By Nadia Kanji
Sometimes my friends joke around and say that I was born in a red flag, but I think more than that, I was brought up to question everything, and never, never, to conform without thinking twice. I remember visiting India at a young age, perplexed by the poverty that surrounded me. Perhaps it was chance or luck or whatever that determined our fates; but at the core of it, what perpetuated this inequity was governments, history, and an economic system that decided our standards of living. My mother always told me to remember what I had seen, and to never spend a dime without thinking about the way others lived.
I guess this was the start of my involvement in various groups in my community. I remember my first meeting with people in Montreal who were interested in climate change issues. We met up in a shabby little room and sat around a table talking about environmental issues. We initially started a group called Climate Action Montreal, which was later changed to Climate Justice Montreal, now an active grassroots movement in Montreal. I was young at the time, and might I say, fairly new to the “activist scene,” and I remember sitting around questioning the meaning of “climate justice.” To me, when observing the dichotomy between the consumption of the world’s resources, one can observe that rich countries are emitting a substantially larger amount of greenhouse gases, while countries in the South are facing most of climate change’s devastating impacts. Whether one looks at the root of the issue as being the economic system or not, countries in the South do not have the economic resources in order to deal with climate change. Industrialized countries have offered little help to developing countries to help defray costs of environmental decay. We’ve used structural adjustment to stifle the voices of those in the South, and our governments have demonstrated nothing but hypocrisy by throwing our waste in their backyards, yet expecting these countries to adopt rigorous environmental legislation.
A couple years ago I spent a month in Nicaragua living with a family in a small village as a cross-cultural experience. We lived simply- there were days when we had no water, days where we had 2 small meals, and days where children became severely ill to no avail. One of the issues the people in my ‘comarca’ were facing while I was there was the privatization of their water. The idea of one’s right to life lingers in my head yet again as I ponder how one should have the right to put a price on the most essential resource for human survival. The look on my Nicaraguan father’s face when he saw what he had to pay for his water for a month will forever haunt me. Sometimes when we sit in a classroom, it’s easy to forget that although UN regulations and policies exist and are taught around the globe, and human rights lawyers dominate discourse on the news, the UN Declaration of Human Rights does nothing to protect innocent families that are being economically exploited. Governments and corporations, although in theory accountable for their actions, rarely get the brunt of what they inflict on other peoples.
And here is what leads me to why I am at COP18. I believe in the need for deep systemic change, and hope that in the years to come, processes will be changed and legislation will be enforced to ensure justice for all. We live under an economic system that has left many in misery both domestically and internationally. One of my professors from CEGEP, Ovide Bastien, once defined this injustice by stating: “If that is what freedom means, the freedom to accumulate wealth, then it is nothing but a facade for what is in fact mere selfishness and greed.”