inevitable.
Even the very week that, yet again, a panel of internationally-renowned experts sounds the alarm that the time to act is now—that we must immediately and radically change the way we are doing things so our children can survive—here in our small corner of the world we have politicians demanding a removal of a tax meant to decrease demand for fossil fuels. We have both politicians and industry using a humanitarian crisis across the ocean as cheap fodder to promote further extraction of oil that must remain in the ground if we are to halt the climate crisis.
“If we don’t do it, somebody else will,” people say. “Our oil and gas is the most ethical and clean in the world,” say others.
There is no such thing as clean or ethical oil. Regardless of hairs split about the carbon intensity of removing the oil from the ground, it all gets burned in the same planet-destroying way. To fail to acknowledge these end-use impacts is wilful blindness at best, immoral manipulation at worst. And as far as what others will do, if our trump card for doing the moral, just, honorable thing is that someone else will choose to do differently, we have failed as a society. Saying our oil is cleaner is like saying our bullets kill more kindly. The end result is the same.
Making meaningful change in this area will be hard, it will take time, and it will require sacrifices of ease and convenience. For a just transition, it is imperative that those in leadership positions take steps to assure that there are options available to ordinary folk: public transit so that there is a viable alternative to driving, electric vehicle chargers for those in areas where transit isn’t practical. For every area of our lives that depends on fossil fuels, there is an alternative option, but those options may be out of reach without top-down support. This is a solvable problem and mainly a question of strategic investment of public money.
There have to be options, too, for those whose employment depends on the oil sector: where millions of dollars have historically bought jobs from oil companies for residents of our province, those dollars can be redeployed to create viable options for employment outside that sector. Moving away from fossil fuels does not, as many have suggested, necessarily have to mean taking food from the tables of the families of those employed in the sector, if we work to create other employment options. Failure to do so, however, will mean a much harsher set of consequences for all families. That much is certain.
These are choices that governments can make. Don’t let anyone tell you there are no options. What we see as inevitable and unavoidable when it comes to government spending decisions is rarely thus, and to suggest otherwise is to deny the power that governments wield by definition. It is all a choice, an option, a weighing of opportunity costs.
The costs of holding tight to the status quo are impossibly high.
We have to make these choices now. We get to decide if, in the brief time we have left to act, we will do what we need to do to protect our children—or if we will conclude that convenience, political expediency, and comfort are more important and make the choice to deny them a chance at a good life. It really is that serious.
I cannot fathom a future in which I have to acknowledge that we failed. I refuse to contemplate asking for absolution for not trying hard enough. So to me, the choice is clear. Look into a child’s eyes and decide for yourself.
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