“[Justin Trudeau is] obviously not doing enough [about climate change].”
— Greta Thunberg
It was the Friday after the huge international Strike for Climate protests that immediately preceded the UN climate summit in New York. And it was just days after Greta Thunberg, in a speech that went viral before it was finished, berated the world’s leaders at that summit for doing far too little to address climate change.
So it would be understandable if that second round of “Fridays for the Future” protests drew smaller, less enthusiastic crowds. That’s certainly how it was in the U.S. As USA Today reported, “In New York, last week’s estimated turnout of 250,000 dwindled to only a handful of protesters Friday outside the United Nations.” The big event was over, the media had folded up its tents and other matters would command the nation’s attention — as if the climate crisis were in the past, not the present.
The world’s media reported that on that second Friday, 2 to 3 million people joined a global climate strike. The marches spanned time zones and cultural divides, beginning in New Zealand where 3.5% of the population participated and moving west where more than a million marched in Italy alone.
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But perhaps nowhere was the action as intense and passionate than in Montreal, where roughly half a million protesters, one quarter of the city’s population, took to the streets.
Among those marchers were Justin Trudeau, Canada’s prime minister, and the omnipresent Ms. Thunberg. The two met privately prior to the demonstration, and answering Thunberg’s earlier charge that he (and Canada) was not doing enough to stem climate change, Trudeau said, “I agree with her entirely. We need to do more.”
To underscore his agreement, symbolically at least, Trudeau, who is in the middle of a reelection campaign, joined the march. He also promised Thunberg that, if reelected, he would plant two billion trees, uphold Canada’s carbon tax, meet the country’s 2030 Paris Agreement benchmarks ahead of schedule and initiate policies that would achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
But while Trudeau clearly means well, Canada has shown that even under its recent liberal leadership it’s easier to talk the talk than to walk the walk. In June, for example, the Canadian parliament became one of many to officially declare a national climate emergency.
The next day, the same Liberal government approved the controversial Trans Mountain Pipeline, to pump tar sands oil from Alberta to Canada’s west coast for shipment to Asia — passing through pristine forest reserves and Native lands along the way. Further, Trudeau’s government nationalized another pipeline project to save it from bankruptcy.
Canada is the world’s fourth-largest oil producer. Most of its reserves are in landlocked Alberta’s oil sands — thus all the pipelines. According to the BBC, simply extracting the oil from those reserves “account(s) for 11% of Canada’s total greenhouse emissions and 0.1% of global emissions — as well as hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in government revenue.” Additionally, Canada, population 37 million, is among the world’s top 10 overall and per-capita greenhouse gas emitters.
Of course, politically expedient talk followed by short-term economically expedient policies are exactly what Thunberg and her millions of followers are protesting. The kids see through the games.
Canada is at a crossroads. Does the Maple Leaf nation embrace a Green New Deal and remake herself as a truly modern country, or will she stay bogged down in the tar sands?
But while keeping an eye on Canada, a democracy with a relatively small population and huge potential for meaningful change, we should also ask something of ourselves. What became of all the Americans protesting climate inaction at our ecological house?
Philip S. Wenz is the author of the E-book Your Ecological House, available at all major electronic book distributors.