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Activists promote awareness of the consequences of global warming

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As a few hundred advocates rallied in Toronto Saturday against climate change, over 4,000 actions took place in more than 170 countries around the world demanding that leaders take immediate action at the upcoming climate change conference to prevent global climate chaos. 

In December, world leaders will attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference along with environmental, social justice, union groups and youth in Copenhagen, Denmark. The talks are designed to extend and strengthen the Kyoto protocol, a treaty many feel doesn’t do enough to address the severity of the world problem.

Meanwhile, opponents of climate change gathered at Queen’s Park yesterday under the 350 (350 parts per million) banner, a level that scientists have identified as a safe limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, to unite world leaders around that goal. “Industrialized countries that emit most greenhouse gasses must take responsibility for global warming,” said Carolyn Egan, Co-chair Good Green Jobs for All Conference. Canada is one of the largest emitters in the world. “Therefore we have an enormous obligation to act responsibly and cut our greenhouse gas emissions.”

Egan also said Canada needs to increase support for renewable energy, energy efficiency and the creation of green jobs, in order to achieve its gas reduction obligations.

Locally, the Clean Trains Coalition (CTC) has been fighting the massive expansion in what they call 'dirty diesel' train travel running through their Toronto neighbourhoods. While the Coalition fully supports the McGuinty government investments in public transit that add more rail track to link towns and cities to the GTA, it objects to using diesel to fuel these locomotives.

Almost 500 trains per day will run through the west end of Toronto and pass by 300,000 homes located within a kilometre of the track, making it the single busiest diesel rail corridor in the world. “Can you think of any other city in the world still using diesel trains?” asked Elizabeth Littlejohn of the CTC. “Absolutely not.”

(Diesel trains have already been banned in California and New York. Europe and the UK have had electric trains in urban communities for many years.)

As the Toronto trains pass by 76 schools and 96 daycare centres, Littlejohn said, “Children will be breathing in a toxic soup of chemicals that create smog and spew out fine particulate matter that they’ll breathe into their lungs and bloodstreams.” Neighbourhood residents will also have to put up with the train noise and vibration for 19 hours a day, from 5:30 am to 12:30 am.

The CTC believes there is a better way. Lighter, electric trains means less carbon emissions, less noise and less vibration, but the McGuinty government, she said, thinks that an extra $150 million dollars (for electric as opposed to diesel trains) is too much money.

“Shifting from diesel to electric produces an immediate 80 per cent reduction in fossil fuel consumption,” added Littlejohn. “This diesel project will make it impossible to cut emissions in Toronto and will add at least 60 smog days a year.”

Industrial unionists agree with Littlejohn and have no doubt that society can move to a green economy. Even though unions have lost tens of thousands of jobs across Canada in recent years, they firmly believe that a new green economy can be created with good jobs for all that also addresses the economic and the climate crisis.

At the Good Green Jobs for All Conference on November 7 in Toronto, community, labour, social justice, youth, environmental groups and individuals will collaborate on a green vision for the Greater Toronto Area that will include good jobs, equity and social justice, and environmental sustainability. “We don’t believe that’s too much to ask,” said Carolyn Egan. “And it’s a very, very important initiative which will strike down the myth that trade unions and environmental communities are in opposition to each other.”

While the developed countries are beginning to feel and respond to global warming, the developing nations are already suffering the worst consequences. Severe drought, rising water levels, natural disasters and extreme weather have displaced entire communities, but the rest of the world has barely noticed.

“My sense is that the situation in places like Bangladesh is not part of the northern discourse,” said Afsan Chowdhury, York Centre for Asian Research. “The people in the north are really not aware or don’t care about what the situation is in the global south.” He feels that the climate change campaign in the west is more of a lifestyle issue: whether to take a longer ride to the office, put the thermostat up or down or whether to consume this or that.

In the south, unfortunately, climate change is an issue about life and livelihood. Chowdhury predicts that 25 per cent of humanity is going to be so adversely affected by global warming that it’s going to create political chaos at a level we’ve never seen before.

“If the effects of climate change continue, it will produce a new generation of militants who will try to damage the world because they hate you,” he said. “So if you care about your world, you have to invest in the south to prevent your world from being overrun by global events.”

But the United Nations fund set up for that purpose in 2008 currently holds just $18 million dollars – not the $100 billion US dollars they need.  

“Too often, the humanitarian implications of climate change and the need for adaptation to the new, more dangerous reality of more frequent and intense natural disasters are forgotten as the world focuses on the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said at the African Union (AU) Special Summit on Refugees, Returnees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) held earlier this week in Kampala, Uganda. 

Last year, there were 104 globally reported natural disaster, 99 per cent of them climate related, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The number of people impacted in Africa has doubled in the past two decades, up from 9 million in 1989 to nearly 17 million in 2008.

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