Protesters demand action on climate change

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The last two weeks have seen people all across the country confronting the Conservative government over the issue of climate change. Activists from People for Climate Justice have occupied the offices of Jim Prentice, John Baird, Rona Ambrose, Jim Flaherty and Gary Lunn. Members of Greenpeace eluded security to unfurl a giant banner on the roof of the Parliament buildings warning Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff that inaction on climate change is deadly. Six were arrested and charged with trespassing after a peaceful sit-in inside the House of Commons Environment Committee. Canadians are fed up with their leaders and are demanding that they take progressive action on climate change.


The feverish pace of direct actions clearly communicates the frustration and desperation that Canadians feel over their government's seeming allergy to leadership and common sense in the face of the threats of global warming. By targeting the ministers of the environment, transport and infrastructure, labour, finance and natural resources, the occupations challenge Harper and his government to act on climate change; to abandon Canada's addiction to fossil fuels and use tax dollars to actively reduce carbon emissions.


The calls come as Harper prepares to misrepresent the interests of Canadians at the Copenhagen climate talks. After being threatened with expulsion from the Commonwealth of Nations, reprimanded by foreign leaders, warned by scientists and essentially shamed into attending the United Nations summit, Harper has insisted that Canada will not sign on to any climate treaty until developing nations, such as China and India, agree to emissions reductions as well. He has decided to commit Canada to developing the Alberta tar sands, spending the week leading up to Copenhagen in Asia offering to fuel development with Canadian natural resources.


The divide between Canadian public opinion and the actions of their leaders has never been so obviously disparate. Just this past week, the federal government was confronted with more than 150,000 signatures on the Kyotoplus petition and according to recent polls, an overwhelming majority of Canadians agree that climate change is a serious problem that demands action. A majority of Canadians agree that wealthy industrialized nations should hold a greater responsibility for reducing emissions than developing nations. Even in Harper's Alberta base, 65 per cent said it is "embarrassing that we are not doing more to curb emissions." Canadians are ashamed of their country's environmental record and the newly acquired international reputation as the main obstacle to combating climate change. In response, many are obstructing government-business-as-usual and refusing to move.


The sit-ins, organized by People for Climate Justice, have demanded commitments to bold emission reduction targets and have promised that the sit-ins will not stop until the government takes strong action on climate change and ensures the safety of those worst effected by the climate crisis.


"We are deeply frustrated by Canada's continued foot-dragging in the international climate negotiations, and we fear the consequences of holding back such a critical process will lead to massive human suffering in the years to come," said Iain , who occupied John Baird's office. "We are ashamed and horrified that our country is implicated in such a global atrocity." Brannigan and other demonstrators occupied Baird's constituency office in Ottawa and refused to leave for over nine hours before being forced out by police.


The occupation of Jim Flaherty's Whitby office lasted for seven hours, before police cut the chains holding the protestors to the reception desk and arrested all seven of them. They were released later that night and charged with mischief. The Sidney Office of Garry Lunn, Rona Ambrose's Edmonton office and Jim Prentice's Calgary office were also sights of long sit-ins.


Jessica Bell, from People for Climate Justice, describes the motivation for the nation-wide protests: "A sense of urgency and a realization that the future of humanity is at stake in inspiring these tactics. Hundreds of thousands of people are dying, and millions more could die if we don't take action." Bell continues, "we want to pressure the Canadian government to commit to a fair, binding, and just treaty in Copenhagen and to inspire people in Canada to take direct action for climate justice."


This year, the G8 nations agreed that worldwide temperatures must not exceed two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to prevent unmanageable climate change. To have any chance of achieving this target, the developed nations must collectively reduce their emissions by 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. Harper insists that he will maintain his commitment of a three per cent reduction below 1990 levels by 2020.


The Tory government has been guilty of climate crimes since they first took office. In 2006 the new Canadian government announced it was abandoning its targets to cut greenhouse gases under the Kyoto protocol. Canada is the only country that ratified the treaty to do this. Canada was meant to have cut emissions by six per cent between 1990 and 2012. Instead they have risen by 26 per cent.


Canada has actively sought to prevent other nations from signing successive agreements, single handedly blocking a Commonwealth resolution to support binding emission reduction targets for industrialised nations in 2007.

During climate talks in October, the delegates representing the developing world walked out while the Canadian delegate was speaking to protest Canada's callous disregard the crisis which is climate change.


Canada has become wedded to the tar sands, a complete environmental disaster; greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands production are three times those of conventional oil and gas production, between two and five barrels of water are used to produce just one barrel of tar sands oil, tailing ponds holding the contaminated water leak poisons into nearby rivers and the refining of tar sands oil takes three times as much energy as refining crude oil.


The Conservatives have made it clear that they have staked their future in the tar sands and will look to disrupt the Copenhagen talks and disrupt any agreements made. However, many Canadians are now making it clear that they will not accept this vision of Canada and this wave of occupations, sit-ins and direct action are a call to action, for the government and others who are fed up. People are being encouraged to contact their representatives, occupy their offices and refuse to leave until it is made clear that a fair, binding and just treaty in Copenhagen will be negotiated.


December 12 will be a global day of action on climate change with demonstrations going on all over the world, proclaiming loudly the will of the people in the face of stalling by world leaders. In Toronto, the Toronto Climate Campaign is organizing an indoor rally with a live feed from Copenhagen, while across the country, local climate change activists have marked this as a day of protest with demonstrations of their own.


Peter Hogarth is a regular contributor to Socialist Worker, a revolutionary, anti-capitalist newspaper.

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