Monday, October 12, 2009

Back at ya, Harper

Stop Everything
Rebecca McNeil

October 9, 2009

I have spent the past year trying to follow the antics of the big players on Parliament Hill, and this weekend just threw another wrench in the drama that is becoming Canadian politics. Over the past year we have watched the Liberals change leaders from a boy scout to an assertive “foreigner”, the NDP go from the biggest denouncers of Harper to backing them in a confidence motion, and watched Harper move the Conservatives slowly but surely from far right to right of centre – not a small step in the world of Conservative Party politics.

In an October 1st editorial Globe and Mail writer Michael Bliss announced that “In a historic shift, the Tories have seized the centre and are set to become the natural governing party.” I assume if you have time to read this blog you’ve likely already scoured the daily papers so this won’t require a full explanation, but it is becoming increasingly evident that Harper will be our leader through the rest of this year. This means he’s our guy for the international climate change decisions this year, and we are going to have to find a way to make sure that strong climate change policies and action makes it onto his agenda.

The good news is that with a government turning increasingly to the centre, they are backing a lot of issues on would not have normally have been supportive. Take Employment Insurance. Harper has taken an uncharacteristic stance to secure his Party’s position as leader of this country, and the NDP in turn propped up his government as a big ol’ thank you. Call it opportunistic, but it gives me some comfort to think that in the midst of achieving his own priorities our Prime Minister is able to adopt policies that will actually end up supporting Canadians.

In this hopeful vein, myself and several thousand other people will be heading to Parliament on October 24th, to “fill the hill” and let the Prime Minister know we are serious about taking action on climate change, and want him to be as well when he attends the international talks in Copenhagen this December. We don’t have many shots to get it right, and neither does Harper.

As the Prime Minister belted out this weekend that he gets by with a little help from his friends, I think we were all curious if there was some sort of symbolic message with the choice of song. I’ll be the first to admit I sort of loved watching his literal song and dance. But a quick piece of advice, Mr. Harper: if you want more friends, making decisions that won’t condemn our country to a life of natural disasters, drought, disease and possible extinction, will make you a very popular guy. And a rendition of Mean Mr. Mustard couldn’t hurt either.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Callin for a new generation of Moonies

Darcy Higgins

We all owe a big thank you to Ban Ki Moon.

The UN Secretary-General, it appears, has basically stopped everything to put climate on top of his agenda, having convened over 100 heads of state for meetings on the climate crisis. He did this with a little ambition and a lot of optimism, pulling these leaders together to get things moving on a political level, towards necessary aims at Copenhagen. His challenge to fellow leaders: “Your words have been heard around the world. Let your actions now be seen. There is little time left. The opportunity and responsibility to avoid catastrophic climate change is in your hands”.

The convention in New York was met with a world of actions from the public. On Monday, TckTckTck launched a global wakeup call with 1500 events in 112 countries, including several in Canada, at least three in Toronto. Showings of The Age of Stupid were also premiered in countries worldwide Monday and Tuesday. Rebecca and I attended one of those events.

Stupid was enough to give anyone the heebie-jeebies. Set in a 2055 dystopia based on real scientific projections for what will happen to our planet should we not reduce emissions, the central question was, why didn’t we act when we knew what was coming? Perhaps far-fetched, perhaps not, but virtual annihilation of the human species was portrayed. Do today’s global citizens actually realize, actually feel that this possibility is heading our way if we don’t act? I don’t think so. The movie therefore made it real. Even if you set your disaster expectations a little lower, science still leaves us with harsh realities to come.

To be honest, the film really was a shock to the system. What we’re doing here in disaster prevention is the most important work that we could be doing right now.
The film led us through in-depth stories of people who live among us… in England, Louisiana, India and Nigeria. These stories provide insight as to why we aren’t acting and analyze our collective and individual addictions to oil. A lot is about jobs, necessities and wants, and a failure of social-economic-political systems to lead us to a re-organized economy. Answers to the “why we didn’t act” question exist all around us, but the consistent posing of the question in the film made me continually reflect on the gravity of the situation.

Despite Moon’s efforts, all is not well coming out of New York. The U.S. and China have left without committing to new binding targets. And Stephen Harper skipped most of the meetings, instead attending a Tim Horton’s anniversary event in Oakville the day of Barack Obama’s speech to the UN.

