Elizabeth May: We have had decades to stop the climate crisis. The era of procrastination must end

Federal Green Party leader Elizabeth May meets with the Toronto Star editorial board on Tuesday.
Elizabeth May is the leader of Canada’s federal Green Party

For all my life I have had a deep connection to the natural world. And I do mean all my life.

My mother used to tell me that when I was about 2 I told her I hated airplanes. As I had never been in one, she asked why. “Because they scratch the sky.”

When I was 13, I set my course to become an environmental lawyer. This path was interrupted by my parents’ somewhat impetuous decision to move the family from Hartford, Conn., where my father was a senior insurance executive, to a tiny village on Cape Breton Island. Almost as an afterthought, my parents made a financially disastrous decision to buy a restaurant and gift shop. Instead of pre-law university in my late teens to late 20s, I worked as a waitress and cook in the family business. And every winter I ended up fighting the local pulp mill over its plans to spray pesticides over our island.

My life got back on track when I discovered I could go to law school without an undergraduate degree. I was known as an activist, described by CBC’s The Fifth Estate as “the 23-year-old waitress who stopped the pulp company dead in its tracks.” Without knowing it was even possible, my activism helped me gain admission to Dalhousie University law school.

Which brings me to why climate change is personal: In 1986, the minister of the environment decided he needed someone in his office with a reputation for environmental activism. I was practising law with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre in Ottawa when he asked me to join his staff. I was an unlikely choice — not a supporter of his party and, as I warned him against hiring me, “I am the kind of person who would quit on principle.”

I will be forever grateful for that chance to be the minister’s senior policy adviser. Even though, sadly, I did end up quitting on principle, I learned the workings of government — when it works — and I learned the science of climate change.

Those were heady times for anyone wanting to see government act on the side of the planet. I was part of Environment Canada’s work to stop acid rain, create national parks, clean up the Great Lakes, develop new environmental legislation and negotiate the treaty that saved the ozone layer.

I was also educated about climate change by Environment Canada scientists. In the last week of June 1988, Toronto hosted the world’s first publicly accessible international climate science conference. I was one of the organizers.

It ended with a call to reduce our emissions by 20 per cent below 1988 levels by 2005.

This is the point in this little story when I want to weep. We knew. We promised. In 1992, I was at the Rio Earth Summit, holding my infant daughter in my arms, watching our prime minister sign the treaty to save the climate.

The horrible reality is that since making the promises to curb greenhouse gases, emissions have grown. We have emitted more greenhouse gases since 1992 than between the beginning of the Industrial Revolution until 1992. MORE

Green party leaders promise guaranteed liveable income if elected

Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May joined Manitoba Leader James Beddome in Winnipeg

Leaders from the provincial and federal Green parties promised to bring in a guaranteed income program as part of their plan to reduce poverty.

Green Party of Manitoba Leader James Beddome, along with national party Leader Elizabeth May, unveiled their poverty reduction strategies at a downtown Winnipeg hotel on Friday.

“Investing in poverty reduction is one of the best public investments that we can make,” Beddome said.

The party cited a 2018 study by the Citizens for Public Justice that found as many as three in 10 Manitobans live in poverty.

The estimated cost of the Manitoba plan would be $1.58 billion. Although the plan would not eliminate poverty entirely, Beddome said it would lift 35,000 adults and 23,000 children out of poverty. People who remained below the poverty line would see their income increase by 21 per cent, he said.

May endorsed the Manitoba plan and said if the Green’s formed Canada’s government, they would convene a council of federal, provincial, local and Indigenous governments to come up with a national guaranteed liveable income plan.

“We can afford to eliminate poverty in Canada. I’d make the case that we can’t afford not to,” May said.

By investing in poverty reduction, governments would save money in other areas such as health, criminal justice, and “the apparatus and vast bureaucracy of band aid solutions for poverty that don’t ever, ever solve the problem,” May said. MORE

Elizabeth May — we don’t have to choose between the economy and the environment

Elizabeth May -- we don't have to choose between the economy and the environment. Image: Victoria Fenner

LISTEN TO THE PODCAST:

When rabble.ca podcast producer Victoria Fenner heard that Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was coming to the small conservative city of Barrie, Ontario, on July 18 for a pre-campaign town hall and rally, she could think of a lot of things to talk to her about.

