06/24/2012 11:25 EDT | Updated 08/24/2012 05:12 EDT

Why the Rio Agreement Is Good as Toilet Paper


Rio+20 failed, plain and simple. Few are surprised, and many are grasping at straws within the weak, toothless text, searching for something to grab onto to claim victory, but -- as one friend said in a final email on Rio -- we need to call a cat a cat.

Now I don't really know where that phrase comes from, but its pretty on-point. While the failure of Rio is certain, the question that organizers, youth and change makers fighting for a more just and sustainable planet need ask ourselves is "Why?" Why were negotiators unable to find common ground above the weakest possible positions? Why were world leaders little more than props for a glorified photo op? Why did this supposed historical conference produce an agreement better used as toilet paper or kindle in the post-climate apocalyptic wasteland we're headed towards?

I could keep going, but I think you get the point. Something is wrong, there is a proverbial floater in the punch of international climate politics. At its core, the problem is simple: There are a small group of corporations making obscene profits for whom protecting our planet and taking the steps towards addressing climate change is bad for business. If fossil fuels cause climate change, and you make your billions on oil, gas and coal, you aren't going to want there to be a solar boom or a wind power windfall because you can't put a tap, a pipeline, or a gas tank on the sun.

Climate activist Tim DeChristopher said it best once: "We've tried to make our ideas palatable to those in power but it's never really worked, because shifting away from fossil fuels is actually a threat to our current economic system and to our current political system."

Rio failed because the if it had succeeded, it would have fundamentally undermined some of the most powerful forces on the planet: big polluters.

A just transition to a clean energy society would create meaningful, long-term jobs by the thousands, it would clean up our air and water, it would stop us from driving out planet towards climate catastrophe, but what's more is that it would democratize the production and consumption of energy.

The simple fact is that there is no way that someone could install a tiny coal-fired power generator on the side of their house, mine some coal in the centre of town and make energy. Yet coal is the primary source of electricity for most of the world. On the other hand, I can think of ways that, were it made affordable and accessible to people around the globe, I could power my home, my block or even my city and community with a combination of small-scale, renewable energy and energy conservation systems.

Think about that. What if all the electricity in your city was made by the people, and not by a power company? Energy democracy would revolutionize our planet, they way we live, and it would fundamentally alter our economic system. Real, sustainable energy for all would put dirty energy out of business, and Petrobras, Shell, Chevron, BP, Exxon and the rest are not going to work with governments to put themselves out of business.

There is no fortune to be made by the corporate elite solving climate change. Instead there are jobs to be had, cleaner air to be breathed, safe water to be drank and a better future. What makes more sense to you?

So now we have the why, the next step is to figure out the how.

We know that in principle the solutions that the people and the planet need exist. We know that there is a strong, wealthy and powerful lobby standing in the way of this, and we know that we will never be able to match them in wealth, access to world leaders, or any conventional resource.

But we have one thing they don't: We have numbers. Together we represent a force more powerful than any dollar amount, the currency we have to trade in is our bodies, our minds and our creativity.

This fall in Canada we are taking the first step to building that movement that our planet needs, holding the second Power Shift Canada gathering. Bringing together hundreds of youths from across Canada, Power Shift will be a decisive moment in the fight to end dirty energy and build a just and sustainable future.

Power Shift is organizing to push forward a bill in the House of Commons to stop polluter handouts, and to empower youth from across Canada to build the solutions we need. The Earth Summit may have been a #RioFail, but this can be our chance build a movement that makes it impossible for world leaders to continue putting polluters ahead of people.