Things move slowly in politics – even more so in global politics – but this climate change isn’t slowing at all. If we are to have any hope in making an impact we must:
• keep up the pressure
• be patient – but not too patient
• watch, host and discuss screenings of The Age of Stupid
• continue to act as we lead up to Climate Day, October 24
• brace ourselves: a final agreement may not come until next year
• say a private thanks to Ban Ki Moon and commit to moving Harper’s agenda to where it needs to be
• become a Moonie

The Age of Stupid is showing again in Toronto at the MUCK Film Festival on October 3rd. If you would like to organize a screening, contact Darcy.

With less than three months left to define an international agreement in Copenhagan, young sustainability activists Rebecca McNeil and Darcy Higgins launch Stop Everything, a new column engaging in political strategies for change in tackling the climate crisis. They'll follow the youth climate movement in Canada and others as they work to cap greenhouse gas emissions and change society, and show you ways you can be involved at this most critical juncture.
Find, discuss and learn at: Sustainability is Step One

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

US to Canada: We don’t want yer kind here

Yer kind of shamelessly dirty oil, anyways.

Stop Everything
Rebecca McNeil


This is the first time in my life I can recall Americans looking like a shining example of leadership and responsibility compared to us. When I was growing up our grade school teachers would endlessly pontificate on our national reputation: honourable, polite and neighbourly. We were peacekeepers, stewards of our land, and distributors of universal healthcare. Ask anyone, they would say, and they can tell you of Canada’s stellar track record and may even get down to kiss your feet, although being Canadian, you are too modest to let them.

Perhaps the last eight years allowed our egos to inflate, as well. The Michael Moore school of thinking did a lot to salute our nation, and during the Bush administration you could hear many a liberally-minded citizen from Oregon or Connecticut (and even some out of West Virginia) dreaming about the sunny, socialist shores of Canada. But either the rose coloured glasses were trampled under Obama’s inauguration parade or our southern neighbours were never really wearing them. All I know is, now they’re worried about us getting in the way of their actions to reduce climate change, and I don’t blame them.

Today Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in Washington trying to ride Obama’s coattails before a potential election. He is also battering our already-bruised reputation by pushing the Alberta Tar Sands to be excluded from any effective climate change reduction plans they come up with (and yes, isn’t he already on his fourth plan anyway?) The tar sands industry is the fastest growing greenhouse gas polluter in Canada, spewing more than many European countries, and Harper is not only looking to sustain this industry, but grow it.

Plenty of Americans now think it is we who will hinder them during the global climate change discussions, prompting the American-based Rainforest Action Network to string a banner across a Niagara Falls bridge kindly asking Harper to get lost.

It’s a shift in perspective, really. A few years ago Harper was faired poorly on climate change action, but he was still no Bush. Well, fast forward and he’s that much farther from Obama. Seemingly overnight the American national standard has changed and their Bob the Builder attitude combined with the charm that literally oozes out of Obama means they are easily becoming the North American leaders on climate change. What remains to be seen is if we will end up looking uneducated and manipulated by industry, declaring climate change to be a myth along with UFO’s and unicorns, or if Harper can leave his personal views at home and do what his country, and the rest of the world, need him to.

Check out the parody of Harper’s ‘Just Visiting’ ads by Environmental Defence.

While you’re there, be sure to send Harper a letter that’s politely-worded, but stills tells him exactly what you think of how he should be acting in Washington. ‘Cause we’re paying attention eh?

With less than three months left to define an international agreement in Copenhagan, young sustainability activists Rebecca McNeil and Darcy Higgins launch Stop Everything, a new column engaging in political strategies for change in tackling the climate crisis. They'll follow the youth climate movement in Canada and others as they work to cap greenhouse gas emissions and change society, and show you ways you can be involved at this most critical juncture.
Find, discuss and learn at: Sustainability is Step One

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Do the right thing, no matter what China does

Stop Everything
Rebecca McNeil

Timing is a funny thing. Just as I am having these apocalyptic realizations that we have very little time to make some mind-bogglingly major changes to industry and how we live our lives, so too is Preston Manning. Yes, that Preston Manning, former leader of the Reform Party of Canada (read: uber conservative).
It seems there is a point that many powerful, or formerly powerful men reach in their careers when they soften, open up to ideas one would never have imagined they could get behind, and look with shining, idealistic eyes to the “younger generation.” Correlating milestones often include becoming a grandfather, having a humbling health scare and/or retiring officially from their political/business careers so these concepts don’t become are a liability as they simply revel in their newly-found sage status.

