Saturday, December 29, 2018

From Disruption to Insurgency – Climate Change Action in 2019


In hindsight, 2018 might prove to have been a watershed year in the fight against climate change.  Certainly, 2018 saw its share of progressive steps forward, like the federal government’s announcement that its carbon price would include a rebate to families.  And as we’ve seen in many other years, steps forward were offset by steps backward, like Ontario axing Cap and Trade.

But the October release of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special Report on 1.5 degrees C really seems to have resonated with the public by instilling a sense of global urgency (see:“Global Warming of 1.5 C,” IPCC, October, 2018). The Special Report from the world’s leading climate scientists gave the international community just 12 years to make unprecedented changes to the global economy, or risk climate catastrophe (see: “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN,” The Guardian, October 8, 2018).

What we’ve seen over these last few months of 2018 is likely to be a prelude of things to come.  Voices on the right-side of the political spectrum that deny climate change have been marginalized.  This has created space for important discussions that have increasingly focused on the concept of a ‘Just Transition’ for workers in the sunset fossil fuel sector, who cannot be left behind in the move to a green economy (see: “A Just Transition: From Fossil Fuels to Environmental Justice,” DeSmog UK, undated).

Greta Thunberg
Young people are leading the way from disruption to insurgency. In Quebec, a group of youth have launched a court case to compel the federal government to get tougher on pollution targets (see: “Quebec youth apply to sue Canada to get tougher carbon pollution targets,” The National Observer, November 26, 2018).  In the United States, the Sunrise Movement is emerging as a champion for intersectional action (see: “We Are Sunrise,” The Sunrise Movement, undated).  And at the recent global climate change summit in Katowice, Poland, a 15-year old girl from Sweden, Greta Thunberg, emerged as an international superstar, by bluntly telling world leaders to grow up and get serious about the transitioning to a green economy (see: “15-year-old Greta Thunberg spoke for her generation at the COP24 climate talks in Poland,” Zoe Schlanger, Quartz, December 15, 2018).

Kavya Nalla and Sophia Mathur
Thunberg has been the inspiration for numerous local demonstrations around the world, which have seen schoolchildren take to the streets to demand action from leaders.  Here in Sudbury, 11-year old Sophia Mathur has already organized one strike that attracted the attention of an MP and MPP.  Mathur plans to continue her vigils throughout the winter of 2019 (see:“Sudbury kids skip class to raise climate change alarm,” Sudbury dot com, December 8, 2018).

The Divestment Movement will continue to redirect capital away from fossil enterprises.  A movement started by students pressuring their academic institutions to divest themselves of fossil fuel stocks, in 2019 we can expect to see public sector pension funds as the next targets. Arguments for divesting from fossil fuels are based on both financial and moral grounds – and many religious institutions have already closed their books to investing in planet-destroying enterprises (see: “At last, divestment is hitting the fossil fuel industry where it hurts,” Bill McKibben, The Guardian, December 16, 2018).

Mass acts of civil disobedience are also getting the message out.  In the UK, the Extinction Rebellion has targeted the BBC for not giving climate change enough media coverage (see: “BBC in London put on lockdown over climate change protest by Extinction Rebellion,” The London Evening Standard, December 21, 2018). Canada’s CBC could find itself in the midst of similar protests.

And with the Democratic Party presidential nominations getting underway south of the border in 2019, look for talk of a Green New Deal – an economic stimulus program that would shift the U.S. economy away from fossil fuels while addressing income inequality and providing a just transition (see: “Green New Deal,” Wikipedia). Democrats could be torn apart by this discussion, and progressives might have to look to a third party for a real Green champion.

2018 might have been the last year where it was acceptable for political leaders to beg the public to accept only what was perceived as politically possible.  In the face of our 12-year warning, action is what’s needed now. Today’s political leaders will need to change their spots and get serious about climate change. If not, they will be swept away by a growing youth-based insurgency that began rolling across the planet in last few months of 2018.

(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)


Originally published as "Youth rising up on climate," in print and online in the Sudbury Star, December 29, 2018.

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