Confessions of a Climate Criminal: Canadian Identity, Perception, and (in)action at the UNFCCC
When I first heard that COP17 was taking place in Durban, South Africa, my first thought was “hooooooly that is far”. The many thoughts after that were much more intelligent and focused on climate policy, as you can guess, but as a girl who lives on a big rock (literally) in the middle of the Atlantic ocean, you could say I don’t get out much.
The last time I crossed the Atlantic ocean, things were very different. I was turning nineteen, and studying to be a Holocaust historian at Memorial University of Newfoundland (an idea that I have long since ditched.) A degree in German language and literature was on my radar, so I decided to do an exchange with the University of Heidelberg in Germany. I was confident in my abilities to make friends and fit in quite nicely, after all, who doesn’t like Canadians, and Newfoundlander at that? We are known as one of the friendliest people in the world. Kind, gentle, goofy peace keepers the lot of us. I’d just flash my Canadian flag and the dimples on my rosy red maple leaf cheeks and I’d be set, right? And you know what, it kind of worked. My relentless friendliness gained me friends who were fans of Bryan Adams, the mountains, trees, and ocean, and the couple of words I must say kind of funny because of the parts of my childhood spent around the bay. All in all, at any opportunity I had, I would proudly boast my Canadian and Newfoundland roots, never thinking once it migh get me in trouble, or cause anyone to turn their nose and walk away.
Years later, I got accepted to be a member of the Canadian Youth Delegation, and had to once again think about how I felt about being a Canadian in a foreign country. I had, at this point, spent years lobbying the government to increase their aid to the Global South; to stop cutting all funding to environmental groups, Status of Women Canada (whose mandate also changed to exclude “gender equality and political justice” and to ban all advocacy, policy research and lobbying) , and aboriginal equity groups, among others. I’ve protested our ridiculous military spending, our lack of democracy, and our numerous and extreme acts of violence. The Canada I grew up being so proud of started to crumble. Our international reputation seems to degrade with every passing headline. We are not peacekeepers, we are not friendly smiley folk, or at least, that is not how we are represented on the international stage. But the aforementioned examples aren’t the real reason why I am thoroughly embarrassed and ashamed to be a Canadian at COP17.
Climate change is no doubt the biggest issue that our world is, and will continue to have to deal with. Just as we know that climate change is the rock that we can’t seem to get out of our shoe, impeding us from functioning as a equitable world; Canada is the biggest, meanest, ugliest climate bully our global playground has ever seen. And not only that, it never fesses up for picking on the little kid who did nothing wrong, it steals every one’s lunch money, and pees in the water fountain. And sure, Canada might beat the crap out of any legally binding deal we could ever hope for, but we say its ok, because other countries have gotten in their few punches here and there. The worst part of this whole debacle, is that Canada doesn’t just throw punches, it has a weapon on choice. On the jungle gym of the UN, Canada pulls out the black, sticky, smelly, already chewed and twice as dirty tar-sands-gum that seems to get stuck in everyone’s hair. It’s our most prized possession (we aren’t really sure why), and Canada will do anything to keep the tar sands from being spit out for good. We lie, cheat, and intimidate our way through the negotiations, pretending that our sticky black business has nothing to do with our unacceptable behaviour. Meanwhile, the rest of us peer at the sad state of affairs from beyond the chain link fence, forgotten for a sea of viscus, poisonous sand.
And so there you have it. I admit it. I am a Canadian. I am related to the ultimate climate bully. But one thing I am proud of, is that though Canada might be my sleazy, skeety older cousin, I refuse to be like him (yes him, unfortunately our government is mostly old white men) We are storming the playground, kicking up dirt and yelling “we’ve had enough!” We are smarter, stronger, and more determined than any neighbourhood bully. And what’s best, is we have a secret weapon of our own: the hope and dreams of Canadian youth, the next generation, the people who will be feeding the Stephen Harpers and Peter Kents of Canada when they are old and feeble, in a nursing home for old crooks. This is our world to inherit, and no stinky black gunk is going to stop us from working toward a sustainable world for all.