Emma-Jane Burian refuses to bring the next generation into a world with unrelenting wildfires, flooding and extreme weather.
If her future children cannot grow up as she did, playing in B.C.’s water and forests, she’d rather not have them at all.
Burian, 17, is one of the organizers behind Climate Strike Canada’s #NoFutureNoChildren pledge. In the early days of the campaign, 200 people have made the commitment not to have children if the Canadian government continues to refuse to take more aggressive actions against climate change.
“There has never been a more propitious moment to confront climate change than right now.”
“Canada is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world and that’s a really big wake-up call for me, and also the fact our governments aren’t taking action,” said Burian, who lives in Victoria, in an interview.
The non-partisan network of students, activists and young people is demanding Canada’s political parties set bold emission targets, legislate environmental rights, including of Indigenous people, and align themselves “with science,” said Burian.
They’re part of a national upswell of Canadians insisting politicians do more to rein in global warming.
“We can’t bear to see any next generation experiencing the things we are dealing with,” she said.
Watch: Canadian couple not having kids to do their part for climate change. Story continues after video
Seizing on this passion are two self-proclaimed “silverbacks” with nothing to lose. Canadian environmental activist David Suzuki and former politician and United Nations diplomat Stephen Lewis are on their Climate First speaking tour, pushing for action to tackle the global crisis in tandem with the federal election campaign.
“There has never been a more propitious moment to confront climate change than right now,” said Lewis in an interview Friday. “People are willing to listen and, we hope, to act. That’s what forces the political dynamic.”
Suzuki remembers when the Kyoto Protocol was ratified in Parliament in 2002, setting early greenhouse gas emission standards, and how former prime minister Paul Martin “really wanted to do something” but felt politically constrained.
“The children were simply not on the political agenda because they were not going to vote in the next election,” Suzuki said.
“What you’re seeing now is the children are getting educated and realizing what the scientists are saying is if we don’t do something, we don’t have a future. And they’re rising up and putting (climate change) on the agenda.”
The tour is non-partisan, and Suzuki and Lewis (who was the Ontario NDP party leader in the 1970s) agreed all political parties are “fudging” up — some more than others.
Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau’s carbon pricing, for example, is not enough on its own to “turn things around,” Lewis said.
“A carbon tax is just a cover. You buy an oil company,” he said referring to the Trudeau government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. “How do you twin those things?”
Trudeau’s campaign spokesperson Eleanore Catenaro said the pipeline will mean Canada gets a better price for oil, and that the federal government will use “every single dollar” for the “clean energy transition.”
However, corporations need more than just carbon pricing, but also incentives to move towards renewable energy in the form of wind and solar, Suzuki said. The federal government has to become a leader in helping skilled workers in the oil and gas industry make the transition — “that’s what governments should be pouring (money) into.”
“You’ve got to start a transformation to renewables. You’ve got to say sorry folks, the time has come to realize that those (fossil fuel) industries are going out of style. They’re gone. That’s what we’re advocating for,” Lewis said.
Suzuki wants Canada’s political parties to make an unwavering commitment: “Climate change is the number one issue we face and everything we do is geared to reducing carbon. We will cut down carbon by 50 per cent by 2030. We will be a renewable economy by 2050,” Suzuki said.
That’s a stretch from Canada’s current stance. We’re already behind our Paris agreement target of cutting emissions to 30 per cent below 2005 levels. And even that target won’t limit the earth’s warming by 1.5 C according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report released last year.
This election is “unprecedented” in terms of voters’ interest in climate change, said Lewis. And it’s time for Canada to harness that momentum and establish itself as a global leader.
“I learned at the UN that the standing of Canada is very considerable. People take us very, very seriously,” Lewis said.
“If we took policies that were dramatic, radical and principled, if we did something that was out of the ordinary, really took things by storm, we could have an immense impact on the world.”
Climate change promises
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May released her team’s plan, Mission: Possible, Monday, pledging to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent, power the country’s electricity grid with renewable energy, retrofit every building in Canada, end all foreign oil imports in favour of Canadian fossil fuels and prioritize adaptation.
“It is a good deal to save all of humanity in the next five years,” May said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said his party would spend $15 billion on a new environment plan to cut emissions almost in half by 2030 and create 300,000 jobs through a range of initiatives including improving public transportation, retrofitting buildings, training employees and banning single-use plastics.
Trudeau’s government has taken on 50 actions to fight climate change, said Catenaro. They include transitioning Canada to be powered by 90 per cent clean energy by 2030, phasing out coal power, building more public transit, making electric cars more affordable, banning single-use plastics and microbeads, and protecting more coasts, lakes and forests. It has invested $1.5 billion to protect Canada’s oceans.
Scheer has pledged to repeal the Liberals’ carbon pricing, and instead force big polluters to invest in green technology as a penalty, but his plan lacks specifics on how his government would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. He’s also proposed a 15 per cent tax break for corporations developing green technology, and a tax credit for Canadians who make green improvements to their homes.
On the campaign trail Monday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer was asked about the #NoFutureNoChildren movement.
“Obviously as someone who has five children, I believe children are a great blessing and they are the future of our country and the future of our society,” he said.
“I will say that anyone who is concerned about climate change and Canada’s environment, global environment, is that we are the only party with a real plan for the environment.”
But for Burian, the Conservatives’ climate change plan is “just as bad as the Liberals’ if not worse.”
“I think he’s lying through his teeth,” she said. “I would ask him if he cares so deeply about having five children, how can he lie to their faces? He’s not listening to science.”