There’s a meme that’s been going around recently as temperatures plunged. It’s a photo of what looks like an oil refinery, with thick smoke rising up into the sky.
Written at the bottom is a reminder for “everyone who is against pipelines and oil sands to shut your furnaces off today. It’s a little chilly out, wouldn’t want you using any of the products you protest against!”
Never mind if your home is heated with electric baseboard heaters. What matters is the mindset that makes this kind of thing so popular. It provides insight into the current political moment and what we’re up against in averting climate disaster.
After all, it’s a refrain you’ll see online every time there’s a demonstration calling for urgent political action to slow the emissions that are creating climate chaos: “Where did these protesters park their bicycles? Oh. They drove their cars. Ah ok.”
Yeah, they probably did. I drove there in my gas-powered car to take pictures and interview people. Having a car is a straight-up requirement for my job as reporter. And an electric car just isn’t in the budget.
It’s the same for a lot of people. Unless you’re in a big city, public transit is usually terrible. And if you’re in the resource sector or construction industry – that’s a lot of people around here – there’s a good chance you need a pickup truck.
Suppose for a moment you’re doing okay for money and you’re in position to replace your gas-burning vehicle (most of us are probably barely keeping up with payments) – I’m pretty sure there isn’t even an electric pickup truck on the market yet.
What’s more, many workers from Campbell River have taken jobs in the Alberta oil patch. I think they know how essential their labour is in this oil-dependent economy.
Anti-pipeline and anti-oil sands protesters, to many of them, clearly look like hypocrites deluded by fantasy. The same activists also look like a threat to their jobs and mortgage payments. And interest rates are going up.
And yet, those who deny the urgency of the climate crisis suffer from a limited outlook. They fail to recognize that what needs to change are the structures that force us to depend on fossil fuels for transport, heat or anything else.
The same deniers also seem blind to what’s at stake. We are speaking of millions of people whose homes may be washed away in places like Bangladesh or razed by super-typhoons like the one that hit the Philippines in 2013, not to mention wildfires.
Many will return to the fatalistic observation that places like India, China and the United States far exceed Canada in total emissions. The idea here is that Canada’s impact is negligible. Why sacrifice if nobody who counts will?
But our per capita emissions are among the highest on the planet. Let’s put it this way, ordinary people in China and India don’t drive SUVs. And as for the US, change might come faster than you think.
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City has called for a Green New Deal. The name is a reference to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, which involved major public works initiatives that helped pull the country out of the Great Depression.
Ocasio-Cortez, also known as AOC, is pushing for a massive 10-year effort that would transform America’s energy economy and tackle inequality. This would involve major government investments in clean energy.
We’re going to need a plan for Canada too. Electric vehicles need to be within reach for ordinary people. And there must be jobs for workers in the oil and gas sector, because those fossil fuels need to stay in the ground.