Thursday, January 29, 2009

GREEN: Hope. Leadership. Change.

Emily Jubenvill |


At the beginning of the American election race, it seemed that both John McCain and Barack Obama could bring desperately needed action to the climate change agenda. However, soon enough it was apparent that only one of them was true to his word.

“McCain re-entered the fold of the Republican orthodoxy, chanting ‘Drill, baby, drill’ along with the best of the fossil-fuel enthusiasts, while Obama built a compelling program around alternative-energy investment to create viable green jobs…” Bryan Walsh, Time magazine

Obama sent a powerful message: leadership, climate change, environmental justice and social justice. He brought hope to America and the world—a President in the White House that was not afraid to listen and implement our vision for a better world. A vision crafted at kitchen tables, not in corporate boardrooms.

My reaction to President Obama, as for many other Canadians, is intense and passionate. A thirst has been satiated; someone is listening. I don’t know about you, but I feel like my identification as a Canadian is perilously perched on the edge of humiliation. The direction of our country does not represent my values—particularly when it comes to climate change. Since when is Canada an irresponsible international citizen?

The Prime Minister and his sweater. He likes cats.
Obama's leadership on CO2 emissions
reductions speaks to Canadians more
than Harper’s sweaters.

Canada (i.e. Prime Minister Stephen Harper) did a great job of rolling over and playing fetch for the Bush administration. We’ve been trained to know that policy shifts in the States will be reflected at home. Once humiliated and outraged at how far our country was willing to follow America (insert shock of Bali here), now I hope we continue to follow their lead. If America can cut their greenhouse gas (GHG) emission to 1990 levels by 2020, and then cut them again by 80 percent by 2050, Canada can too. That means clean energy, green-collared jobs, new energy and transit infrastructure, and much more. President Obama brings strong leadership in a new direction; Canadians have rallied behind him, craving that leadership, charisma and vision. He speaks to us more than Harper’s sweaters.

As I am writing this, Obama is preparing for his first official visit to Canada as the President of the United States of America. There are many items on the agenda for his trip, one of which is particularly close to my heart: the tar sands. Oil from the tar sands emits about three times as many GHG emissions are “regular” oil, consumes enormous amounts of water, is responsible for an Ireland-sized bald spot in the Boreal forest and has so contaminated drinking water as to create a toxic soup for many First Nations communities.

If the tar sands do not wholly embody “dirty oil,” then I don't know what does. President Obama made a promise to end America’s addiction to dirty oil. Today, Canada is the largest exporter of petroleum to the United States.

”The tar sands issue is one of many ‘ground zero’ locations that Obama must navigate with courage if he is to deliver on his promise to lead the world to global warming solutions. Canada is betting its economic future on tar sands development. Tar sands are the key to the endless fossil future being envisaged by the oil juggernauts; and the lynchpin of the national energy security strategy put in place by Dick Cheney.

“It’s not anything [that] can be turned off entirely, but it can be limited; and unless Obama takes a stand to do so, the U.S. itself will fall like just another domino to the consequences of an insatiable addiction to oil: there will be no stopping tar sands development…” —David Sassoon,

What if Obama says “no” to tar sands oil? B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell and Harper are working on an escape plan—the pipelines of course! That’s right, pipe the tar sands oil and gas over the mountains and across B.C.—we can ship it to India and China if the USA won’t take it.

“The Enbridge project would carry more than a third of the tar sands’ current 1.4-million-barrel daily production. Producing those barrels would create 15 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year; burning that fuel would emit 60 million tonnes more…” —David Beers, The Globe & Mail

How is that a solution to climate change? Isn’t Campbell supposed to be some kind of environmental guru with his carbon tax and climate action plan? Actions speak louder then words. These pipelines mean that oil tanker traffic will be travelling down the precarious Inside Passage, through Hecate Strait and up Douglas Channel (where the Queen of the North sank), to Kitimat. When (not if) the inevitable oil spill(s) hit, at stake are pristine wilderness, critical habitat and cultural lands established long before our oil addiction began. Obama can say “yes” or “no” to the tar sands, but leaving it up to him will not solve our problems (and the tar sands are one of many).

Canadians see hope in what the new president has achieved in being elected, and what he is capable of achieving in office. Undoubtedly, Obama’s policy decisions will shape the future of North America’s economy and climate.

As young people, we can root and cheer for Obama all we want, but it is our apathy that in part has lead to where we are today. We need a leader of our own who inspires change and hope!

How can we use the energy and inspiration of Obama that is still fresh in our hearts and minds to take a stand in Canada? People that I’ve never seen interested in politics or picking sides, raised their voices and stood up for Obama—he has galvanized our county’s youth (something no Canadian politician in my memory has done). Now is the time for Canadians to demand a higher caliber of public servant—we need to earn an Obama of our own. We need to share our vision of a bright future—and demand it from our leaders.

Map of proposed Enbridge Pipeline, courtesy Dogwood InitiativeMap of proposed Enbridge Pipeline: Premier Campbell and Prime Minister Harper support infrastructure to pipe the tar sands oil and gas over the mountains and across B.C. so it can be shipped to India and China if the U.S. won’t take it. (Map courtesy of the Dogwood Initiative)

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