Conference Report: "From Climate Crisis to Climate Justice"

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By John Riddell

John Riddell is co-editor of Socialist Voice

NOVEMBER 17 — Today the Toronto Climate Campaign organized a teach-in called “From Climate Crisis to Climate Justice,” a building action for the December 8 global day of environmental action. About 100 attended — mostly young, and a high proportion engaged in some wing of the environmental movement. The speakers represented a wide range of well rooted progressive movements, uncluding Justice for Migrant Workers (Chris Ramsaroop), Greenpeace (Shawn Patrick Stensil), the Indigenous Engironmental Coalition (Clayton Thomas-Muller), KAIROS (Dale Hildebrand), as well as the CAW and USWA.NDP MLA Peter Tabuns painted a stark picture of impending climate crisis, while emphasizing the need to create a system of alliances embracing the majority of Canadians, with special emphasis on unions, many of whom have played a vanguard role on environmental issues. Toronto City Councillor Gord Perks was also grim in his projections of what we face — basically along the line of George Monbiot’s Heat. “We are headed toward human migrations of hundreds of millions,” he said. “The Pentagon plans to ‘gate’ parts of the world that are to be protected from climate chaos — through heightened military spending, seizing control of strategic resources, reducing human rights, and clamping the world in its military grip. They are implementing this plan — indeed this is the world we live in today.” Outlining a vision of “climate justice” he said “We (i.e. First World citizens) will have to pay, and surrender many of our privileges.

There was much to and fro on the question of making sacrifices. CAW staffer Nick Di Carlo declared that we can’t organize people around guilt. Workers are being progressively impoverished, he said, with their future highly insecure — we must address this.

John Bell pointed out that there is a bright side to the present situation: this society has the technological knowledge, the money, and the skilled labour power to address the problem. Others noted that an environmentally just society will provide a better life — less pollution, less junk, better social services.

In an exchange on population, Perks argued that population pressures, where they exist, are a symptom of underlying social crisis and environmental collapse.

Perks also tried to bridge the different views on whether working people here must sacrifice. “Homes are twice as big as 50 years ago and much more expensive to heat. Paper consumption is seven times greater. This can’t continue. A 90% reduction in carbon emissions means we are going to have less stuff. But less stuff means we will have a better life, with better health care and education.

Di Carlo responded that the labour movement “is not centrally about wages” — quality of life is the issue. But that is different from saying that we have to go downhill. The key issue for workers is not how much they consume but their powerlessness in society.

The teach-in also included four panel discussions and a wrap-up session on future action. The focus here, of course, is the December 8 action, which in Toronto takes place at noon at Dundas Square. The main demands are “Kyoto now, green energy, mandatory emission reductions.”

I asked an organizer why the Green Party was not in evidence. Answer: Many Green Party members are taking part, but decision had been taken to exclude all political parties from the list of speakers. An exception had been made for NDPer Peter Tabuns, because of his eminence as an environmental spokesperson.

By the way, Perks has also run on different occasions as an NDP candidate. The talks by Perks and Tabuns were the most radical I have heard from NDP elected officials in several decades.

This event was superior to other environmental discussions I have attended in its radical tone, its working-class orientation, its awareness of Third-World issues, and the engagement of so many participants in significant fields of action.