The decision concerning the development of Northern Gateway’s pipeline will be revealed sometime during the first week of June. It’s safe to say that no one is waiting with bated breath. Everyone knows all too well that even if Stephen Harper would be the only Canadian supporting the project, it will go through — despite having lost referendums and faced opposition from Indigenous peoples and Canadian citizens alike — ignoring Canada’s responsibilities and the negative impact that expanding the tar sands industry will have on climate change. A recent exchange with Barack Obama in regards to the Keystone XL pipeline sums it up: Harper “won’t take no for an answer.”
So is that it? Is this the end? Thankfully not. That very same first week of June 2014 will see the creation of an unprecedented process; the Social Movements’ Assembly on Climate Change, in Montreal, precisely where most of the attention of the pro-pipeline will turn given that Quebec is in front of two other major pipeline projects.
The Assembly’s mission and process are clear: the Assembly wishes to address the issue of further developing tar sands head-on, since it’s the main culprit in increasing greenhouse gas emissions in Canada.
Climate at risk
Since the first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 1990, it is abundantly clear that greenhouse gas emissions provoked by the combustion of oil, gas and coal are overwhelming the global climate. Climate change has already begun, sparking an increase of 0.8 degrees Celsius since the industrial revolution. At this moment in time, the International Energy Agency warns that the world is heading towards a dizzying increase of four to five degrees Celsius, not a mere two degrees as previously suspected.
Harper in denial
All the while, the Harper government refuses to recognize the urgency of the problem and refuses to offer solutions to ensure that realistic goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are met. Quite the contrary: he has systematically attacked different processes meant to protect the environment, which can only mean one thing: we must mobilise massively, and fast.
With the omnibus Bill C-38, Harper considerably reduced evaluations of that environmental impact on new tar sand development projects, as well other projects that would create emissions. He has questioned the territorial integrity of First Nations with Bill C-45, his second attempt at a mammoth omnibus bill. He then sought to destabilize environmental groups by over-reviewing their finances and monitoring their every move in a disproportionate, Orwellian fashion. While rules to limit emissions from the oil and gas industries are still awaited, the Harper government allocates $1.4 billion-grants to oil companies, year after year.
An extra-parliamentary alliance to save the climate
The Conservatives rely so heavily on the increase of tar sands in order to achieve their economic extractivist program that they categorically deny that climate change is a very real problem. Other parties seem relatively cautious in raising the issue and haven’t made any attempts at introducing an exit strategy from the fossil fuels, as has been done in many Nordic countries.
The ball is therefore in our court as a civil society to ensure action. On June 6, this novel process will reunite forces from the East and the West, with Indigenous communities taking part in a massive non-partisan alliance in order to force the Conservative Party to modify its approach, as well as force the other parties to adapt their platform and broach the topic of climate change if they truly wish to replace Harper. The meeting in June will lead to a much larger meeting during the Peoples’ Social Forum from August 21 to 24 in Ottawa, during which more than 10,000 people are expected to participate.
The climate: A strategic issue for social movements
The Assembly on Climate Change will be the first initiative gathering forces from all Canadian territories. Indigenous and environmental groups, citizens’ associations, scientists, youth and all those who are active on this issue will be present.
The environmental movement in Canada is very dynamic and inspiring, but it can’t carry the fight against climate change all on its own. The second innovation of the Assembly will be to involve other branches of social movements in this struggle. The support of workers, students, citizens of Canada will be necessary.
Last fall, Naomi Klein reminded members of the new union UNIFOR that the fight against climate change boils down to fighting for historical demands of the labour and grassroots movements.
The Assembly on Climate Change will therefore seek to make the fight against climate change a tool to give current and historical social justice struggles new life. Considering the Harper government’s unique strategy for oil, this new beginning could weaken the bond between the oil industry and the Harper government.
The heart of the beast
Approaching the fight against climate change as a stepping stone against Harper can only pave the way to a future in which governments who choose to ignore social action, citizenry and democracy, and who attempt to prioritize corporate interests over the common good would be ousted from power without a chance of aspiring to it once more.
Of course, the struggle won’t be easy. After all, we are aiming the heart of the beast: Free Trade, deregulation, neoliberalism, extractivism. Powerful lobbies and interest groups will be a big obstacle. But this is the most direct strategy to bring back social justice, and respect of nature, as major values of interest in public debates.
The struggle against climate change is a struggle against the system at the heart of the current federal government. And beyond the citizen Stephen Harper or the Conservative Party, when we’ll shake the system, we will change the world.