This may or may not be the case with Mr. Manning. As he said himself to a Bay Street crowd at the Empire Club on Thursday, “Conservation and conservative are very closely linked,” and it seems that in his heart of hearts he truly believes we need to act against climate change. Really, he makes a good point. I know several people from my parents’ generation who have only ever voted for the Conservatives or the Green Party in their entire lives.

While I have had the opportunity to hear many leading thinkers and activists share their position on climate issues, including Ray Anderson, David Suzuki, Bill McKibben, Robert Kennedy Jr. and Hunter Lovins, it is not every day I get to hear a bible-toting, fiscal conservative discuss how the corporate sector needs to step up to the plate to meet our climate change problem head on. So when invited to the Royal York where Mr. Manning was to speak to members of the Empire Club I was delighted. As he began his remarks he braced his audience for what would be a ground-breaking discovery: the market can’t survive without resources, which we are using up at a startling rate.

It’s a good thing I was sitting down.

As much as I take this perspective for granted, Manning brought up some good points. It was not so long ago that Canada drank to the Queen (in this particular case it was only 30 minutes prior, since apparently the Empire Club still does that) and went to war for England, and now we think of ourselves purely as a sovereign nation. A shift in perspective is critical for change to be made, in both the corporate and political sectors, since as Manning pointed out, many still view the market in four boxes: extract, refine, create, consume. Apparently this whole frontier-land notion is hard to shake.

He also pontificated how being revolutionary thinkers runs deep through our ancestry, taking a trip through time to recall how a ragtag group of settlements in the most Northern parts of the Americas would band together as a joint nation between the French and English, creating the second largest country in the world and building the world’s longest rail system to connect this patchwork of a nation.

It is both rare and wonderful to hear unbridled Canadiana from someone who actually means it. This man comes from an era of politics that defined us as a nation, and he maintains a relentless faith in Canadians as a people. When asked about whether or not Canada should wait to act on Climate Change until the bigger producers, like China, commit, Manning unabashedly waxed poetic. “You know I was asked that question before and I said – but isn’t it important to do the right thing? No Matter what the Chinese do, isn’t it important that Canada does the right thing?”

Now someone type it up and send it to Harper. The man’s already received enough correspondence from me.


With three months left to define an international agreement in Copenhagan, young sustainability activists Rebecca McNeil and Darcy Higgins launch Stop Everything, a new column engaging in political strategies for change in tackling the climate crisis. They'll follow the youth climate movement in Canada and others as they work to cap greenhouse gas emissions and change society, and show you ways you can be involved at this most critical juncture.
Find, discuss and learn at: Sustainability is Step One

Photo taken from Red Tory v.3.0

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Stop Everything

It’s easy to forget in a world of swirling priorities and frequently changing news stories that the foundation on which we all base our work is reaching a dangerously fragile point. Last year, in the wake of a seemingly overnight recession, we were reminded that at any moment the rug can be pulled out from under us and our collective energies and focus must immediately shift to a pressing issue.

The same can be true when we think of our environment. True, these issues have been surprisingly resilient as they remained on a public agenda throughout a recession, countless political scandals and despite the many distractions of everyday life. But within this broad term “environment” lies a plethora of topics: sustainable food, air pollution, public transit, local wine, clean water, waste reduction, recycling, conservation... and beyond that social concerns like housing, rising debt, AIDS, community-building, queer rights, war and corruption. The energy of environmental and progressive movements along with the attention of the public are constantly being pushed and pulled in a tug of war for precious resources and media so they can stay afloat on the public and political agenda and hopefully some progress will be made.

But is there a large, scary elephant in the room that environmentalists and the public at large are tending to forget about in their day-to-day priorities? Upon finishing my undergraduate degree in Environmental Studies I began working in the land-use planning/agricultural sector and have moved on to work on projects that engage youth in environmental education and work to protect rights of citizens to participate in public action. Important stuff, at least I think.

