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Commentary by Elizabeth May: We must end our reliance on fossil fuels

A commentary by the leader of the Green Party of Canada and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands. This is the first in a series of commentaries about climate change from Canada’s main political parties; they are being published daily this week.
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Green Party Leader Elizabeth May speaks at the federal leaders' election debate on Thursday in Gatineau, Que. Oct. 10, 2019

A commentary by the leader of the Green Party of Canada and MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands. This is the first in a series of commentaries about climate change from Canada’s main political parties; they are being published daily this week.

“Humanity is conducting an unprecedented, uncontrolled globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to global nuclear war.”

That was the opening sentence to the consensus finding of international scientists gathered for the first global climate conference, “Our Changing Atmosphere; implications for global security.”

It was held in a heat wave, in the last week of June 1988, in Toronto. As senior policy adviser to the minister of environment, I helped organize that conference.

I was optimistic. We had public attention. Two prime ministers (Canada and Norway) addressed the conference. We kick-started the launching of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the negotiations leading to the foundation framework treaty on the threat of global warming.

Is it a gift or a curse to be prevented from seeing the future?

Had I imagined then that more than 30 years later we would still be arguing about when we should get started in earnest, I do not know how I could have handled the horror of it.

It is a slow-motion horror. In June 1992, every nation on Earth committed at the Rio Earth Summit, in a legally binding treaty, to reduce greenhouse gases such that we could avoid levels of climate change that could be “dangerous.” Instead, between 1992 and now, humanity has burned more fossil fuels, emitting more greenhouse gases, than between the beginning of the Industrial Revolution and 1992.

In other words, well past the point that we understood human-caused climate change to be a major threat to our future, we put our foot on the gas to amplify the risk.

No wonder Greta Thunberg is shaking with rage. So am I.

As MP for Saanich-Gulf Islands and leader of the Green Party of Canada, I stand with our children. I stand with Greta. We have been stealing our children’s future. We have to stop. We have to, as Greta says, reach for the emergency brake and get over our fairy-tale belief in endless economic growth.

It is clear to me that two major obstacles blocked our progress. One was the well-funded campaigns of Big Oil to lie to us about the science. The other was the perennial problem of short-term political thinking, always seeking partisan advantage. We must set aside partisanship. I am calling for the equivalent of a “war cabinet” to ensure a non-partisan approach to our survival.

Holding to no more than a 1.5 degrees C global average temperature increase is not a political target. That goal, agreed to by all the nations in Paris, is not negotiable. We cannot negotiate with physics. It is now Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change advice that shooting past 1.5 degrees means that children alive today are unlikely to have a functional human civilization through their lives. Shooting past 2 or 3 degrees means that the hospitality of this planet for lifeforms like us is very much in doubt.

Fortunately, we have a road map to avoid the worst and steer our kids’ future to one that is livable. It is the Green Party plan, Mission: Possible. We lay it out in clear steps, on multiple and simultaneous tracks, the route to holding to 1.5 degrees C, while pressing forward on compliance with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and enhanced quality of life for Canadians — and the peoples of the world.

Our platform is rooted in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals — including eliminating poverty, enhancing women’s rights, protecting our oceans, ending plastic contamination, ending open-pen toxic fish factories, and moving to preserve and restore sustainable fisheries — at home and globally by 2030. It is a comprehensive plan for a livable world and a more affordable Canada.

It requires a commitment to end our reliance on fossil fuels. We will cancel any and all new pipelines, starting with TransMountain. We will immediately ban fracking and cancel the billions of dollars in subsidies to fossil fuels. We will invest in a modern, 100 per cent renewable electricity grid system from coast to coast to coast, protect and replant our forests, support local foods and food security while building a world-class zero-carbon transportation system. And we will balance the federal budget and reduce inequities by modernizing our out-of-date tax system that is now so friendly to banks, internet companies and multinationals.

If you want ethical government, hard-working, honest MPs, and a commitment to collaborative leadership, then your strategic vote is Green.

First of a series of commentaries about climate change from Canada’s main political parties. A submission from a party is being published each day this week on the Comment page. The commentaries are from Green Party of Canada, Conservative Party of Canada, New Democratic Party of Canada, People’s Party of Canada and Liberal Party of Canada.