The fight for jobs, justice, and the climate

On July 4 Canadians will take to the streets in one of the biggest national days of action to date to deliver a clear message: change must happen now.

On Saturday communities across Canada, from Vancouver and Edmonton to Fredericton and St. John’s, will join together in a national day of action for jobs, justice, and the climate.

These actions will make a clear statement that we, the people, are greater than the tar sands — that we are greater than the economic and political influence of the fossil fuel industry. Here in Newfoundland and Labrador our action will also focus on concerns surrounding the potential use of hydraulic fracturing in the province, and the massive over-dependency of our provincial economy on the fossil fuel industry.

With G7 leaders signaling their intention to decarbonize the economy by 2100—a goal that will fall short of the immediate action necessary to tackle serious climate change impacts—it is clear that we need to make significant changes to the nature of our economies within this century and act as quickly as possible to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.

We urgently need plans for the future that are not rooted in the rhetoric of singular, fix-all, solutions that are supposed to make our problems disappear but are actually built on generalizations and lack a consideration of long and short-term consequences. This type of rhetoric has often been central to arguments at closed-door meetings in favor of allowing hydraulic fracturing in the province, among other attempts to convince people that allowing industry more freedom will benefit the public good. For example, given that we know we cannot safely extract any Arctic fossil fuel resources in order to stay within the global warming safe limit, promoting Arctic oil as a future for the province is reckless and misleading at best.

What we urgently need are policies that promote working with communities to build on our existing sources of economic diversity, which green our economy, and which protect industries that can be managed sustainably.

The July 4 march in St. John’s is an action that calls for the creation of new jobs through the development of a green economy, and for the protection of existing jobs that could be adversely affected by climate change or the impact of extraction technologies like fracking. It is an action seeking justice for communities who have been directly impacted by the consequences of fossil fuel extraction and climate change. It is an action to call for the protection of our climate for generations to come.

The stakes could not be higher.

The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 people die every year as a result of climate change, with that number to rise to 250,000 deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 due to “malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.” It is likely that tens of millions of people in the developing world will be displaced within this century as a result of sea level rise, and ocean warming and acidification are helping to push us in the direction of marine ecosystem extinctions on a scale not seen for millions of years.

 It is entirely sensible and prudent that we take decisive action to start our journey away from fossil fuel dependency now, not later.

Global fisheries, fish farmers, and coastal inhabitants are likely to be adversely affected by climate change, and ocean warming could have an increasing impact on Newfoundland and Labrador’s fisheries in the near future. Already, climate change effects are being felt in the province. Sea ice that normally forms traditional routes between communities and to food and wood resources in Labrador has been compromised, and climate change has provincial ramifications for everything from public health and transportation to fisheries and tourism.

The impacts of climate change are not simply ‘environmental’ but have real humanitarian and economic costs that disproportionally affect the disenfranchised and those with the least ability to adapt. In fact, a Dutch court recently ruled that the Dutch state must cut emissions by a minimum of 25 per cent in the next five years, citing the state’s prior emissions reduction targets as unlawful given the threat posed by climate change. The U.S. Department of Defense has even cited climate change as posing a danger to U.S. national security and as a ‘threat multiplier’, in part because of its potential to accelerate inter- and intra-national destabilization and to create avenues for the spread of extremist ideologies.

It does not make sense to continue our dependency on fossil fuels as a global community for many reasons outside of climate change. Cutting carbon emissions worldwide would also help reduce the burden of household and ambient air pollution that cause approximately 4.3 million and 3.7 million deaths per year respectively.

A recent International Monetary Fund working paper estimates that in 2015 the fossil fuel industry will benefit from global subsidies of $5.3 trillion—about $10 million a minute—and that “eliminating post-tax subsidies in 2015 could raise government revenue by $2.9 trillion (3.6 per cent of global GDP), cut global CO2 emissions by more than 20 per cent, and cut pre-mature air pollution deaths by more than half. After allowing for the higher energy costs faced by consumers, this action would raise global economic welfare by $1.8 trillion (2.2 percent of global GDP).”

While our actions as a global community can have a massive impact, our actions as a province also have an important role to play. Our current dependence upon the fossil fuel industry in Newfoundland and Labrador is not a valid reason to continue that dependence. Indeed, since we have one of the largest journeys to take as the G7 looks to decarbonization by 2100, with oil and gas extraction and support activities accounting for approximately 28 per cent of this province’s nominal GDP in 2013 it is entirely sensible and prudent that we take decisive action to start our journey away from fossil fuel dependency now, not later.

What our leaders have lacked thus far is political will, not options. While many politicians have been more than willing to listen to the voices of multi-national corporations, far fewer have shown willingness to listen to the communities most affected by climate change and resource extraction, the general public, and climate scientists.

Instead of creating the sort of institutional and policy changes necessary to foster climate solutions and provide people with alternatives to fossil fuel dependency, the demands of adapting to climate change have been repeatedly placed upon individual citizens who have little choice but to depend upon fossil fuels. This is an approach that needs to change immediately.

Reducing fossil fuel dependency should not be approached as a burden to our people and economies, but as an opportunity to lay the foundations for a stronger economic future and to start a dialogue in which people feel free to question the methods and ends of any corporate entity, no matter how powerful or influential.

As has been argued by the 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change, future climate change implications could undermine half a century of gains in development and global health, but tackling climate change could represent “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”

These are the sorts of opportunities that we must seize, taking control of our destiny in the process, both for the sake of our own generation and for the generations that come after us.

Conor Curtis is a social and environmental activist and writer from Corner Brook. He has written articles on topics ranging from international politics and social justice to hydraulic fracturing and climate change, and was a founding member of The 4 O’clock Whistle Magazine. Conor is currently logistics coordinator for the fossil fuel divestment organisation Divest MUN.

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