Barrie is right in the middle of Tory blue country and tough territory for progressives. It’s the biggest city in Simcoe County, located on the traditional territory of the Haudensaunee, Ojibway/Chippewa and Anishnabek First Nations. This territory is covered by the Upper Canada Treaties. Colonization by Europeans began about 400 years ago by French explorers. The first elections here happened way back in 1823 after the British took over and it’s been Conservative country for a very long time. It’s close enough to Toronto that a lot of people commute every day from the south part of the riding. The north part of the county, not so much. But out towards Collingwood, cottagers and skiiers from Toronto contribute a lot of money towards the local economy.

There are very few Red Tories in this county. Remember the Reform Party? That upstart right wing party that shifted politics further right in the late ’80s and the ’90s? The former riding of Simcoe Centre, which was right in the heart of the city of Barrie, was the only place in Canada east of Manitoba that ever elected a Reform Party MP. That’s an indicator of how conservative this area of the country is. The Liberals do come close sometimes but not enough to get them elected. In the 2015 election, the Green Party was the distant fourth party.

The Green Party message is a tough sell in places where people think they have to choose between a stable economy and a healthy environment to live in. But that’s not just here — that kind of dichotomous thinking goes on in so many places. The good news is that this can change with people moving in from other places, and a growing sense that the environment needs to be a bigger priority.

In today’s rabble radio, Victoria Fenner and Elizabeth May talk about that and a wide range of subjects — the disconnect that some people see between economy and environment, the first-past-the-post system, how international trade agreements have affected the health of the planet, and the role of media in fostering an empowered, informed citizenry. SOURCE

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Elizabeth May reveals Green Party transition plans for fossil fuel workers

Greens plan to expand on Trudeau’s coal phase-out to include oil and gas


Green party Leader Elizabeth May (centre) and Green candidates announce their commitment to ‘just transition’ for fossil fuel workers in Vancouver on Aug. 7, 2019. Photo by Stephanie Wood

The Green Party of Canada is endorsing the work of a task force formed by the Trudeau government to phase out coal power nationwide by 2030 and help workers transition to new jobs, but wants to take the plan a step further.

Party Leader Elizabeth May said Wednesday that the Greens fully support all 10 recommendations made by the Task Force on Just Transition for Canadian Coal Power Workers and Communities, which released its final report on coal workers and communities this spring.

At an event in Vancouver on Wednesday, joined by Green candidates from around British Columbia, May said she’d like to implement a similar process with a panel to visit communities dependent on oil and gas.

May said her plan is to ensure no workers are left out of work as the energy industry changes. “We are not at war with fossil fuel workers,” May said. “We are not willing to leave any part of Canada or any community behind.”

National Observer has reported that the task force exclusively researched conditions for coal workers. It recommended a large range of actions, such as $300-million to create a jobs bank, as well as community supports such as transition centres where workers can find information on jobs and training.

The report also found many coal workers felt mistrust for the government, and doubt in its abilities to fulfill promises of a stable transition.

May said visiting communities helped address that mistrust, and will do the same for people in oil and gas. “There’s more trust in honesty. We can say this is the plan, this is the timeline, and how much time do you need to adjust? What are your needs?” she said. “Empowerment and agency are the things that remove fear for all of us.”

She said planning for transitions, as well as oilsands cleanup, should start sooner than later, or else it could result in rushed, inadequate government assistance.

“We have to plan for the cleanup,” she said. “The same guys who drilled the oil wells can help us in reclaiming abandoned oil wells to geothermal power producing.” MORE

 

Green Party unveils plan to transition oil, gas workers to renewable energy jobs

Leader Elizabeth May says workers should not fear for their future as she ramps up pre-election campaign


Green Party Leader Elizabeth May held a press conference Wednesday to unveil the party’s plan to support workers in the fossil fuel industry as they transition to a renewable energy economy. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May has unveiled a multi-pronged plan to help workers in the gas and oil sector transition to a renewable energy economy, working to allay fears that her climate action plan would bleed jobs as she ramps up pre-election campaign efforts.

The Green worker transition plan, which includes skills retraining programs and massive retrofit and cleanup projects designed to create employment, fleshes out details from the Green Party’s climate action plan called Mission: Possible, that was released in May.

Making the announcement in Vancouver on Wednesday, May said she understands the anxiety among workers in the fossil fuel industry and wants to take an “all-hands-on-deck” approach to transform Canada’s economy.

“It’s critical that workers in fossil fuel industries and fossil fuel-dependent communities not fear for their future. We are not at war with fossil fuel workers. We are not at all willing to leave any part of Canada or any community behind.”

Platform priorities

Along with climate action, she said the key platform priorities will be democratic reform, pharmacare and real conciliation with Indigenous people.

