(December 6, 2019)
The last-minute cancellation of the COP25 climate change conference in Chile because of political unrest, forcing these crucial meetings to be moved instead to Madrid, reflects the current trouble that world leaders must manage.
But as I reflected on what to write, my focus kept shifting. Globally, the emissions gap report from the United Nations Environment Programme showed how far we have to go to meet the targets set in Paris — which themselves are not enough to stop the planet from warming to dangerous levels. Falling short of the Paris targets means catastrophe.
Federally, the Eco-fiscal Commission’s final report shows how far Canada is from reaching its own targets, and calls for a fourfold increase in the federal carbon tax if we are to have a prayer of reaching the Paris targets we agreed to meet.
Provincially, the Manitoba government continues to flounder, deciding it is a good time to de-fund environmental NGOs that have been working on a cleaner, greener province for decades, while demanding applause for its deeply flawed Climate and Green Plan.
At a city level, where emissions from transportation are our largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions, cuts and barriers to public transit lead the list of Winnipeg city council’s money-saving alternatives.
On the environmental side, at all levels, therefore, our failure is abject. Despite science, observation, common sense, dire warnings and whatever else, trouble is coming.
If you live in California, Australia or any of a dozen region suffering the effects of extreme weather events right now, you might say it is already here.
Yet the greatest failure right now is actually not environmental; it is political. At all these different levels, there are people who are supposed to be leaders, who are responsible for doing what is needed, what is right, on behalf of those people who have elected, appointed, followed or simply put up with them.
They simply are not doing their jobs. Dealing with the environmental threat to our collective future requires them to change the way they steer the ship — or we will have to change those leaders for others.
While media storms brew over environmental data and emissions caps elsewhere, the people of Hong Kong have been in the streets protesting against their leaders. They are not alone.
Despite their important victory in recent elections, there is no indication the tactics of the Chinese government and its proxies will change, however. Protests in the streets of Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Egypt, Chile, Bolivia and Venezuela are brewing, too — and any peace is tenuous.
Everywhere, there is a basic distrust of Big Brother-style government, particularly when it is more “big bully” than “brother.”
Young people, who make up an increasing majority of the population worldwide, are especially fed up with the way things are, the way things are run and the grim future that awaits them because of the bullies still clinging to power.
I have always been amazed at the inability of people my age and older to listen to younger generations. We are burying the last of the veterans of the Second World War, which was a young person’s war.
From 1939 to ’45, it was the 17- to-25-year-olds who fought and died for all those freedoms that the demonstrators in Hong Kong want today. Then they rebuilt a shattered global society in the 1950s, ironically setting the stage for their baby boomer children to ignore what younger people of that same age want today.
These millennials, generation X, generation Y, or whatever, are considered too young, too spoiled, too naive, too educated, too inexperienced, too impractical, too idealistic, too lazy, too shallow or always on their cellphones. So, the oldsters feel they must retain control of our society — despite their ongoing failure to grapple with the realities of life in the 21st century.
When these people are told by teenagers like Greta Thunberg that “everything has to change,” their collective response is dismissal, rejection and anger — anything to avoid changing their selfish focus on themselves. They don’t take the bus or use the library — and never will.
This is why young people take to the streets. They aren’t allowed the voice they should have inside the political structures of our world, so they are taking their voice outside into the streets, instead — out of frustration, but with hope.
That there are so many of them, agitating for change, is a good sign. They haven’t given up, like the older generations have. They still think they can make a difference.
Their goal is — somehow — to make our current leaders care about the future. But if leaders don’t start showing by their actions that they care, too — and soon — these young people will find new leaders and some other ways to deal with our global political, economic and environmental crisis.
Change is coming. The only questions are how, who and when.