By George Brown, Grasslands News Editor
March 21, 2019
Just as Canadians mobilized to save Europe and the world from Fascism in the Second World War, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said that’s the type of effort needed to save the planet from the effects of global warming.
May was the only Canadian federal political party leader to accept the invitation of the Qu’Appelle Valley Environmental Association (QVEA) to participate in their pre-election Climate Crisis forum. A good-sized crowd attended the March 13 forum at the Treaty Four Governance Centre.
May shared the stage with empty chairs with nametags. One of those was Conservative Opposition Leader Andrew Scheer, who is the member of Parliament for Regina-Qu’Appelle. What might have been an opportunity for valley residents to hear where Canada’s political parties stand on climate change, carbon taxes and international treaties seven months before the next federal election, was instead an hour-long presentation by May on how Canada has abdicated its position as a climate leader. A Q&A session followed.
On the heels of the Montreal Protocol that was signed by all nations of the world in 1987 to save the ozone layer by phasing out ozone-depleting substances such as chlorofluorocarbons (CFSs), May was confident world leaders acknowledged the threats to Earth’s climate and would continue to take action.
Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s conservative government took a lead role in 1988 to host in Toronto the International Conference of the Changing Atmosphere: Implications for Global Security. The conference was supported by the United Nations and the World Meteorological Organization and attracted 300 scientists from 46 countries. May attended that conference as an employee of the Department of the Environment.
“Back in the mid ’80s,” May said, “climate change was not debatable.”
The formal conference statement painted a dire picture of a planet polluted by the use of fossil fuels, unchecked population growth and the demand for more oil, rising sea levels caused by carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
May read the consensus statement from that conference to the audience: “Humanity is conducting an unintended, uncontrolled, globally pervasive experiment whose ultimate consequences could be second only to a global nuclear war.”
“That wasn’t debatable,” she said. “It was a fact.”
The main recommendation to emerge from the conference was a 20-per-cent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions from 1988 levels by 2005. In the three decades since the Toronto Conference, global carbon dioxide emissions have gone up 65 per cent.
May said subsequent international conferences have done little to meet that challenge. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports that going above 1.5 degrees C global average temperature puts us on a path to extinction. Exceeding Paris Accord targets puts humanity and other species of life on earth at risk. Last fall, leading climate scientists warned there are only a dozen years — or 144 months — for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5 degrees C, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. May said the planet is now one degree C warmer than pre-industrial levels. “It’s now 139 months and nobody’s done everything,” she said. “The reality is, to get that kind of reduction in greenhouse gasses we…need to go off fossil fuels. We have to be 100 per cent off fossil fuels by 2050.” The global target now must be 45 per cent below 2010 levels by 2030. “There is no time left,” May said. “We’re out of time. “We have 139 months left. We can’t wait until the next election; we have an election this fall. We can’t wait for politicians to make promises on something they may not do and we’re going to talk about it in the election in 2023.”
May said Canadians and their political leaders must lead a transformational economic and energy shift. That means switching to electric vehicles, solar and wind power, geothermal heating instead of fossil fuels.
“It’s really going to be an exciting time,” she said. “I think of it as a massive, national, community effort. Mobilizing Canadians in a way we haven’t been mobilized since my parents’ generation.” Canadians would be switching to cleaner energy sources with a fervor Canadians in wartime showed by planting victory gardens to increase the production of vegetables. “We won’t give in. It may look bleak but we are prepared to put our shoulder to the wheel and do anything we can. “We have to be prepared to move mountains and sometimes those mountains are empty chairs,” May said, pointing to the chairs on the stage that were set out for the other national leaders.