Joseph Boutilier delivered this speech to supporters when he arrived on Parliament Hill on September 15, following a 5,000 km unicycle ride for climate action from Victoria B.C. This is an abridged version.
I just crossed the better half of a pretty incredible country. They claim our country has never been stronger, but it is suffering. As I rode through torrential downpours that were triggering flash floods behind me, I met a lot of people who were resigned to the hardship that was at their doorstep. These 'hundred year floods' were returning for the second or sometimes third time in a decade.
Meanwhile dry spells fueled the inevitable blazes across B.C., inhaling once lush forests that have been turned to hollow tinder by the pine beetle. Fishers wonder if their jobs will still exist next year as ocean acidification burns through the protective cradles of mollusks. And when I passed places where the ice had lingered on the Great Lakes into May, where frost killed plants in the dead of summer nights, I knew that global warming had not spared this thin slice of our country, but instead had merely lashed out in another of its many guises.
We've seen the Calgary floods, the Toronto ice storms, but Canada hasn't seen anything yet. Not the hurricane winds of Katrina or Typhoon Haiyan. Not our homes and roads swallowed by sea-level rise like those in disappearing island nations. We haven't seen the drought and famine. Not the spread of disease in Africa that's as rapid and unprecedented and unpreventable as the pine beetles of B.C. We haven't seen the dead bodies yet.
The thousands of children who will die as a direct effect of global warming will not be Canadian. They share none of our burden as polluters; their impacts on climate change are insignificant. Their burden is not moral or mental, it is physical and often fatal.
Now imagine this warming, these effects, not doubled or tripled, but multiplied five or six times, and you're getting close to the kind of impacts that our leading scientists are forecasting within the lifetime of an infant born today. Imagine looking that young child in the eyes, knowing what's coming. Can we tell that child it's going to be okay? Can we tell that child, we tried our hardest? I'm here today because I never want to have to tell that child, 'I'm sorry.'
They claim we are global leaders. If we are leaders because we're the eighth worst in the world for greenhouse gas emissions, because we continue to subsidize the oil and gas industry to the tune of $34 billion while climate impacts will cost our country over $40 billion in the coming decades, or because we pollute more C02 than the 760 million inhabitants of every Africa nation combined...If that's the measure of our leadership, than it is true that we are leaders of destruction.
But they cannot claim our role is small. We will not sulk in the back watching the theatre of the absurd as the world suffers. Because we will get up on that stage and we will act like Canadians.
We cannot trust our government alone to fill that role. We especially cannot trust to perform in this grand play, a government that cannot even memorize its own lines. The government of Canada has made some strong statements about the severity of the climate crisis. Yet Minister Maxime Bernier says 'the alarmism is no longer valid.' Minister Joe Oliver says that 'scientists have recently told us that our fears are exaggerated.'
As our own environment Minister, The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq observes, 'there's always a debate around what's happening.' Well, there will always be a debate so long as our own government continue deceive us by casting doubt on the unequivocal existence of calamitous global warming.
But I don't think there's any debate around what's happening in our government.
If Canada was a person tasked with caring for mother nature -- as a child or a senior -- as a fellow human being, social services would be at our doorstep. We would not be charged with criminal negligence because we would be deemed unfit to stand trial. We would be deemed unfit to stand trial because this is the epitome of insanity.
They claim we're an apathetic people. But we will not be consumed by apathy, antipathy or anomie.
They say we are divided. But now we gather, not as grits and tories, New Democrats and Greens, but as Canadians -- as people -- to demand climate action. And we will not give up on unity for the climate. For our future, we will not give up.
You cannot tell us that we cannot be hopeful. You cannot tell us that shall not try. Because this is us trying.
Joseph Boutilier is unicycling 5,000km from his hometown of Victoria B.C. to Ottawa to call for action on climate change in the leadup to the 2015 federal election. Readers can follow his journey at www.unityfortheclimate.ca or on Twitter: @josephboutilier