The Green Party plan to transition fossil fuel workers includes:

    • Investing in retraining and apprenticeship programs to refocus the skills of industrial trade workers for jobs in the renewable energy sector.
    • Start a massive cleanup of “orphaned” oil wells; some of which can be transformed to produce geothermal energy.
    • Create a national program to retrofit all buildings to optimum energy efficiency.
    • Establish a transition framework to factor in the unique resources and circumstances of each province.
    • Form partnerships with Indigenous people to ramp up renewable energy development in First Nations communities and on Indigenous lands.

MORE

Elizabeth May weighs in on whether elected officials could be criminally liable for their climate policies

Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May talked about criminal liability for climate change shortly before running into B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver on Alberni Street. They were in Vancouver for the Pride parade.
Green Party of Canada Leader Elizabeth May talked about criminal liability for climate change shortly before running into B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver on Alberni Street. They were in Vancouver for the Pride parade.CHARLIE SMITH

The leader of the Green Party of Canada has warned other politicians that they could face legal consequences in their lifetimes if they fail to take the climate crisis seriously.

“The bar here for caring about the climate isn’t to have policies better than the Conservatives,” Elizabeth May told the Georgia Straight before today’s Vancouver Pride parade. “The bar has to be: have you set a course and do you have a plan to hold to 1.5 degrees Celsius global average temperature increase [since the start of the Industrial Revolution] and not go above that?

“And if you don’t have that plan in place, then you are as culpable as much as the oil executives and the deniers,” May continued. “Because as [350.org cofounder] Bill McKibben says, incremental steps—baby steps—are just another way of losing, but losing more slowly. It doesn’t mean you’re a climate leader and it doesn’t mean you’ve taken the responsible action that any responsible leader should take.”

May’s comments came in the wake of a talked-about tweet by former Canadian prime minister Kim Campbell.

Campbell, also a former justice minister, claimed over the social-media platform that oil companies have committed “crimes against humanity” by knowingly concealing the impact of their products on the climate.

Kim Campbell

@AKimCampbell

This is precisely why I have said that the oil companies have committed CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY! All the factors are there: KNOWLEDGE of the truth and DELIBERATE action to CONCEAL (“becloud”) the truth to save their profits while preparing to protect themselves! Nuremberg worthy! https://twitter.com/senwhitehouse/status/1157290669657993222 

Sheldon Whitehouse

@SenWhitehouse

A federal judge in Rhode Island just wrote a really interesting decision about climate change.

Pretty strong stuff from a Republican-appointed, fact-based federal judge.

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May, a former lawyer, acknowledged that it’s “extremely hypothetical” to talk about criminal sanctions against politicians for their climate policies. But she hasn’t ruled out the possibility of that occurring in the future. MORE

Will Greens ever compromise climate for power? Never.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May at a Trans Mountain pipeline protest on Burnaby Mountain. Photo: Elizabeth May/Facebook
Photo: Elizabeth May/Facebook​

“Before voters take her seriously, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May must be frank and clear about what her newfound willingness to partner with the Scheer Conservatives would mean in practice.”

rabble reporter Karl Nerenberg is absolutely right. Canadians have a right to know where I stand. If a newly elected caucus of Green MPs were to find ourselves with the balance of responsibility, we would talk with all the other parties. That is the process. But we will never agree to a single confidence vote in favour of a government that is not in lock-step with a commitment to hold to the clear warnings of the global scientific community that we must achieve the Paris target. That target is no more than 1.5 degrees global average temperature increase (above that before the Industrial Revolution). It requires the rapid phase-out of fossil fuels as well as massive reforestation. Small measures, like keeping existing carbon taxes in place, are woefully inadequate.

It must be noted that Canada’s current target was put in place under former prime minister Stephen Harper and is wholly inconsistent with the Paris target. Only the Greens have a plan to meet the 1.5 degree Paris target. None of the others have commitments that come close.

Canadian prime ministers — even in a minority — have significant autonomy and power to do huge damage that never requires a vote in parliament. The points made by Nerenberg in arguing that I had somehow missed the inherent dangers of Conservatives in power are exactly the points I made in January 2006 to the NDP telemarketer who caught me at home cooking dinner and tried to convince me to donate. At that time, I was not a member of any party. As executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, I pushed back, expressing my horror at the NDP decision to bring down the minority government of former prime minister Paul Martin. That administration had just brought in a commitment (with all provincial governments buying in) to universal childcare, to the Kelowna Accord with Indigenous nations, and to a real plan for Kyoto (now long forgotten). The telemarketer had pressed on “There’s no need to worry about Stephen Harper,” he told me. “The most he could get will be a minority.” I laid out for that telemarketer all the things a prime minister could do without ever taking them to Parliament, just as Karl Nerenberg did in his article on Monday, July 22.

