This climate change letter was sent to:
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh
Green Party Leader Annamie Paul
Liberal MP Lloyd Longfield
Dear fellow Canadians,
This has been a year like no other, for all of us. You, the political leaders – particularly the Prime Minister – have been tasked with an unimaginable, unprecedented workload. Thank you for the work you have done and continue to do to ensure that we see an end to the pandemic. I am sure you are exhausted in myriad ways, and are doing your best in spite of this. We will get through this together.
As a mother and a teacher of young children, I am writing to share with you my perspective on our collective future.
I have been an environmentalist ever since I knew what the word meant. Even as a child I knew how to compost and recycle, I was a regular litter-picker, and I took care not to waste water, food, paper, or other resources. I have continued to live in this way, but have over the decades felt ever-increasing discouragement and frustration at the fact that being part of the problem seems inevitable, because of the way our society works. As a nation, we have made pitifully little environmental progress since my childhood, when I first started worrying about the future of humanity. This worry has done nothing but grow.
Bill C-12 on climate change law is currently on the table. I appreciate its goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – a crucial goal for all of us. But we can’t wait until 2030 to start being accountable. This decade will make or break us. We have to start now.
Do you know that the children are losing faith? I teach about 150 students from Grade 1 to Grade 6 every week each year, and they are not blind to the problems that keep getting bigger. Teaching about the environment is scarier all the time, because that’s the reality: scary. We are in trouble, and the kids know it. Even before the pandemic, some junior students – 10- to 12-year-olds – were already so disillusioned that they’d decided not to have kids. Some doubt that they will even get a proper future of their own. Frankly, I’m not sure that we, their parents, will either.
You all understand that the danger is real. I know you want our kids to have a bright future. Thus, it is time to wear our grown-up pants and take real charge of the situation. Not just the grown-up pants, but the innovation hats – and while we’re at it, the cloaks of fierce ambition. We need to be planning and acting for the actual future, not just the next election.
I know we are capable of this, because we are already doing it. More than a year ago, you saw that Covid-19 called for drastic emergency action, and that is what you invoked. You worked together across party lines, you told us what was necessary to survive, and the vast majority of us listened. We have been working hard to live up to your expectations. Of course it’s not easy, and some don’t like it – c’est la vie – and you’ve basically said, “Too bad. THIS IS CRITICAL.”
That is exactly how we need to treat our climate goals. Politicians are constantly saying they want to “meet the public where they are” so as not to push them too far and alienate them, but that is not what is needed here. And do you really know where the public is at?
Witnessing the galvanization of – and cooperation between – the people of Canada and the world this past year has been inspiring. It’s proof that with enough motivation, we can do amazing things.
I also recently read “A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency” by Seth Klein. Along with our Covid-19 response, the book gave me my first tremulous hope for the country and the world… that we can actually meet formidable emissions targets – and improve the lives of all citizens at the same time. We can rise out of this pandemic with policies in place to up the environment and the economy together. We can get our best minds on this and we can change things for real. “Build back better” can be more than a hashtag.
The book also confirmed something I suspected already – that a lot of us are ready for a lot more challenge than you’re giving us. We are truly anxious about climate change and want to participate in a revolution. I know my family does. Even people involved in the oil and gas industry show willingness to change – as long as they know they won’t be left to sink when their jobs disappear. But you need to be the leaders. You must use your big-picture perspective, and take drastic emergency action. If you want to “meet us where we are”, look forward. Give us expectations to strive for. I, for one, am prepared to do hard things.
Our lives have already been hugely disrupted, and probably changed forever in some ways. So we know we can do that too – manage disruption, change our ways of living, figure out a “new normal.” During the pandemic, we’ve been doing this under circumstances of fear and stress and uncertainty in order to minimize damage and just… get through this.
The climate crisis is also full of fear and uncertainty and stress – but it’s not about just “getting through it.” It’s about getting over and leaving behind our ways that destroy, and creating new ways of being. Imagine how exciting it will be to establish a new normal for the sake of an equitable, sustainable, clean economy. I have been wishing for that my whole life.
So please, make Bill C-12 a bill that takes charge and does the utmost. We don’t want to have to say, twenty years from now when it’s too late, “Well, we made a mediocre attempt to clean up our mess.” We must enact our very best strategies to fix this, because anything less is an insult to future generations. Make this bill challenging and inspiring, an example for other countries to follow, and a legacy to be truly proud of.
Please, take the advice of Indigenous activists, whose ancestors practiced sustainability on this land for millennia, before settlers arrived to desecrate it in a few short centuries. They have deep understanding of the urgency of this, and of right relationship with the land, and it is way past time that we took their wisdom to heart.
Make sure there is an independent body to keep you – and all of us – accountable. People all over the world are dying thanks to lip-service.
And please, please keep corporate fossil fuel interests out of the conversation, because they have no business being there. They have done nothing but deliberately impede Canada’s environmental progress. It is time to shake off their greedy talons and govern. It’s time to re-write what “energy sector” means in Canada, and let the fossil fuel industry go where it is already going.
I want to be part of the generation that turns this ship around. Please help.
D. C. S. Stephens
If you’d like to write your own letter about climate change and Canada’s future, you can do so here.