How do we honour our heroes today?

Almost every day I walk past the national war memorial here in Ottawa. I nod my head and say thanks. I’m not honouring war; I’m honouring commitment to a higher purpose.

Walking by Parliament Hill I shake my head in disgust and think of Nero fiddling.

The 19th session of the global negotiations on climate change (COP19) is getting underway today in Warsaw, Poland, a city that experienced the worst of the Second World War. As a person who has worked on finding climate change solutions since before COP1, it makes me want to cry.

The Prime Minister described the Kyoto Protocol as a “socialist plot to drain the wealth from developed countries”.

Many Canadians today argue we don’t need to take serious action on climate change because ‘we’re so small our actions would be meaningless’. Our forefathers didn’t think like that when they looked out on the world and saw a distant threat.

It wasn’t surprising the prime minister made the historic decision to withdraw from Kyoto—the only country in the world to do so. Overnight Canada became climate pariahs on the international stage. Up until that point in our history, Canada had never turned its back on a legally binding global treaty. Let’s hope it’s the last time.

That takes me back to the war memorial and the sacrifices Canadian men and women made to win our independence and a place on the world stage. They say we became a country on Vimy Ridge in 1917. Those soldiers and the millions back home supporting them earned Canada a reputation for stepping up.

They decided it was wrong to standby while others suffered even if their participation might not be decisive. A very different attitude than our leaders have today.

They also were very practical and industrious when it came turning the decision into action. We rightly honour the soldiers on November 11th every year, but we should never forget the tremendous efforts mounted by all Canadians. In 1938, Canada had only a few thousand troops and handful of old ships. What we did collectively as a country was truly monumental—every able Canadian played a role.

By 1945, Canada had a million people in uniform and the fourth largest navy in the world. They were being fed, clothed, equipped and supported by an army of farmers, factory workers and others.

And it didn’t stop when the war ended. Canadians used what they hand learned and turned it into a vibrant new economy ushering in fifty years of prosperity. They earned the right to expect great things from their children and had shown us the way to earn the respect of the global neighborhood.

Today we are told reducing our greenhouse gas emissions is ‘too expensive’, the ‘technology doesn’t exist’ and whatever we do 'it won’t make a difference anyways’.

I don’t accept this new culture of defeat; of cut-and-run politics. That’s not Canada. Our forefathers weren’t deterred in the face of unimaginable horror--they rolled up their shelves and created the greatest country on earth.

Now it’s time we do our bit. Climate change is the most pressing issue facing humanity. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work.

John Bennett, National Campaign Director
Sierra Club Canada Foundation
412-1 Nicholas Street
Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7
John on Twitter / Bennett Blog


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