Every once in a while though, I have my system shocked with the reality that we are reaching those scary numbers: the dates that climatologists predicted we have until we reach the point of no return; the number of chances we have to make a serious commitment to this undeniably and globally-permeating problem; and what scientists have defined as 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere as the tipping point. We’re told we have until 2015-2017 to stop increasing and begin to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases we pump into the atmosphere. And we have only one international framework that provides the chance of getting us there. We have all learned by now that this is the issue to end all issues, and if we can’t get ourselves out of this mess, all our other hard work will have been in vain.

But who wants to talk about climate change? Let’s face it, it’s abstract, number-based and there are lots of concepts and jargon from cap and trade to COP15 that exclude most of us from the discussion, leaving it to some political PR rep to tell us which systems are good for us.

We have allowed ourselves to feel distant and unsure from this issue and be told by our economic experts that we cannot afford to put any serious investments into it. The same folks that couldn’t predict the massive, world-reaching recession last year don’t foresee a problem with climate change. Okay. Perhaps I would have greater confidence if our own Conservative Federal Government website didn’t have an entire website displaying potential impending emergencies brought on by climate change such as “floods, damage of fresh water resources, food scarcity, drought” and other such goodies. We young people have also been telling ourselves that it’s okay not to engage in politics as long as we’re doing good things in NGOs and international development. Meanwhile, our Government sits back and enjoys the free ride.

And while I’m very happy to see that people in Toronto are now being charged a nominal fee to reduce plastic bags, you can buy local produce at many of your community grocery stores, municipalities are banning bottled water from public buildings, and other such victories, I worry about this dark cloud looming over us. And I can’t help but wonder if perhaps we should all just stop what we’re doing and try to get this one, very important thing right.

Rebecca McNeil lives, works and plays in Toronto and can be reached at: She wonders, if a global climate crisis does ensue, making our environment practically unlivable, if she will have wished that she had spent the past six years baking pies and playing the piano instead of working on various environmental and social issues.

With three months left to define an international agreement in Copenhagan, young sustainability activists Rebecca McNeil and Darcy Higgins launch Stop Everything, a new column engaging in political strategies for change in tackling the climate crisis. They'll follow the youth climate movement in Canada and others as they work to cap greenhouse gas emissions and change society, and show you ways you can be involved at this most critical juncture.
Find, discuss and learn at: Sustainability is Step One

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Conservation in Ontario

Every year we in Ontario see the power go up that we use just a little and this means we need more power to help us. With the Ontario Government now signaling that they are in with Wind Power, they are building them faster than any other source in the province. Instead of installing Wind Power, we as Ontarioians should be lowering our impact on the Earth.

To achieve this lower impact, we need to converse our energy and start to enjoy the outdoors. As Youth, we live our life with electricity more than we do without this. Youth need to get out and tell everyone to turn off all the power everyday, and start to meet people who are out in our neighbourhoods. With this, we would be accelerating our path to a more Renewable Ontario, and make us #1 in the world for conservation.

Youth need to step up and take the voice of one and turn this into a movement. We need to start closing off streets and having block parties every week to show people we can converse power. With every street that closes off, more people get out of their homes and enjoy the world a little bit more.

Since the Blackout in the summer of 2003, Ontario has been trying to conserve power in every way possible. We have seen the Ontario Government go from Coal to Nuclear to Wind in Energy, and we need to tell them to turn off power now. With this, since 2007, we have seen a yearly day called Earth Hour, where for one hour we turn off all the power possible.

All of the above is great, but we need to tell the Ontario Government to take bold steps in conversation and renewable energy to make Ontario the world leader.

Stand Up with Youth across Ontario, and enjoy Power Free Days.

Goal (this week): Enjoy 1 Block Party in the Streets

Monday, June 29, 2009

Nuclear halted

Congratulations to all the members who have been advocating for change to the Government's plan and the costs of reactors.
Minister Smitherman had a press conference this morning announcing that none of the nuclear bids will be accepted:

Now time to move on to the conservation and renewables of the future.

Write Premier McGuinty to tell him this was the right decision and now is the time to move ahead with real clean energy and conservation.