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Can Civil Disobedience Spur Action On Climate Change?

10/26/2016 01:45 EDT | Updated 10/26/2016 01:49 EDT
THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Ninety-nine young environmental activists achieved their goal on Parliament Hill on Monday by carrying out acts of civil disobedience. The boisterous group climbed over restricted-area police barricades near the Peace Tower.

Those arrested were part of a group of 200 protesting the possible construction of the Alberta to B.C. Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline. Some carried a giant banner reading: "Climate Leaders Don't Build Pipelines."

They're angry that the battle to slow global warming is being lost.

The 99 arrested were taken to a police station where they were issued citations and told not to appear on Parliament Hill for three months. They will not have criminal records, but police took their personal information. It's unclear whether the information will go into a police database.

Protest spokeswoman Amanda Harvey-Sanchez, a third-year University of Toronto student, told media that pipeline approvals are a deal-breaker for many younger voters who helped propel the Trudeau Liberals to a majority government in last October's general election.

Fully intent on breaking the law, many of the 200 protesters on the Hill had been schooled in what they should and should not do during their law-breaking task. Called Climate 101, the protest was specifically for young people. It was organized by 350.org, a leading climate change fighting group.

Facing protesters on Parliament Hill is a routing activity for police -- some 25,000 people were on the Hill a year ago to oppose climate change.

But for most of those arrested, Monday's experience was their first brush with the law. When police officers placed a hand on their shoulder, there is no doubt their stomachs were churning.

However, it's likely that many of those arrested will be ready to take part in future aggressive actions to protect the environment and slow climate change. They're angry that the battle to slow global warming is being lost.

kinder morgan

Protesters are detained after crossing a police barricade during a demonstration against the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada on October 24, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

They don't trust Trudeau

First of all, environmentalists do not trust the Trudeau government to do the right thing and stop approving fossil fuel-related projects. A go-ahead for Kinder Morgan is their biggest fear.

Secondly, the World Meteorological Organization announced Monday that globally averaged concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached the symbolic and significant milestone of 400 parts per million for the first time in 2015 and surged again to new records in 2016.

As conditions worsen, civil disobedience is a growing response to the lack of government action on climate change and the full-speed-ahead attitude of the fossil fuel industry.

Elsewhere in Ottawa, at the Human Rights Monument, three members of a group of about 20 natives from Newfoundland and Labrador, were refusing to eat solid food in support of their protest. Their community near Muskrat Falls fears that a nearby hydro-electric plant will ruin their lives.

They believe the planned flooding in connection with the plant could contaminate water with methylmercury, poisoning fish and game. They are trying to pressure Prime Minister Trudeau to step in and solve the problem. Back in Labrador, about 50 people, including those who travelled to Ottawa, have been preventing workers from gaining normal access to the site.

In the U.S. earlier this month a group calling itself Climate Direct Action broke into four pipeline sites and disrupted five major pipelines carrying Canadian crude to various American states. Basically thumbing their noses at authorities, the radicals posted photos and video that show how they closed down the lines. The sites belonging to Enbridge, TransCanada Corp., Kinder Morgan and Spectra Energy Corp.

A need for civil disobedience

Many Canadian environmental leaders do not yet agree that civil disobedience is a necessary weapon to have it their toolkit, but John Bennett isn't one of them.

"Civil disobedience is breaking an unjust law or breaking a law to draw attention to an unjust law," Bennett said in 2013 when he was with Sierra Club Canada. "It has played a major role in creating democracy around the world. We shouldn't forget that ever." He's now with Friends of the Earth.

"There is an ideology ruling this country seeking to profit from our natural resources without taking responsibility for climatic catastrophe that awaits our children," said Bennett, who first broke the law more than 30 years ago for a worthwhile cause. "When it [authority] is opposed using the law, it changes the law. When it is presented with evidence, it turns a blind eye and approves the next oil project."

Many of the young folks who so proudly broke the law in Ottawa Monday will heed the words of John Bennett and likely go on to use civil disobedience to fight unjust laws.

To read more of Nick's posts visit his blog A Different Point of View

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Kinder Morgan Pipeline Protest, Fall 2014