We're one week into the United Nations climate talks in Durban and we're exhausted. Canada has had a rough week; our environment minister hinted at a formal withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol, rejected what he called "guilt payments" in international climate deals and Canada had probably earned enough Fossil of the Day awards to put us on pace for a record-breaking run in Durban.
While we've had our work cut out for us, we did see this coming. The Canadian government has made it abundantly clear to us that their interests in Durban are not in line with ours and that for them polluters come first.
Meanwhile, the streets, conference rooms and peoples spaces of Durban are filled with the peasant farmers of Via Campesina, local community organizers from South Durban fighting massive industrial expansion in their back yard, the familiar faces of Indigenous activists fighting Canada's dirty tar sands, and many more. All of them are here to fight for our collective future, but up against some serious odds.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), created to become a shining light of international co-operation, has been bought out. Countries like Canada have become the puppets of the worlds biggest polluters. Amongst them are tar sands purveyors like Shell and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, both of which were named in a new report from Greenpeace entitled "The Dirty Dozen in Durban." The report lays out the 12 worst corporations here at COP17, their heads, and their charge list of climate crimes. In other words, corporate power has occupied the climate and until we can kick it out, climate change will continue to threaten the lives and livelihoods of people across the globe.
The people outside of the conference centre know this, but for the majority inside there is a suspension of disbelief that threatens to ensure that "global progress" is short form for the mutually-assured destruction of negotiating a deal in the framework of the politically palatable. Delegates understand that the deals and solutions being negotiated are not enough to deal with this crisis, but simultaneously refuse to break the rules of the a process that condemns them to pursue those solutions.
This catch-22 is especially true of youth, who regularly confound access with influence. We've cultivated a kids' table culture where manners, decorum and proper behaviour are exalted, instead of recognizing the righteous anger fostered by watching our future die at the hands of bureaucracy.
The hardest part of watching the yearly cycle of flash mobs, save Kyoto vigils and the eventual 25th hour rage of the COP conference is knowing the unrealized power of youth here. Youth have the power to kick polluters out of the negotiations for our future, and to force leaders to change the game when it comes to climate progress, but we can't do it playing nice. By definition, rules exist to elicit a certain end result of a game, one which is controlled by whoever sets those rules, and with the dirty hands of polluting industry all over Durban, we can't afford their terms of engagement.
We're trying to change that by taking on our own government, which appears to have taken up the mantle of the the public relation arm of the extractive industry in Canada. Our motley band of young people from across Canada truly believe that not only can we fight, but that when people come before polluters, we can win.
It's past time to kick the tar sands out of Canada's climate policy.
Follow Cameron Fenton on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CamFenton