“Come on, get your rain pants on, we’re going to go see the Prime Minister!”
It was a rainy Thursday and the kids had barely had a moment to wind down after school and daycare, but we had a ferry to catch and a protest to attend.
“I hate rain pants!” Declared my six-year old. He’s a determined warrior against weather-appropriate clothing.
“Me too!” Echoed his little sister, adding, “You’re a poopy!”
Neither particularly cared about the Prime Minister. Climate change, and the importance of stopping it didn’t peak much interest either.
I managed to get some fried egg into them, and packed a cloth grocery bag with hats, mitts and rain gear. I might have bribed the kids with another pick from their halloween loot, but I did manage to get them strapped into their car seats and and across Howe Sound.
We arrived at the entrance to Gleneagles Golf Course to find forty or so people standing silently and holding large and banners that said things like, “BC LNG is One Big Lie,” or “Trudeau Pull Your Socks Up on Climate Change.” Police officers milled about, politely ensuring that everyone knew the rules of engagement. Part of me thought, “Hey, maybe this is what democracy looks like?” Another part of me thought the scene was so polite and demure, that it was actually a little awkward.
Then the kids settled into the scene. They started twirling their umbrellas, jousting and laughing. Someone started playing a drum. My daughter happily seized a pot and a spatula from my hand and started banging away. This was starting to feel like a proper protest.
Talk among us banner holders turned to Trudeau and his expected cavalcade of black SUVs.
Did we have an ETA for him? Would he come from the highway, or would he drive past all the coastal mansions? It was possible, someone said, that, he’d arrive through a back entrance.
Maybe, he’d want to stop and hang out, maybe even seek out a few high-fives?
He’d had a good week, after all. The roll-out of the national carbon tax might have stopped instantly the moment the governments of Saskatchewan and Ontario announced they would not play along, but Trudeau skilfully wooed the citizens of both provinces. After announcing that people in those provinces would get rebates, support for the tax climbed by eighteen points in Saskatchewan and to 54% across the country.
Personally, I will take news of a successful climate change fighting initiative when I can get one. I need this news, in an emotional sense. That said, I want to see even braver leadership and bolder initiatives. To me, the plan to spend $4.5 billion in tax dollars on a pipeline to facilitate the flow of fossil fuel is both gutting and absurd.
The world’s top scientists have told us we’re headed for catastrophic global temperature rises within twelve years, and if we are going to stop it we need to cut emissions by 50% within that time frame. Yet we’re all stuck in the hamster wheel of business as usual. It’s like being told you have a treatable but deadly form of cancer, and then being shuffled around to different appointments where the doctors offer little more than a pat on the back and gentle reassurance.
What does leadership look like in this scenario?
I see it in 15 year-old Greta Thurnberg. Instead of going to school this September she decided to sit on the steps of the Swedish Parliament and demand climate action for three weeks. She did go back to class after that, but kept taking Fridays off to make sure the politicians didn’t forget about her. Apparently Greta’s parents were rather annoyed with her, but they have clearly followed her lead somewhat: her mother gave up her international career and stopped flying, the family bought an electric car but barely use it as they all prefer to travel by bicycle.
Recently, Thurnberg spoke to a crowd of 10,000 who had gathered in Helsinki, Finland, to demand that politicians commit to zero emissions by 2035.
“Today we use 100 million barrels of oil every day,” she told them. “There are no politics to change that. There are no rules to keep that oil in the ground, so we can’t save the world by playing by the rules because the rules have to change. Everything needs to change and it has to start today.”
Now, I’m glad that Trudeau managed to swing a majority of Canadians in favour of a carbon tax, but I’m not sure the way he did it sets us up very well for making the changes we’ll need to make to stop, or even slow climate change.
So when I sat down to think about why I would bother dragging my kids out to a protest, this is what I came up with: I want our Prime Minister, and all our leaders to know that I am willing to give up my time, my comfort, and my energy to clean up the mess we’ve made. I’m also volunteering my kids to be a part of that effort. I’d like our leaders to deliver the corresponding policy changes to make effective change. The future that scientists have been talking about since before I was born (and before Justin Trudeau was born) is here. There is no time to waste. As a country, as a species, we need to quit our addiction to fossil fuels.
We never did get a glimpse of Trudeau. I’m told he arrived at the golf course at 8:50, one hour exactly after our departure. Sure, we felt a little disappointed, wet, hungry and tired, but we actually had a pretty great time. We sang, we banged on pots and flossed our hearts out.
And on the way home, I heard tiny voices chanting from the back seat:
What do we want?
When do we want it?