09/18/2012 05:32 EDT | Updated 11/18/2012 05:12 EST

Our Home and Troubled Land

This fall, hundreds of youth will come together in Ottawa for a weekend of education, training, networking and more to empower our generation to build the movement we need for a just and sustainable future. Called PowerShift, this is both a gathering but also a call for what Canada desperately needs. We need to shift the way we power our society and give people the power to build the future they want. Don't believe me? Here are 10 reasons Canada is in desperate need of a PowerShift.


This past summer Bill McKibben published one of the most sobering accounts of where the world within our changing climate sits. He laid out some simple math that painted a pretty frightening picture of where we are and where we're headed if we can't create change. Since then, the situations hasn't gotten much rosier with temperature records being broken around the globe, extreme weather on the rise and ice sheets registering rapid, and never before seen ice melt.

This fall, hundreds of youth will come together in Ottawa for a weekend of education, training, networking and more to empower our generation to build the movement we need for a just and sustainable future. Called PowerShift, this is both a gathering but also a call for what Canada desperately needs. We need to shift the way we power our society and give people the power to build the future they want. Don't believe me?

Here are 10 reasons Canada is in desperate need of a PowerShift.

10. Arctic Ice Melt has reached an all-time high

This summer, scientists announced that Arctic Sea Ice had reached record high melt levels. On August 27, Arctic sea ice fell to under a quarter of the size it had occupied around the same time 40 years ago. Scientists in Canada are expecting that this melt may lead to an exceptionally cold winter across the U.K. and Europe.

Earlier this summer, the Greenland Ice Sheet shocked scientists with nearly 97 per cent of its surface area showing signs of melting, as opposed to a typical 40 per cent and a previous record high of 55 per cent.

9. Extreme Weather is increasing and costing us billions

As I write this I am sitting in my parent's kitchen in Alberta. Beneath me, their basement has been gutted because of flooding from early July rain and hail storms that pummeled Alberta. Recent reports estimate these storms alone will cost upwards of $200 million, the fallout of which includes rising insurance costs set to hit Albertans. The same storms cost farmers entire crops and untold amounts in revenue.

This is just one example in a long, hot summer. By June, thousands of high-temperature records were broken across the United States, Canada and the globe. This followed the warmest spring on record, and has also meant seeing extreme weather around the globe, ranging from the rain and hail in Alberta to tornados in Brooklyn and across the United States, to the hottest rain in the planet's history, to massive wildfires and deadly heatwaves.

This summer also saw the release of a new NASA study that linked these events to climate change as well as an Oxfam study that shows how climate change and extreme weather are set to drive global food prices through the roof.

8. The student and youth unemployment rate was the highest in recent memory this summer.

Despite claims of job growth and prosperity this summer, the prospects for young people in Canada continue to get dimmer. In August, while 34,000 jobs were created overall, employment among youth dropped by 22,000 jobs while the student employment rate registered at what Statistics Canada called "among the lowest on record." Overall, the summer student employment rate was nearly 3 per cent lower this summer than last, and nearly 3/4 of a per cent lower than during the low point of the recession in 2009. Youth unemployment overall climbed half a percent in August, up to nearly 15 per cent, meaning that nearly one in every five youth in Canada is without a job.

Together we can build a movement that can revolutionize our energy system, our food system and our transportation system and create thousands of green jobs for young people all across this country.

7. The cost of tuition is at an all time high, and climbing.

September data released by Statistics Canada shows that on average, tuition in Canada is rising at nearly five times the rate of inflation. In total, over the past two decades, tuition has risen 206.9 per cent, nearly triple the total inflation rate for the same period.

Put into hard numbers this means that in 1990-91 a year of schooling cost $1,744 while an academic year cost an average of $6,186. And by 2015-16 the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives estimates that tuition will be an average of $7,330.

As I type this, student debt in Canada continues to climb, currently towards $15 billion.

6. Drastic cuts to science and environmental monitoring are risking our air, water and land.

Since the passage of Bill C38 in Canada's House of Commons, environmental protections and scientific monitoring has been cut across Canada. Most recently it was discovered that ozone monitoring had been outsourced to IT professionals, and shortly before, that 3,000 projects had their Environmental Impact Assessments cancelled.

