This week the top scientific journal Nature published a report that our planet “may have already crossed a series of climate tipping points” and faces an existential threat to civilization.
As the alarming news was being published, our elected representatives were responding in the Legislature to last week’s Throne Speech, the PC government’s action plan. Responses by Green Party Members of the Legislative Assembly underscored that the government’s plan barely mentioned the climate crisis. The government’s proposed climate actions fall far short of what scientists are urging politicians to do.
On a freezing Nov. 29 afternoon, Fridays for Future Fredericton held another climate strike outside the New Brunswick Legislature, one of thousands held on the same day around the world. It was the seventh climate strike in Fredericton this year and the sixth held outside the Legislature. The NB Media Co-op has covered all of these events, on March 15, May 4, May 10, May 24, Sept. 20, and Sept. 27. The latest rally, organized by Rose He, a grade 12 student at Fredericton High School, was opened by Wolastoq Grand Council Chief Spasaqsit Possesom (Ron Tremblay).
Rachel Bensler, the first student speaker at the Nov. 29 rally, is a 19-year-old studying at UNB’s Renaissance College. Bensler, leader of the Fossil-Free UNB divestment campaign, said she did not want her tuition money invested in fossil fuels. She reminded the crowd that burning fossil fuel is the main contributor to the climate crisis and said the campaign’s research has found that UNB has more than $10 million invested in fossil fuel companies.
Bensler was followed at the microphone by three young poets, two from Leo Hayes High School and Emma He, a grade 11 student at Fredericton High School. They bravely shared their perspectives on the climate crisis and the need for action by politicians.
Three politicians spoke at the rally. The first, David Coon, the leader of the Green Party of New Brunswick and MLA for Fredericton South has also spoken at the previous climate strikes. Coon told the youth present to keep speaking up for the climate because their voices keep the pressure on politicians.
Jenica Atwin, the new MP for Fredericton and first Green Party representative for the federal riding, told the crowd she had just returned from Ottawa by train the previous day. She said it was important to keep a national rail system operating so that everyone has better transportation options. Atwin noted that we need to not only increase our digital communications skills to avoid carbon-intensive travel but also re-think the way we run big international events like COP25 so that participation does not involve excessive travel. Atwin said it can seem like a broken record to be repeating our demands for action on the climate crisis however we need to keep doing it, over and over, until governments hear us, and act.
The third politician to address the youth and their allies at the rally was Megan Mitton, MLA for Memramcook-Tantramar. Mitton has been the most consistent voice in the Legislature for action on the climate crisis. Earlier in the day, Mitton and her Green Party colleagues David Coon and Kevin Arseneau all voted against the government’s Throne Speech. In the Legislature, Mitton said she was not satisfied with the government’s commitment to climate action. Outside, she led the crowd in a chant: “We believe that we will win.”
After the rally, Extinction Rebellion (XR) spokespersons Emma Johnson and Sinclair Green invited participants to join a march to Fredericton City Hall to urge the City Council to declare a climate emergency. On the steps of City Hall, Council of Canadians Fredericton Chapter spokesperson Katalin Koller read a declaration demanding action from the City. The previous evening, at a Fredericton climate change adaptation event organized by the City, the group had demanded that Fredericton mayor and city council declare a climate emergency.
The vote on the government’s Throne Speech was a confidence motion, meaning that if it failed to win a majority of votes, the government would have fallen. As expected, the vote was supported by the three People’s Alliance NB members and passed with a majority. The minority PC government will therefore continue until at least the next confidence motion, the Budget, is introduced, likely in April 2020. Until then, opportunities will be limited in the NB Legislature to improve the government’s plans to address the climate crisis. Action on the climate crisis will likely continue outside the Legislature, as frustration grows among people of all ages at the lack of political action by most of their elected representatives.
Susan O’Donnell is on the editorial board of the NB Media Co-op and a member of the RAVEN project team.