Declaration of climate emergency will help Canadians band together, says environmentalist

Canada’s declaration of a climate emergency should serve as a wake-up call, says a central Alberta environmentalist.

The motion passed in the House of Commons late Monday, part of a calculated pre-election effort to build political momentum behind the government’s environmental agenda.

Waskasoo Environmental Education Society executive director Todd Nivens says he hopes “Canadians see this for the seriousness that it is and are able to put politics aside.”

He added Canadians are “really good” at dealing with emergencies, and hopes the emergency declared will get people’s attention to make positive changes to help with a pressing issue.

“Look at Fort McMurray. It didn’t matter who you voted for, the province banded together to help a community when a state of emergency was declared there,” he said Tuesday.

“I think by declaring an emergency, it does make potentially the idea of banding together, of funding, it makes it more palatable. It refers to driving home the idea of ‘it is time to act.’

“That we can’t continue doing things the way we’ve been doing them,” he said.

The education society spreads positive climate change messaging and education, keeping the politics aside, said Nivens.

“Our take on climate change is it’s real, global warming is supported by verifiable science, and it is probably the most pressing scientific challenge and the most pressing societal crisis of our day.”

A report released in April by Environment and Climate Change Canada states Canada’s climate has warmed and will warm further in the future, driven by human influence.

The report shows both past and future warming in Canada is, on average, about double the magnitude of global warming. Northern Canada has warmed and will continue to warm at even more than double the global rate, according to the agency.

Based on his observations at the society, Nivens said there are three groups of people in central Alberta: those who are committed to making lifestyle choices, those who aren’t, and the bulk in between.

Nivens said we all recycle, but advanced lifestyle or behavioural changes aren’t easy for central Albertans compared to Canadians in some other parts of the country, because a large per cent of the population have family income tied to petrochemicals and the oilsands industry.

“For example, we know smoking causes lung cancer. But when a smoker is faced with this reality, they have a psychological choice to make: they can choose to accept the science and begin the extremely difficult process of quitting smoking, or they can rationalize their behaviour and say ‘oh, it won’t happen to me,’ ‘it’s not as bad as they think’ or, ‘the cigarette I smoke is lighter’ or whatever.

“So you’re put into this cognitive dissonance, and your brain will resolve it in whatever way it wants to resolve it.

“So with climate change, when people’s income is directly tied with the petrochemical industry, it’s really hard for that family to look at climate science and say, ‘I need to make some changes in my life.’”

He said climate change is complicated, and those who are in tune with the land, the environment and nature, understand it faster, because they are able to see the evidence. For example, a farmer may notice extreme drought conditions.

Niven said people also need reassurance that climate change won’t lead to unemployment. For example, by transitioning into a clean-energy job, such as solar or wind power.

“The trick is getting that transition right, so we don’t have people being laid off and companies going under.”

With files from The Canadian Press

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