Vancouver chapter of Extinction Rebellion ups the ante in the fight against a climate catastrophe

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      (Warning: This article is longer than many pieces you will read on media websites.)

      Last night, I was curious to learn more about Extinction Rebellion, a global climate-justice movement with chapters in British Columbia.

      Founded last year, it's been the talk of the U.K. and, more recently, Australia, for its peaceful, direct actions that disrupt the establishment.

      In many respects, the Extinction Rebellion protests are reminiscent of the U.S. civil rights movement or Mahatma Gandhi's efforts to get the British to leave India.

      So I headed out to St. James Community Square on Vancouver's West Side, where about 100 people packed into the basement to hear two of the group's speakers.

      The first, Laura Fash, talked about some of the horrors of climate change, including rising sea levels.

      I missed some of her presentation because I went outside to interview one of Extinction Rebellion's media working-group members, Grace Grignon. You can read some of what Grignon said at the bottom of this piece.

      I'm going to focus most of this article on the second talk by Odessa Cadieux-Rey, which was truly astonishing.

      With methodical precision, she outlined how the Canadian government has abysmally failed in its response to the climate crisis.

      Cadieux-Rey mentioned the $3.3 billion per year subsidies to the oil and gas sector, the government's purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline system, and the long history of "astonishingly lowballed climate policy".

      For nearly three decades, she said that Canada has set "grossly inadequate goals that are then not even able to be met".

      This was reflected in a 2018 audit by auditors general from across the country and the commissioner of the environment and sustainable development.

      The 1992 Rio emission targets were missed, as were the later Kyoto Protocol targets before they were dropped in 2011.

      "We're on track to miss the 2020 Copenhagen targets," Cadieux-Rey added. "We're nowhere in the ballpark of our 2030 Paris Agreement target.

      "But hey, we are on track to meet our 2050 targets by the year 2961," she noted. "Almost a millennium late."

      Cadieux-Rey said that Canada is "an extreme example" of what Nobel Prize–winning economist William Nordhaus has referred to as the "free-rider problem".

      "This is when politicians fluff up positive rhetoric around climate change without actually having to show anything for it," she declared. "So I think it's obvious. When it comes to the climate crisis, Canada has its head fully buried in the oil. Right?"

      Odessa Cadieux-Rey delivered a scathing indictment of the federal government's response to the climate crisis dating back nearly three decades.

      Climate change raises serious public-health concerns

      Cadieux-Rey went on to explain the impact that climate change is having, including:

      * rising insurance costs as a result of extreme weather events;

      * air quality in Vancouver last summer that was worse than in Beijing because of wildfires;

      * a southern resident orca carrying the dead body of her calf, who likely died of malnutrition, for 17 days last year in an unprecedented display of grief;

      * Lyme disease more than doubling in Canada in 2016 and 2017;

      * more deaths due to extreme heat, especially in Quebec and Ontario;

      * a record number of air-quality advisories in Metro Vancouver in 2018;

      * and a 120 percent increase in daily physician visits and an 80 percent increase in asthma prescriptions dispensed in some areas of B.C. while air-quality advisories were in place due to wildfires.

      Cadieux-Rey insisted that the government of Canada is aware of all of this and recognizes that the country is warming at twice the global rate.

      "They know that it's human activity. And they know that it's going to get worse," she stated. "So my question is to our government: how exactly is any of this knowledge being advanced for action? How are you acting in any way as if this is real?"

      At that point, a man in the back of the room shouted "criminal negligence".

      Guardian columnist George Monbiot and others spoke at this Extinction Rebellion talk at Oxford University earlier this year.

      Cadieux-Rey continued her presentation by pointing out that the prime minister declared a climate emergency on June 17, something she described as a "nonbinding p.r. stunt to blunt the next day's blow".

      That was the cabinet's approval of the Trans Mountain expansion project. It's a $9.3-billion capital project to triple shipments of diluted bitumen from Alberta to B.C. to 890,000 barrels per day.

      This came after the government's $4.5-billion purchase of Texas energy giant Kinder Morgan's Canadian assets.

      "So that just about sums up the state of climate inaction and ecocidal hypocrisy from Canada," Cadieux-Rey said.

