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Dal students “changed” by Powershift conference

By Maggie Lovett, Opinions Contributor

In the early morning hours of Oct. 23, a group of 40 sleep-deprived Dalhousie students boarded a bus destined for Ottawa. We were there to attend Power Shift, the largest gathering of youth ever on the issue of climate change in Canadian history. Why did the about 1,000 reported youth from across Canada feel compelled to gather in our nation’s capital?
In recent years Canada has gained an international reputation for our refusal to adopt strong emissions reductions targets and play a constructive role in the United Nations’ climate negotiations. At the two most recent Conferences of Parties, COP13 and COP14, Canada has won the satirical “Colossal Fossil” award for being the most obstructive party at the conference.
COP15 will take place this December in Copenhagen, Denmark. The importance of this conference cannot be overstated.
The International Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has assembled and evaluated the scientific data, and has determined that developed countries, such as Canada, must reduce emissions 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, to prevent irreversible effects of climate change. Our government has largely ignored the findings of the IPCC, instead committing to a nice-sounding target of 20 per cent below 2006 levels by the year 2020, which actually translates to three per cent below 1990 levels by 2020. As of 2006, Canada’s emissions were actually 22 per cent above the 1990 level.
The math here is simple: Canada is not even close to doing its part. Power Shift attendees not only knew this, they were also ready to do something about it.
The conference began with a host of speakers, from scientists to prominent life-long environmental activists, each with their own unique background in climate change and environmental justice.
“(Power Shift) changed my perspective from can we do something (about climate change), to how do we do something about climate change,” said Tom Stayner, a Dalhousie delegate.
The following day, Power Shift delegates marched the downtown sidewalks of Ottawa to Parliament Hill where we joined with others to participate in one of the 4,000 events taking place worldwide as part of the International Day for Action on Climate Change.
The amount of people who took the time from their lives on such a cold and rainy day to tell our government that their lack of climate policy is unacceptable was inspiring. The diversity of the crowd was remarkable – parents with young children, faith based groups, students and youth took part in creative actions.
One of the most poignant speeches of the afternoon came from Gracen Johnson, a co-organizer of the event. She spoke of a hypothetical conversation with future generations.
“’Where were you in 2009?’ your descendants ask. You were here, on Parliament Hill, fighting for them,” she said. Her words were met with cheers and applause from across the hill.
Sunday was filled with a variety of workshops and preparation for lobbying day. Our delegates were meeting with members of parliament, including Megan Leslie of Halifax’s New Democrats. After our respective meetings we were all brought to the public galleries in the House of Commons to observe question period, not knowing what was about to occur.
Many Dalhousie delegates were seated in the gallery in which protesters began to rise up and call out phrases such as “Climate action now!” and “Sign the declaration of indigenous rights!” Security guards took the activists out, one by one, as they stood up.
Soon enough, one began a call and response chant in which many got involved.
“When I say 311, you say sign it! 311!” an activist yelled.
“Sign it!” other activists in the gallery shouted back.
The protesters referred to bill C311, an NDP sponsored bill entitled the Climate Change Accountability Act, the signing of which has been repeatedly postponed by the House of Commons. The bill would commit Canada to reduce emissions by 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and by 80 per cent below 1990 levels by 2050. The guards evicted everyone from the gallery.
The protest received national media coverage and sparked fierce debate. Green Party leader Elizabeth May came to the defence of protesters, stating, “The youth in the gallery showed more leadership than the MPs on the floor.”
NDP leader Jack Layton, who had been interrupted by the protest, said, “I think a lot of people are very emotionally concerned about the issue, and they have got the science behind them.”
While there was a focus on the injuries sustained by some of the detained protesters, there was also attention paid to the Climate Change Accountability Act: what it is, what it means and how it has been stalled.
As we gathered on the bus to begin the journey back to Halifax, the energy from the conference filled the air. We had been changed by those short three days in Ottawa.
With a resolve stronger than ever to make an impact on our government and continue to advocate for environmental justice, we discussed ideas on how to keep the momentum going. One of the ways we have done this is through weekly Climate Mob Mondays, where students gather at a location on campus to bring attention to climate change and the importance of COP15 negotiations.
We have stripped down to our swimsuits to sing and dance, frozen in place with cell phones ringing loudly – ignoring the call on climate change just as Canada has been, and have silenced ourselves to represent the number of people, nations and wildlife that face the most severe repercussions of climate change because of the greed of developed nations.
Educate yourselves on the facts of climate change. Contact your member of parliament or the Prime Minister himself (toll free: 1-866-599-4999). Get involved with one of the many groups on campus and in the community, such as SustainDal and the Ecology Action Centre. Tell a friend about Canada’s record on climate change – it may surprise them!
Just do something. Write the letter. Make the call. At this critical moment the world is, quite literally, in our hands.

Maggie Lovett is a member of SustainDal.

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