Kyoto Calling

Kyoto Calling

I remember exactly where I was when the news broke about John Lennon’s shooting and when the planes flew into the twin towers.  And similarly, the announcement of Canada’s withdrawal from the Kyoto Accord – heard while I chopped vegetables for dinner – literally took my breath away.  I felt gutted. Deflated. Listening to the presenters, so calm and unfazed, was surreal.

As a filmmaker, advocate, concerned citizen, mother, I stomped around angry (and perhaps a little self-righteously) that this was another example of a bullying government with no leadership on environmental issues and a full-on arrogant disregard for our sanest scientific minds and the issue of climate change.  It was sickening – to go to Durban only to weaken international efforts and act almost as saboteurs on something so crucial.  And to do it just as news emerged that scientists have now discovered methane gas plumes in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf that suggest our world may be on the verge of drastic climate warming.  Then I realized I was having a pity party of one.  Nothing would change. But how to get past the gut reaction and on to some action? How to convey the seriousness of this without being fatalistic or resorting to hyperbole? 

In my work, I try not to be unduly alarming but to me the facts are alarming. I listened with growing dread as Nobel laureate Dr. Andrew Weaver spoke at a RAVEN-sponsored event on Salt Spring Island this past spring. He showed the audience with graphics how global warming is upon us and world community action to change course is late and verging on being too late to stop runaway climate change.  And I reeled again more recently when Dave Archer responded to a question asked in RealClimate with respect to the discovery of methane plumes in Siberia, “Is now the time to get frightened?” He said, “No.  CO2 is plenty to be frightened of, while methane is frosting on the cake.”

My sense of angst and frustration at Canada’s stubborn denial of this only gets worse when I talk to people who live on the front lines.  People like Crystal Lameman who tells me about the impacts of the industries that threaten our planet.  Crystal is a member of the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Alberta.  RAVEN supports that band’s legal action against Alberta and Canada to stop the rapid expansion of the tar sands industries which are threatening to wipe out their traditional lands, the animals that roam there, the water and plants they drink and eat, and the culture that once existed off this complex ecosystem.  And then there’s the incredible amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced to get at the underground bitumen.  It’s annoying just thinking about it.  Crystal recently returned from a trip to the UK where this mother of two who is working towards her second university degree told various groups that while  oil is important to the economy, it must not trump basic human rights of clean air and water. “We can’t eat the money and we can’t drink the oil.” 

But I feel that we can come up with a creative, conscious response to Canada’s withdrawal from the accord that would have forced our country to face head on the greenhouse gas emissions that result from the tar sands industries.  To my mind, we need to take this news as a wake-up call and we can’t keep hitting the snooze button.  I realize now that we need to lose the attitude that we’re going to be okay over here in the land of wide open spaces, and drop the naiveté that someone else will solve the problem for us.

It is easy to be overwhelmed by it all but when I look at my seven-year-old daughter I realize a pity party won’t get us anywhere.  That’s because what we do now is what matters.  As individuals.  As communities. Now is the time to actively support politicians who stand for policies that would see our civic or our national policies embrace the international effort to cut carbon emissions and respond to the growing swath of science that informs us.  Now is the time to teach our children by setting the example of taking public transit, living in sustainable urban settings, buying local etc.  Now is all we have. So for the moment, we can appreciate the air we breathe and the relative stability of our planet.  And we can use the energy created by events such as Canada’s withdrawal from Kyoto to remind us to keep on our efforts to preserve our good air, our clean water and our healthy lives for our future generations.

Susan Smitten is executive director of RAVEN (Respecting Aboriginal Values and Environmental Needs) and a member of Climate Access.