      And she insisted that it's not true when the government says it's serious about climate change while still increasing fossil-fuel extraction.

      To drive home this point, she cited a study that appeared in the scientific journal Nature on July 1.

      This paper pointed out that existing energy infrastructure will emit around 658 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents.

      Proposed energy infrastructure projects around the world will increase this to 846 gigatonnes.

      The researchers concluded that this will amount to "more than the entire remaining carbon budget if mean warming is to be limited to 1.5 °C [above the pre-industrial level] with a probability of 50–66 per cent (420–580 Gt CO2)5, and perhaps two-thirds of the remaining carbon budget if mean warming is to be limited to below 2 °C (1,170–1,500 Gt CO2)."

      "So to be clear," Cadieux-Rey said, "a climate plan that is anything less than cancelling all planned or in-progress fossil fuel infrastructure is a nonstarter because it will have absolutely no chance of meeting that 1.5° target."

      By the end, she left people in the basement with the conclusion that the only logical response is a popular rebellion.

      Environmental protests like this one in a public park do not threaten the charitable status of groups that organize them.
      Travis Lupick

      Green groups held back by Canada Revenue Agency

      Before getting to the justifications for rebellion, I'll outline a couple of things that Cadieux-Rey didn't mention in her presentation.

      This is to provide some context.

      To date, the Canadian environmental movement has largely been led by people who work for environmental organizations. Many of these are registered charities.

      They depend on donations from the public and foundations for their livelihoods. If these nongovernmental organizations are involved in illegal activities, like blocking traffic, they can lose their charitable status.

      That, in turn, would result in fewer donations because they won't be able to provide tax receipts to their contributors.

      It gives the federal government the means to punish groups with which it disagrees—something that the former Conservative regime was quite eager to do.

      The effect has been to limit these NGOs' actions to things like handing out leaflets, operating websites, disseminating research, holding demonstrations that don't violate the Criminal Code or provincial or federal statutes, creating videos, and, in the case of some, publishing newspapers. They can't be involved in partisan politics.

      This is one reason why B.C.'s most famous environmentalist, David Suzuki, resigned from the board of the foundation that bears his name.

      He wanted to create some distance between himself and the David Suzuki Foundation.

      This enabled him to endorse candidates such as the NDP's Svend Robinson, the Green party's Andrew Weaver, and Joyce Murray of the federal Liberals—something that the foundation could never do as a registered charity.

      Because Canada does not have an independent charities commission, unlike the U.K., our environmental groups that are registered charities are subject to the whims of the Canada Revenue Agency.

      And the tax collectors' actions can hamper fundraising, threatening the jobs of employees of NGOs that have registered charitable status.

      Hence, these groups' protests don't cross a line into what could be construed as illegal behaviour.

      The individuals who are arrested at pipeline protests are almost never employees of registered charities.

      Karen Mahon of Stand.earth was arrested near the gates of the Trans Mountain tank farm in Burnaby last year.
      Karen Mahon

      Stand.earth dropped its charitable status

      It's worth noting that one environmental group, ForestEthics, split into two groups a few years ago.

      One of the groups gave up its charitable status so it could be free to campaign more vigourously against the Harper government's actions.

      Karen Mahon, campaigns director for this offshoot, now called Stand.earth, was arrested last October. This came after she was part of a group that roped themselves to a Kinder Morgan barge in Burrard Inlet.

      She was also taken into custody in March of last year after police alleged she violated a court injunction by protesting too close to a tank farm at the base of Burnaby Mountain.

      Her public involvement in direct actions like these make her an exception when it comes to non-Indigenous leaders in B.C.'s environmental movement.

      Indigenous leaders, like Grand Chief Stewart Phillip or Clayton Thomas-Muller, are not constrained in this way because their organizations are not registered charities.

      In recent years, Indigenous people have moved to the forefront in the fight to stop fossil-fuel projects, with the registered charities playing more of a supporting role.

      A great deal of effort has been expended on court cases advancing Indigenous legal rights and framing the arguments around Canada's legal obligation to protect threatened and endangered species.

      Extinction Rebellion, on the other hand, has focused almost all of its efforts in the U.K. on clogging up the courts by taking actions that lead to mass arrests.

