Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Climate activists speak with force and vigour...facing a mountain of resistance in Canada and the U.S.


Listening to a small group of twenty-something's, with one thirty-year-old, talk about climate activism this morning on NPR's On Point with Tom Ashbrook, I was struck by their depth of commitment, their intense optimism and their courage in the face of a political establishment that has effectively turned a deaf ear to their cause. At least two, if not three of their number, have served jail time for resisting law enforcement orders to vacate protest sites, including the interior of the Interior Department.
These young women, and if their statements about legions of others of similar view are valid, many others have begun a nation-de campaign of divestment by universities in stocks of the companies engaged in the fossil fuel industry. While some sexa-and septa-guinarian callers reminisced about Earth Days past, some even volunteered to close out their portfolios' oil, gas and coal investments in favour of more clean and sustainable energy companies such as wind and solar.
Some of the information that was new to me included the fact that the Sierra Club had not previously supported physical activism among the supporters of climate protests, yet recently it has. Additionally, these young women, while not blinded by their idealism, remain hopeful that President Obama will "kill" the Keystone pipeline, in spite of the State Department's recent report indicating it has no objections to the project on environmental grounds. They vow to fight every mile of the construction of the pipeline, with their bodies, should Obama approve the project.
One of the important, yet subtle, differences in their movement from previous environmental protests is that they consider their movement one of "climate activism" and not environmental protest. Their rationale is that previous protests were ineffectual and they see their generation as the one that brought Obama to the White House TWICE and they have charged themselves with sufficient motivation and grit to stop the denegration of the climate for their children and grandchildren!
There is a sense of both urgency and long-term vision and commitment among Ashbrook's guests this morning that would seem to defy recent comments from Ralph Nader that this generation lacks the fire in the belly that so fired Nader's career, beginning with "Unsafe at any Speed" and his successful expose that literally killed the Chevrolet Corvair, the little beast with the engine in the rear, back in the seventies.
I was honoured and privileged to interview Mr. Nader following a public lecture in North Bay at Canadore College in the late 70's and found him compellingly persuasive and passionate, not to mention highly articulate. It saddens me to think that his "time"on the front pages, and in the trenches of consumer protection, while it nurtured and developed other leading activists like Michael Moore who worked for and learned from Nader as did Ken Dryden when he was an undergrad at Cornell, has seemingly terminated, given that these most recent soldiers could benefit significantly from his tutelage.
There was, however, an audible note of apocalyptic extremism in the voices of these young women, a note that could and likely will be held against them and their idealism going forward. There are so many blockages to youthful idealism, and many of those blockages are backed by billions of private dollars from executives in the oil and gas and coal industries who either believe that a one-degree rise in global temperature will be "beneficial" (as one current PSA for their industry puts its) or that global warming is a hoax and does not merit the attention of the state, including the president and the Congress.
In Canada, the most disposable feature of the Harper government over the last half-dozen years has been the Ministers of the Environment, the latest being Peter Kent, yet each one has not found a "fit" inside a government that has married itself to the corporate interests of the tar sands in Northern Alberta, the fracking industry in the natural gas sector and the pipeline industry, specifically the Trans-Canada-sponsored Keystone as well as the Northern Pipeline proposal from Alberta to the British Columbian coast, for the purpose of exporting tar sands oil to the Far East. Harper's government makes some noises about "environmental protection" which everyone in Canada sees through as if it were mere gauze on a Hollywood lens masking their true philosophy of sponsorship of the corporate sector, no matter the harm being done to the environment...and that harm is considerable, more than we were told in the beginning and more than anyone living downstream from the project cares to contend with.
In Canada, however, there is a small and vocal band of climate activists; however, the issue has not garnered the kind of public support that will be necessary to reverse the damage done under Harper whose government has virtually turned the Canadian economy in what some observers would call a petro-economy, based on a petro-dollar. Neither the NDP, the Official Opposition which is attempting to position itself as a respectable and responsible alternative to the Harper Conservatives and promotes the balanced agenda of economic prosperity and environmental protection, nor the Liberals who are still smarting from the public indictment of the proposed carbon tax put forward by then leader Stephane Dion, three party leaders back.
In Canada, Harper is not worried about political climate activists like the three women who spoke with Ashbrook this morning, and that segment of the public who has concerns about the profligate greed among the fossil fuel sector linked to the co-dependency of the people writing the laws in both the U.S. and Canada, will have to find an army of young idealists who consider it their civic duty to enlist in the campaign that is certain to be fought over the transition from a fossil fuel-driven economy to one driven more by sustainable and clean energy. And in the meantime, there will continue to be millions of people, like the one caller from North Carolina who pleaded, "Give me a break!" to these young women, "We have people who need work to put food on the table and if that work involves fossil fuel, then so be it."
Obama too was cited by Ashbrook, in a quote from a speech in which he proudly declared "open season" on drilling for oil and gas, after his 2012 election victory, and not as part of his campaign for re-election. The lobby for the oil and gas industry may yet devour the president's best efforts to reverse the trend, as it certainly has devoured the political independence of too many political leaders on both sides of the 49th parallel, with the complicity of the electorate in both countries.
Can and will we wake up to our own threats to the survival of our children and grandchildren?

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