My name is Cathy Orlando. I am a longtime climate advocate and the mother of Sophia Mathur, a youth climate activist. I write this opinion piece as a grateful settler of the country called Canada and not on behalf of any organization.
As I finish this opinion piece, my community of Sudbury is in a tornado watch. This is the second tornado watch in 72 hours. I live in northern Ontario. It’s mid-September. This is not normal.
The recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes it absolutely clear we are in code red for humanity. Only in the most ambitious scenario do we still have a chance to limit global heating to a safe limit by the end of the century — and only if all the right choices are made as quickly and pervasively as possible.
The climate crisis is deteriorating much faster than you think. However, in this current federal election, the climate crisis has not been given the attention it deserves. Neither have poverty issues. If we don’t act now, we can forget about social programs. The economy will collapse in a climate-wrecked world. Time is running out.
We need our government to protect us, especially the poor, and they do this by creating evidence-based policy in consultation with the people.
I know it takes courage to be a climate leader because there are detractors. The Honourable Catherine McKenna bravely created an effective policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions in consultation with many stakeholders. The result was an evidence-based carbon pricing policy that spares the poor and middle class from bearing the financial burden of transitioning our economy off fossil fuels by mid-century. But she did so at a personal price. The attacks on her were shameful.
Although the climate crisis should be a non-partisan issue, voters must now navigate through an election and vote while the children are watching, many in quiet terror. A recent study published in Lancet Planetary Health found that of 10,000 youth worldwide polled, 56 per cent think humanity is doomed.
I don’t blame them for the despair they feel. Adults teach by what they do, not by what they say. This is what my daughter Sophia experienced last week:
On Thursday, Sept. 9, there were the Green PAC 100 Debates for the Environment on Zoom for the Sudbury and Nickel Belt ridings. Both Conservative candidates were no-shows. They could not find 25 minutes to sit on a Zoom call at a time of their choice with a non-partisan facilitator to discuss four questions sent in advance.
The Green, NDP and Liberal candidates all came out strongly for tying social justice issues to environmental issues and ending fossil fuel subsidies. However, when explicitly asked about which experts support their policies, both NDP candidates listed a series of policies but did not cite expert analysis.
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Nickel Belt Liberal candidate Marc Serre cited Andrew Weaver, IPCC scientist and former leader of the Green Party of British Columbia, as an endorser of Liberal climate policies. Sudbury Liberal candidate Vivian Lapointe said her guiding principle of designing all policies is that we need to listen to the experts, co-operate and collaborate with all affected communities.
On Friday, Sept. 10, our local Fridays For Future youth and supporters were on a street corner with “Code Red” and “Vote Climate” signs and feeling really hopeful because of all the honks and people that support them.
But then on Saturday, Sept. 11, the NDP ran a full paid political advertisement on the first two pages of the Sudbury Star and did not mention climate change. On page three of the Sudbury Star was an almost half-page colour photo of my daughter holding a Vote Climate placard. Sophia noticed it. Finally, at the end of the day on Saturday, we were in a tornado watch.
Is it any wonder that many youths feel despair about the climate crisis? Whether we like it or not, it is going to be up to us voters to make world-changing decisions for our youth with our votes.
What to do? How do I teach my child to do the right thing? As the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young song says, “Teach your children well.” The song also encourages the children to teach their parents too. What is Sophia trying to teach me?
I tell Sophia that we need policy persistence. The carbon pricing policy Canada currently has needs to be made stronger and better and not weakened as the Conservative Party has planned if elected government. I am happy their party acknowledges a need to price carbon pollution, but their targets and carbon pricing policy will be too little and too late.
I don’t put all of this on Erin O’Toole nor the Conservative MPs. Some of their supporters are holding back the whole party. At their last policy convention, over 50 per cent of Conservative delegates could not agree that climate change is human-caused.
Pointing fingers is futile. Understanding why this has happened is probably the best way forward. Climate-concerned politicians and activists have had to push against a climate denial machine that has more money than most governments. No doubt some climate activists have taken the bait and been too partisan, thus inadvertently contributing to a partisan divide on the climate crisis, which is not helping.
My daughter Sophia has been telling adults since Nov. 2, 2018, when she began striking with Greta Thunberg and Fridays For Future, that we all must listen to the experts and co-operate. One economist, Mark Jaccard, has come out strongly for the Liberal climate platform, which is not a surprise, because he is a pragmatic economist. Surprisingly, though, he was not a strong supporter of carbon pricing in the lead-up to election 2019.
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This opinion piece was probably the most difficult piece I have written. As a longtime activist who is facing what is possibly the last election when we have the luxury of debating this topic before it changes our lives, I am feeling strong and real emotions for the youth and the poor who will bear the brunt of the climate crisis. But I also have knowledge based on facts that we can avoid the worst if we act now. I draw hope from a recent poll that found almost two-thirds of Canadians believe now is the time to act on the climate crisis.
What has kept me going are my three daughters. I made a promise to them in 2007 I would do my best to make sure that their world would not be falling apart when they became mothers. My own mother died on Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021. She taught me that our freedom and democracy are to be treasured and defended. Mom, I hope you approve.
In closing, this must be the last election where the climate crisis is treated as a partisan issue.
It is a matter of survival.
Cathy Orlando is a longtime climate activist, trained by Al Gore and Climate Reality in 2008. Cathy founded the first Citizens’ Climate Lobby.