SASKATOON — Hundreds of people of all ages walked, cycled and pushed baby strollers in a Saskatoon march Nov. 29, one of many public events around the world calling for action on the environment on the eve of an international gathering on climate change being held Nov. 30 - Dec. 11 in France.
The 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change involves leaders from around the world discussing an international agreement on climate change, with a goal to keep global warming below two degrees centigrade by limiting greenhouse gas emissions.
The Saskatoon march from Kiwanis Park across Broadway Bridge to Oskayak High School concluded with presentations by a number of speakers representing a range of concerned environmental, justice, and faith groups.
Mark Bigland-Pritchard of Climate Action Saskatoon welcomed participants to the event. “We want strong targets set in Paris and we want strong policies that can actually meet those targets and we want justice in the world,” he said.
Bishop Donald Bolen of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon, who also serves as chair of the Justice and Peace Commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, pointed to Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ recent encyclical calling for care of the earth and for justice for those most affected by climate change.
“That document was published in June precisely so it could be in the public domain before Paris (COP21),” Bolen said. “In that document Pope Francis notes that our world is falling into serious disrepair.”
Humanity is caught in a spiral of destruction with a way of living that is contaminating the earth’s waters, land and air, and bringing about changes to the global climate, said the bishop, quoting from the papal document. “Pope Francis draws attention to the human dimension of the crisis as well. The same tendencies and structures which lead to environmental disasters also contribute to increasing economic inequality that leads billions of people in poverty.”
Environmental degradation has a particularly negative impact on the poor, Bolen added. “Technological and scientific discoveries have not been accompanied by an increasing maturity in our decision-making.”
It is not too late to intervene positively, the bishop stressed. “We can shoulder our responsibilities. The challenge is urgent. Prosperous nations such as Canada bear a major responsibility. There is an increasing recognition that we are depleting our natural resources and those of many other nations as well, and we are not living in a way that is sustainable.”
What is required is genuine conversion, Bolen said — “with personal, corporate, economic and political dimensions.”
There is a need to face reality about the threat to our common home, enter into dialogue, and take concrete action, Bolen said.
“We must be willing to pay the price for a new and healthier way of living on this planet.”
Indigenous peoples have long recognized that we have a shared responsibility for others and for our world, he noted. “That includes a sense of responsibility to future generations.”
Indigenous rights advocate Nina Wilson, a co-founder of the Idle No More movement, pointed to the importance of the treaties to living together in harmony, and working “to help save sacred Mother Earth” for future generations.
“Corporations come to the most impoverished people and offer trinkets so that we poison our own children,” Wilson said. “We are not impoverished by accident. We have a lot of work to do and we need to do it together.”
Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) West President Barb Cape spoke from a trade union perspective, challenging the “false choice” of jobs versus the environment. She pointed to studies about the long-term job creation in renewable energy sectors, and called on government leaders to promote a green economy and the economic benefits and the quality, skilled jobs that go along with it. “To change everything, we need everyone,” she said.
Jenna Gall, a member of the Canadian youth delegation team that is submitting resolutions to COP21 in Paris, stressed the importance of taking action now to make changes to achieve the goal of reducing global warming.
“We are calling upon leaders to adopt a fair, ambitious and binding international agreement that will keep global warming below two degrees Celsius, recognizing that two degrees is still going to have catastrophic impact for many people. We further call on the Canadian government to commit to a national, justice-based climate policy,” she said, speaking out against complacency.
“We need to wake up every single day with the intention of shaping our future,” Gall said, encouraging participants to continue to be loud, vocal and active in pushing for change.
Rachel Malena-Chan, a graduate student at the University of Saskatchewan, spoke about being a member of a transition generation. “We know we cannot continue to live on this planet as we have, and we know that in our lifetime everything will change. We are a generation on the brink,” she said. “Right now we are living our story like we are the very last ones who will enjoy the planet as we’ve known it.”
A bold and courageous new vision is needed in order to inspire meaningful action, she stressed. “We so often have an easier time imagining the end of our civilization than we do imagining an alternative system to our own. Where is our imagination for a new economy, for a way of living on this planet together?”
Malena-Chan described how the prospect of climate change generates feelings of fear, paralysis, and despair — a conviction “that our story will end all too soon.” However, the tone and the conversation can and will change when the narrative changes, she said.
“Leadership is about telling stories about those that we refuse to leave behind, about lines that we will never cross, about action that we must take together,” she said, calling for a new narrative of purpose and hope.
She quoted a friend’s Facebook post: “Climate change makes me feel alone, but when I think of green energy, a green economy and a collective understanding that the environment is sacred, I feel excited, rejuvenated, and inspired.”
Malena-Chan added: “Instead of wasting time on old narratives about endless growth or new ones about knee-capped economies and austerity, let’s start talking about the future we actually want and get inspired and excited about the transition to a new economy. Instead of facing the uncertainty with fear, let’s imagine a future where reconciliation and solidarity and equity guide our collective decisions about what matters most.”
Think about someone you know under the age of 10 — the ones that we love — to imagine this new world, she said. “What kind of the world will they grow old in?” she challenged. “If we take on our role as the transition generation, what kind of place might it become?”
She urged all those concerned about the future to become part of this transition generation. “Let’s not be last. Let’s be the transition. Let’s listen and learn from those who live in balance with the land. Let’s get ready to rebuild our systems to promote life instead of destroy it. Let’s stop waiting for our leaders to give us the courage to act, and start empowering one another to make bold decisions, because there is no time to lose.”
Advocacy and materials related to climate justice by groups such as Climate Action Saskatoon, Development and Peace, and bluedot.ca were also highlighted during the event, which concluded with Nancy Greyeyes singing the White Buffalo Calf Woman Song, a reminder to work together as a human family.