Exactly as I had feared, within weeks of becoming prime minister, Harper cancelled our commitment to Kyoto — without a single debate in Parliament. He cancelled the billions of dollars for climate action announced in the 2005 budget. Just as when Canada is on the right side of history, under Harper, we punched above our weight becoming climate saboteurs.

We cannot negotiate with the atmosphere. The window on 1.5 degrees is closing. Without a complete shift in direction, we will blow past 1.5 degrees, past two degrees and put ourselves on an irreversible course to the point of no return — before the next election in 2023.

What is the “point of no return?” It is going to two degrees and tripping over the red line to unstoppable, self-accelerating, runaway global warming — in which the worst case scenario is too terrifying to contemplate.

The stakes are too large for a typical political cop-out. While we have the chance to secure our children’s future, Greens will never agree to support any government that fails to address the climate emergency. As we propose in “Mission: Possible, the Green Climate Action Plan,” we have to reduce the partisanship, put in place the equivalent of a “war cabinet” and make survival the business of government.

So “the very best thing” is not propping anyone up. It is serving as prime minister in a nation mobilized and unified to ensure Canada once again punches above our weight and gets us — humanity — through the climate emergency to a livable, thriving world grounded in equity and justice.  SOURCE

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Indigenous leadership needed to protect environment, Elizabeth May tells AFN assembly

Elizabeth May says the Greens could prop up a Conservative government

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Photo: Laurel L. Russwurm/Flickr

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May seems to have shifted from her earlier stated position and now says she could support a Conservative minority government led by Andrew Scheer, if — and it is a very big if — it got serious about climate change.

A July 21 story by Canadian Press reporter Mia Rabson quotes May as saying:

“People change their minds when they see the dynamic of a way a Parliament is assembled and maybe think, ‘Killing carbon taxes isn’t such a good idea if the only way I get to be prime minister is by keeping them.'”

The chances of Andrew Scheer abandoning his core commitment to scrap the carbon tax might be far-fetched.

Scheer has stood shoulder to shoulder with four powerful Conservative or Conservative-aligned premiers and solemnly sworn fealty to the anti-environmental resistance. The federal Conservative leader would be taking an enormous risk if he were to cavalierly break that promise. It might be a way to invite a massive rebellion within his own ranks.

But, for now at least, it is May who is taking the greater risk.

Those who are considering voting Green in this fall’s election should be asking May exactly what her price might be for propping up a Scheer government.

Would it be sufficient for Scheer to maintain the Trudeau government’s carbon tax as is? Is that all it would take for the Conservatives to win Green support?

Could the Greens still support a Scheer government if, for instance, it rolled back the newly enacted and more stringent rules for approving major projects such as pipelines?

Would May and her party be able to hold their noses if the Conservatives acted on another key pledge: to scrap the current clean fuel standard?

And what about other Conservative policies, such as imposing tougher restrictions on asylum seekers, or killing the Liberals’ fund for local news while radically cutting funding for the CBC? Those are not climate-change related. Would the Greens be comfortable supporting them?

Is Elizabeth May being naive? 

The Green leader told the Canadian Press she hopes for a minority Parliament because it “would be the very best thing;” but she seems a bit naive about how much power a governing party — even one that only has a minority of seats — can exercise, in our system, without seeking approval of Parliament.

When Andrew Scheer’s predecessor as Conservative leader, Stephen Harper, governed with a minority from 2006 to 2011, he proved that point. Harper could not get everything through the House that he would have liked to, but he ruled with an iron fist nonetheless.  MORE

Elizabeth May: Solving the climate crisis is ‘Mission Possible’

Clearly we need an Ecocide Law to hold corrupt politicians accountable for criminal acts endangering the planet.


File photograph of Elizabeth May by Alex Tétreault

On Monday night, June 17th, the Parliament of Canada held a last few hours of debate on the Liberal motion that Canada accepts that we are in a climate emergency. The original motion had been tabled on May 16th. As Minister Catherine McKenna spoke in the chamber that day, I launched the Green response to the national clamour for a Green New Deal. Paul Manly (Green MP from Nanaimo-Ladysmith) and I launched Mission: Possible, calling for the complete elimination of fossil fuel use by 2050, slashing dependency by 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

We can see no other way for Canada to pull our fair share of the weight to meet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change imperative that we must adhere to our Paris Agreement goal of holding global average temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees C.

