Tar sands action: Open letter to the Prime Minister of Canada from a mother and extremist

| October 5, 2011
Katharine Cukier

Dear Prime Minister Stephen Harper,

I am writing to you because I want to thank you for clarifying some things for me. According to you, I am an extremist. I think it would be amusing and even useful for you to understand the heart and mind of an extremist like me. Indeed, I suspect the country you have been entrusted to govern is full of them... I mean us.

I was arrested last week for participating in a civil disobedience action in Ottawa. We were protesting your government's indifference to the dangers of climate change. This indifference is communicated clearly by your determination to expand the use of bitumen, the tar sands, a high emission, unconventional, fossil fuel.

To begin the clarification of my new identity, I guess I would say that I am an extremist first and foremost because I am a mother. My children are the centre of my world -- I suspect it is the one thing you and I have in common, other than our need for clean water, air and soil. You, too, know intimately that powerful parental love; it feels like an ache and a blessing at the same time. Like all maternal mammals, any threat to the habitat rouses my protective instincts.

And because I am a human being, I use my brain to understand those threats. Not only do I worry about my children and their future being impacted by global warming; I am forced to consider how my children's children will be affected by runaway climate change driven by our unabated and expanding use of fossil fuels. In 50 years, unlike you and me, our children, or at least our grandchildren, will feel powerless to do anything to protect their kids from the instability and economic consequences of a fragile if not collapsing environment.

I am an extremist, Mr. Prime Minister, because I have paid close attention to the science of climate change. The graphs prepared by climatologists fill me with far more emotion than those prepared for you by Syncrude. I suspect your reason is impaired in its capacity for sound judgment when you see graphs showing ever-increasing profit margins and GDP increases to be squeezed out of the Tar Sands. But because I am an extremist, unlike you, I have looked to those ideologically suspect fields of physics, geography and biology to further my understanding of the mechanisms and consequences of climate change.

Because I am an extremist, I have studied the data showing steadily rising curves of CO2, global temperature increase and accelerating ice sheet collapse. For you, I must be completely off my rocker to publicly admit that science, rather than commerce, has guided me in understanding the evidence of increasing extremes of climate. Twenty million people displaced last year by catastrophic floods in Pakistan. More floods affecting thousands in Australia and in the Mississippi basin, hundreds in Quebec and Manitoba. These are unusual climate events that have been linked to global warming and the impact of heat on the hydrological cycle. Droughts in the Horn of Africa, forest fires in Texas, Russia and Australia and shrinking icecaps and ice sheets are more examples of the changes shaking our planet in only the last two years. And of course, these and many, many other climate impacts of varying intensity have 99 per cent of scientists unanimously persuaded that human caused climate change must be addressed forcefully now, not later. But for you and your government, I guess they can't be trusted any more than I can.

Along with virtually the entire community of scientists, another of my extremist ideological mentors is the economist Lord Nicholas Stern, commissioned by the British government to examine the economics of climate change. His conclusions in 2007 rendered in the sacred code of GDP persuaded many governments and corporations to turn their attention to the dangers of climate change. Tragically, the financial crash of 2008 buried their concerns in the rubble of bank failure. Indeed, if you would actually rip off the plastic seal and read his report, you would see that he warned very clearly that *the planet was too big to fail* -- that not only in his words is climate change "the greatest market failure of all time," but that the costs of mitigating climate change will be substantially less if we invest in them today. He concurs with environmental experts; we must commit to a serious reduction of our dependence on fossil fuels and massive investment in renewable energy. Following his report's publication, Lord Stern revealed that some of his conclusions were too optimistic. He agrees with that outspoken NASA physicist, James Hansen. We must stabilize CO2 at 350ppm if we are to avoid runaway climate change. We are already at 387 ppm CO2 and will reach at least 400ppm within 20-40 years at the rate we are increasing emissions. That could mean 2 or more degrees of temperature increase by the end of the century. Mr Prime Minister, the point is that Tar Sands expansion will make those estimates a certainty as they will weaken and slow down all economic and political incentive to promote efficiency and to ultimately transition to renewable energy.

That is what we extremists were trying to tell you last week, Mr. Prime Minister. Expansion of your Tar Sands is now being given active incentive with your support of a massive network of pipeline infrastructure through North America. I am not alone in feeling both a deep sense of betrayal and despair to think that this will exponentially increase our dependence on fossil fuels for another century or two. Suddenly, there is no longer the spectre of peak oil to help focus our commitment to renewables and sustainability. Around the world there is nearly half a continent worth of bitumen out there to turn into billions of dollars and billions of metric tons of CO2. To hell with sustainability. Hell, indeed.

The extremists, the scientists and Lord Stern are trying to tell you, Mr. Prime Minister, that to put off addressing this explosive problem now so that our children's generation must confront it at a later, more critical stage, is not only irresponsible, it is genocidal.

Large groups of the less privileged peoples of our world, particularly those in the global South, will face far greater climate change catastrophe than we in the privileged North -- that is minus our First Nations communities both in the warming Arctic and downstream from the tar sands. Their suffering has already begun with polluted waters, diminished food supplies and cancer clusters in their population that you have tried to conceal. That was a big part of our message yesterday. One to which you seem cruelly indifferent.

I guess, Prime Minister, that is more evidence of my extremism. I actually care about what happens to my kids, but also to the kids of the Africans, Asians and First Nations peoples on our planet. Africans, Asians and First Nations peoples are among the most vulnerable because of geography and fragile water supplies, and because of the nature of their hunting or agriculture based economies. As Lord Stern has made clear, they will be the first and most drastically affected, even though it is we, the largely white, wealthy part of the world that are responsible for 80 per cent of the Green House Gases circulating in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.

And finally, Mr. Prime Minister, because I am an extremist, a mom and a school teacher who cares about the future of our young people, I, like 75 per cent of Canada's eligible voters did not vote for you. Those who did vote, voted for parties that, among other things, have all begun to take climate change seriously. Mr. Prime Minister, I have paid close attention to the lessons of the 20th and 21st centuries. I have learned that leaders blinded by ideology or misguided by greed, either their own or that of their corporate backers and bankers, must be confronted non-violently with a courageous, determined population. The majority of Canadians are ashamed that our country is now intimately associated with indifference to the greatest threat humanity has ever faced: Climate Change. That indifference is embodied by you, Mr. Prime Minister.

Sir, I beg you on behalf of your beautiful children and mine, prove the extremists are wrong.

Katharine Cukier is a wife to one, a mother of two and a teacher past and present of hundreds of high school students. She enjoys gardening, jogging and teaching literature to young people. Prior to her arrest on Monday, Sept. 26, 2011, she had had four parking tickets over the last 30 years.

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