11/13/2013 02:42 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Canada, Do What Our Leaders Have Failed to Do: Defend Our Climate

There are moments in history when it becomes clear that our leaders are failing us. They are the moments when people from all walks of life need to dust off those placards, stand up and speak out. This is one of those moments.

Canada is failing as a country to curb climate pollution. Under the Harper Conservatives, our country's climate performance has become the worst in the Western world.

The main culprit is the oil sands or tarsands, which is the fastest-growing source of climate pollution in Canada. The exploitation of the oil sands is the main reason why our country will fail to meet its own greenhouse gas reduction targets, a fact that has been reported to the Prime Minister by his own government. It's simply not fair that across the country individuals, cities and provinces are working to reduce pollution and all these efforts are being wiped out by one industry out of control.

Environment Canada told us recently that Canada's carbon emissions would be 20 per cent higher in 2020 than the Harper government's promised 17-per cent reductions under the 2009 Copenhagen Accord. A day later we heard that Ottawa will no longer be doing environmental assessments of oil sands projects.

Regardless of this mounting evidence, and repeat warnings from the International Energy Agency that up two thirds of known fossil fuel reserves needs to be left in the ground to keep global warming to less than 2°C, our government continues to push for the aggressive expansion of the oil sands.

That includes building more pipelines, such as Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipelines from Alberta to BC, Keystone XL from Alberta to the U.S. and Energy East across Ontario and Quebec. These projects will help to enable oil sands production to meet oil companies' goals of quadrupling production to 9 million barrels per day, a level that even the conservative International Energy Agency warns is consistent with global demand scenarios that take us past a 6 degree global warming scenario.

It is clear that our government is intent on pushing these pipelines down our throats. Forget the risk of oil spills, threats to our fresh water, coastal fisheries and the overall impact on human health -- the government is hell bent on its perilous plan. That's also despite the simple fact that the majority of investors who will benefit from expansion of the oil sands aren't Canadian and that the majority of the oil is intended for export where it can command better price.

And the Harper government is even spending $24 million of taxpayers' dollars on an advertising blitz to try to convince Canadians and people in other countries that the expansion of the oil sands is a good investment, while failing to acknowledge the risks. It's bizarre that these ads we pay for and our own elected officials can be touting a "responsible and greener" oil sands despite enormous evidence that the environmental and health impacts of the oil sands are increasing dramatically.

B.C.'s Christy Clark has been the most recent premier to jump on the pro-oil sands bandwagon alongside the Harper government and Alberta Premier Alison Redford. Even though she campaigned on the position that the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline was too risky and rejected the pipeline at the federal hearings, she is now doing an about-face and saying that pipelines through B.C. are possible. The risks have not changed, yet somehow her position has. Now, instead of fighting for the future of B.C., Clark is selling out to the oil companies and to her allies in political office.

This continuous caving in to Ottawa and the oil industry has to stop. If we can't rely on our politicians to stand up for the climate and our communities, we need to come together as citizens and demand it ourselves.

And people are coming together. On Nov 16th there will be events in communities from coast to coast to coast as part of the Defend our Climate, Defend our Communities National Day of Action. People from Halifax to Victoria to Nunavut are taking a stand and calling on Harper to stop the reckless expansion of the tar sands, to curb runaway climate change, and to steer our economy towards clean energy opportunities. That is what nation building is all about.

Now, more then ever, is the time when we need to show Clark and Harper that B.C. is not for sale. That we expect them to show leadership in dealing with an issue that even Prime Minister Harper has referred to as the "biggest challenge humanity has ever faced." Canadians deserve a choice about what kind of economy, and more than that, what kind of country, we want to be building for the future. We deserve the opportunity to have safe, clean jobs where we live. We cannot sit by and let them put our coast and our country at risk. It's time to remind our elected officials that they work for us and not just the oil patch.

Tzeporah Berman, is an author, former co-director of Greenpeace International's worldwide climate campaign and a co-founder of ForestEthics, and has been leading environmental campaigns in Canada and internationally for over 20 years. She will be participating in the National Day of Action on Nov. 16.