Failing to meet that target, even allowing the global average temperature increase to reach 2 degrees C, will create unacceptably high risks that we will pass a point of no return. Human civilization and the extinction of millions of species requires that we take the climate emergency seriously.

It will not be easy, but we know it is possible.

The May 16th climate emergency debate was adjourned. It did not surface on our agenda again until the night of June 17th, with a time limited opportunity to consider the matter.

I addressed a nearly empty chamber.

All the other leaders were in Toronto for the Raptors Rally. That is not something I would criticize. The national Raptors reverie has been good for our spirits. We want to celebrate.

But why did the government pick that night for debate?

And, much, much worse, after passing a motion that we are in a climate emergency, why did they – the very next day – commit billions of federal public dollars to build a pipeline?

That pipeline will violate indigenous rights, threaten every waterway it crosses, the Salish Sea through which tankers will navigate and, at the same, time increase our climate warming emissions. It is reckless.

Worse, given the scale of the threat of climate breakdown, it borders on the criminal. MORE

Extreme weather may finally make climate change a ballot-box issue

In Prince Edward County we  are still recovering from flooding as waves nibble at our shoreline. The County’s soon to be formed Environmental Committee will have its work cut out for it as it will be forced to reexamine past policies, revise them,and set out a vision for a new, local, and sustainable green economy . There is no doubt that  climate change will be a ballot box issue.

Voters have long been unmoved by scientists’ dire climate predictions, but fires, floods and other catastrophic weather events might cause a shift.


A fire burns near High Level, Alta., in May 2019, forcing thousands from their homes (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta/CP)

Back in the spring of 2016, when images of a voracious forest fire menacing Fort McMurray, Alta., were dominating the news, reporters asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau if climate change was to blame. As the unofficial capital of Alberta’s oil sands, Fort McMurray figures prominently in the bitter debate over fossil fuels and global warming, so Trudeau responded carefully. “It’s well-known that one of the consequences of climate change will be a greater prevalence of extreme weather events around the planet,” he allowed, before quickly adding, “Pointing at any one incident and saying, ‘This is because of that’ is neither helpful nor entirely accurate.”

Trudeau drew criticism from some who thought he had missed a chance to highlight the heavy price humanity is already paying for making the planet hotter and drier. But his answer was a pretty standard political dodge at the time. Even Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said “no credible climate scientist” would draw a neat cause-and-effect link between climate change and the Fort Mac fire. Then-NDP leader Thomas Mulcair said, “It’s not time to start laying blame.” 

A lot has changed, though, in the past three years. During severe flooding in Eastern Canada this spring, for instance, Trudeau didn’t hesitate to raise the alarm about climate change. “Canadians are already seeing the costs,” he said.

READ: Bill McKibben on how we might avert climate change suicide

Other Liberals were even more outspoken. “Yes, climate change is real,” said MP Will Amos, whose Quebec riding, on the Ottawa River, was hit badly by the floods. “Yes, it is wreaking havoc on our infrastructure.” Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale, the senior voice from Western Canada in Trudeau’s cabinet, linked global warming to the floods, as well as fires on Prairie grasslands and in boreal forests. Goodale said he didn’t want to get into a partisan argument, but stressed, “I think we all have to learn the lessons of climate change—the impacts here are powerful and dangerous and damaging.”

The shift from pussyfooting around how climate change leads to more extreme weather events to talking about it so forcefully hasn’t happened by chance. It’s the result of a concerted effort by researchers to create a new field called “attribution science.” The challenge they faced was that climate is so complicated that teasing out a single cause for, say, a flood or a fire is impossible. So they devised methods for calculating how much climate change had contributed. The watershed report was published by researchers from the University of Oxford in 2004, explaining how global warming caused by humans had at least doubled the risk of the heat wave that baked Europe the previous year.

Since that landmark study, attribution science has taken off, including in Canada. The federal government’s “Canada’s Changing Climate Report,” released early this year, listed 14 Canadian attribution studies published from 2015-17, on everything from forest fires, to flooding, to thinning Arctic sea ice. 

In a widely noted report, Environment Canada researchers analyzed the awful 2017 forest fire season in British Columbia, when 65,000 were driven from their homes and millions left breathing smoke-filled air. They concluded that the extreme summer temperatures behind those fires were made more than 20 times more likely by human-caused climate change.  MORE