      These Gandhi-style acts of peaceful civil disobedience, like blocking traffic, are intended to pressure those in power and to rouse the public to recognize the magnitude of the climate crisis.

      Cadieux-Rey told her Vancouver audience that it's confusing for the average person when they receive a leaflet saying that climate change is so bad that it could cause human extinction when that isn't followed up with dramatic action.

      According to Cadieux-Rey, the recipient of such a pamphlet would think to themselves: "Surely, it can't be that bad because if it were, people would be out in the streets."

      "That kind of messaging contributes to people thinking that what you're telling them isn't true—that this is the level of action that we've got to," she said. "We're acting as if we can personally recycle ourselves out of the problem."

      In fact, she said that the societal emphasis on personal actions rather than powerful systems conveys an impression that humanity's existence on Earth can be saved if only we buy enough bamboo toothbrushes, go vegan, drive an electric car, or ride a bike.

      "It ignores that there are powerful systems in place that are generating this crisis," Cadieux-Rey added. "That there are powerful forces that are actively trying to stop change from happening. We cannot overcome entrenched power with emails and petitions."

      She suggested that the public response needs to be commensurate with the scale of the problem. And if people are given opportunities to take action, that can reduce those feelings of powerlessness.

      And she also took exception with the view of those who argue that if the consequences of runaway climate change are laid out in stark detail, people will simply give up and not take actions.

      Extinction Rebellion's principles include mobilizing 3.5 percent of the population to achieve system change. And this will be accomplished through what it calls "momentum-driven organizing".

      Telling the truth is a central pillar of its existence.

      English philosophers John Locke and Thomas Hobbes each explained the circumstances in which citizens are justified in launching a rebellion.

      Climate change threatens everyone

      Cadieux-Rey went to considerable lengths to argue that the climate is a nonpartisan issue. To illustrate this point, she put photos of two English philosophers, John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, on the screen behind her.

      Locke, who's associated with more liberal thinking, argued that the people have the right to rebel when a government fails to protect the lives and livelihood of its citizens.

      Hobbes, who's associated with more conservative thinking, said that the state derives its authority from its willingness and ability to maintain order and stability.

      According to Hobbes, the obligation of subjects to the sovereign only lasts as long, and no longer, than he is able to protect them. (Back then, the sovereign was usually male.)

      Cadieux-Rey said that the conservative perspective on the environment is rarely discussed even though the changing climate is "diametrically opposed to the conservative ideals of maintaining the status quo".

      "Climate change is a threat multiplier," she argued. "So war, terrorism, all those threats to national security and order, they become much worse."

      Therefore, she maintained that across the political spectrum, theorists agree that rebellion is justified when the establishment doesn't meet its duties to the public.

      "The government now has rendered the bonds of the social contract null and void by its continuing failure to provide for the well-being of its people and the future of the planet," Cadieux-Rey said.

      The room was full last night at St. James Community Square.

      Expect direct action in the fall

      Extinction Rebellion believes that nonviolent strategies and tactics are the most effective means for bringing about system change.

      "We collectively create the structures we need to challenge power," it says. "Anyone who follows these core principles and values can take action in the name of Rising Up!"

      Grace Grignon, who does media outreach for the group, told the Straight that she likes Extinction Rebellion because it's taking a "different and stronger approach" than a lot of other environmental groups.

      "It's very much focused on nonviolent direct action and actually going out with sustained campaigns," said Grignon, who will be a Capilano University student in the fall.

      In particular, she applauds Extinction Rebellion's objective of becoming carbon neutral by 2025, which is a lot sooner than the goals of cities and other organizations.

      So far, there haven't been any traffic-blocking actions in Vancouver, though there was a protest at a downtown Vancouver Royal Bank branch.

      But the group is gearing up for more dramatic demonstrations during a global week of climate actions beginning on September 20.

      There will be an international week of rebellion that will take place in October.

      "We are in a crisis," Grignon said. "We need everyone to step up. I think we're really trying to put pressure on governments and larger organizations and away from individual people buying a water bottle or something like that. And putting the pressure on the huge companies that are emitting the vast majority of emissions."

      Video: The Extinction Rebellion posted this video about an Extinction Café in Frome, England, where people get togethr to discuss their feelings about the climate emergency.

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