In late August, the Environment Minister issued a statement on changes to Canada's environmental assesment regime citing three examples of projects that he states "generated unnecessary paperwork, time and expense and diverted resources from major project assessments."

First of all, the irony is that no doubt some unfortunate staff member(s) in the minister's office, or at Environment Canada likely spent hours poring over assessments to find these three examples of wasted resources. More importantly though is the idea that a small handful of allegedly wasteful reviews is reason to weaken the environmental assesment process. If a doctor is worried that a patient may have cancer and does tests only to find out that their worries were unfounded, should the entire medial practice be overhauled? Environmental regulation and monitoring are the cornerstone to ensuring the protection of the air, water and land, all things that our generation is going to need.

5. Pipeline, pipelines everywhere.

East, west, north and south pipelines are fast becoming some of the most important political issues of our time. Conduits for tar sands oil and natural gas, these pipelines tie together questions about Canada's energy future, jobs and the rights of Indigenous people across the country.

For many, these pipelines have become the concrete and steel of the question as to where Canada is headed as a country. Are we going to work together based on mutual respect and recognition of the inherent rights of Indigenous communities to say no, or bulldoze those rights, and the lands and livelihoods they protect to ship oil and gas? Are we going to meet the challenge of climate change and build a robust and just clean energy economy, or are we hedging our bets on a dangerous gamble with extreme energy? For me the choice is clear.

4. Quebec Students showed us it can work.

Agree with their message or not, the Quebec student strike should show our generation one thing. When we put our voices, our spirits and our desire for a better future together, we can change the word. In the longest running student strike in Canada's history, Quebec students managed to engage and empower thousands of young people, flooding streets, meeting halls and awakening a new generation of change makers. In the end the victory was not won how many thought it would be, but right now the tuition fee hike has been cancelled, Law 78 has been repealed and a Premier and government have been defeated, all because some young people in Quebec decided they were going to change something.

3. Extreme extraction is growing.

Simply put, the world is running out of, or in many cases has run out of, cheap and accessible oil, coal and natural gas. These energy sources that currently power most of our society are instead now being sought after in unconventional forms that require dangerous, highly polluting technologies for extraction. Here in Canada that means primarily the tar sands, fracking for shale oil and shale gas and offshore oil development, including in Canada's fragile and now melting Arctic.

From coast to coast to coast, communities are digging in to protect their air, water and land from the dangers of unconventional extraction that threatens their homes, their farms, their fish, their traditional way of life and much more.

2. We're giving away billions of dollars to rich corporations while public services are cut.

By now the word austerity has become daily economic parlance. Around the world people are being told that we need to tighten our belts and cut back public services from education to health care and beyond. Yet at the same time we are giving nearly $1.4 billion in tax breaks to some of the wealthiest corporations on the planet. In 2011, the five wealthiest of these groups made nearly $140 billion in profits. Last year alone, Shell received a $32 million tax break. This simply doesn't make sense.

This might not seem like that much, but its enough to reduce university tuition across Canada by 57 per cent overall. Enough to fund 60 per cent of a national childcare program, enough to create a robust green job training program and much more. Beyond that, every single political party in Canada has agreed to end these subsidies, so this represents a rare occasion for the House of Commons to collaborate.

1. We don't have room to burn any more fossil fuels.

In his article McKibben laid bare a simple fact. Right now we have roughly 565 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide worth of space in the global carbon bucket to have a shot at keeping global temperature rise below two degrees celsius. The problem is that we also have 2,795 gigatonnes of carbon in the proven oil, gas and coal reserves of the fossil fuel corporations around the globe. In other words, we are planning to burn five times the amount of carbon we have room to burn.

We often talk about shifting our energy infrastructure to a clean and just system as being impossible or improbable. These two numbers show us one simple thing, not shifting this is unthinkable and will make out planet un-liveable for millions of people.

And if none of these are reason enough, a government communication was found this summer that claimed that youth were "uninformed" on climate change, and not engaged. Come help us prove them wrong.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated that student debt in Canada continues to climb to $15 trillion. The figure should have read $15 billion.