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U of T students protest government inaction on climate change

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They’re young, passionate about environmental causes and deeply concerned about the future of our planet. 

So naturally they’re upset with federal, provincial and territorial governments that, by 2020, will only reach the halfway mark of Canada's goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels. 

“It’s so important for people our age to get involved in the climate movement,” said Tom McCarthy, an organizer with the University of Toronto Environmental Action (UTEA), a group that advocates for more effective government policy on climate change and other environmental issues at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels.

“If we don’t take this seriously and don’t start to push the people in power to make the changes that need to happen now, then we’re in big trouble.”

On Friday morning, more than 60 people, including students and community members, marched from Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto to the steps of the Ontario legislature to send a clear message to the new leader of the Liberal party and Premier of Ontario.

“Young people are not going to quietly accept an out of control environment and a broken environmental inheritance from our parent’s generation,” said McCarthy.

“Little has been accomplished by our elected leaders in the fight to reduce emissions and prepare for an uncertain future of droughts, food stress and extreme weather.”

McCarthy and his colleagues came to Queen’s Park to deliver an open letter to the new Premier. The same letter was later sent to the Prime Minister and the other Premiers across the country.

These students are frustrated by having little, if any, input into the climate change decisions made by the federal and provincial governments.

“Yet we are the ones who will pay the future costs resulting from the failure to take effective action to reduce emissions,” said McCarthy.

Two federal reports released last year from Environment Canada and the National Roundtable onEnvironment and the Economy said Canada will only meet half of its target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020. 

By the middle of the century, McCarthy’s generation will be forced to deal with the impacts of climate change if governments fail to act now.

Climate change experts predict average global temperatures will rise by four to six degrees celsius by the time these university students enter their retirement years.

“Beyond being unfair to young people, there are many more ways that this predicament is unjust.”

Those with the power to affect change gain most from the world’s fossil fuel dependency whereas those with the least say in policy direction will suffer the worst effects of global warming.

Homeless people. Agricultural workers. First Nations. And the working poor.

“On behalf of all of us who are old and broken and didn’t do enough about climate change to all of you who have to live with the consequences of our gluttony, I am very, very sorry,” said Gord Perks, environmentalist, political activist, writer and City Councillor for Toronto's Ward 14, Parkdale—High Park.

“But you have an opportunity to live for each other, with a purpose other than consuming as much as you possibly can and to take responsibility for the vulnerable who will be the first victims of climate change.”

Thirty years from now, Perks said, “when you are sitting in government you will not have colleagues claim there is no such thing as climate change.”

On Wednesday, Toronto Star columnist Catherine Porter wrote that Toronto City Councillor Norm Kelly “still doesn’t believe in global warming.”

Kelly is the chair of Toronto’s parks and environment committee. “He’s in charge of our city’s environmental plans.” wrote Porter. 

“And, when it comes to climate change, he’s the captain of our ship — decisions he and his committee makes will either protect us or make us vulnerable to what lies ahead.”

Among the most vulnerable are First Nations peoples.

“The importance of the environment within Aboriginal culture unites all nations together,” said Sarah Nanibush, a University of Toronto student and First Nations person.

“A healthy environment is vital to cultural identity.”

Without one, First Nations will be unable to hunt, fish and trap. Unable to rely on traditional medicine made from plants. Unable to drink the water. 

“The environmental damage from climate change also undermines self-governance by destroying our communities and traditional land,” said Nanibush.

“And compensation from the government will not fix what has been destroyed.”

Greenpeace spokesperson and U of T lecturer Keith Stewart remembered a day not so long ago when he came to Queen’s Park to present a report that said that Ontario should shut down all of its coal plants and replace them with renewable energy and energy conversation.

The official government spokesperson told Stewart that it was a “crazy” idea that would destroy the economy.

But last year, for the first time in history, wind power produced more electricity in Ontario, said Stewart, than  coal.

“This is the kind of world we want to build,” said Stewart. “And it can be done through policies like the Green Energy Act.”

The Ontario Green Energy Act (GEA) was introduced in the Ontario legislature on February 23, 2009, and is intended to expand renewable energy production, encourage energy conservation and create green jobs.

But the federal government would rather invest $160 billion on new pipelines and tar sands mines.

Stewart would like to see that money spent on state of the art public transit systems across Canada, efficient vehicles, cycling infrastructure and energy created solely from renewable resources.

Following the rally, two representative from UTEA handed the open letter to Queen’s Park security to deliver to Premier Elect Kathleen Wynne and her new Environment Minister.

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