It's been a tempestuous month.
In the last weeks, two world events have shaken our world and will continue shake up our work in the year ahead.
In Marrakesh, world leaders and civil society gathered to push for implementation of The Paris Agreement. The event has exceeded expectations: entry onto force of The Paris Agreement ahead of schedule, over 175 nations signing the agreement, 47 countries committing to 100% clean energy between 2030 and 2050.
At the same time, of course, we saw in the US election a great step backward for progress on multiple fronts. I personally have never felt more devastated after hearing an election result, perhaps because climate change is really at a critical junction now - atmospheric scientists reported this year that the low point for carbon in the atmosphere was 400 ppm, taking us to the “edge” of a 1.5 C warmed world - and because of what the election means for the human project of learning to respect and appreciate differences and embrace equal rights for all people.
The shift in dialogue as a result of the Trump victory is already happening. Destructive voices that were once muted are now being given a giant megaphone with “The Trump Brand” labelled over them. There is now space in our public sphere to say and do things that formerly were at least socially forbidden, if not actually legally prohibited as hate speech and rights abuses.
There is added pressure on the Canadian government to backtrack on promises and open up other markets for fossil fuels, partly because of the volatility of the Trump America. This is a means giving into pressure to guarantee more certainty to industry via alternate pipeline routes and resurrection of the tired old argument that US inaction or retrenching automatically requires Canada to follow suit.
But we cannot let the US election provide cover for expanding tar sands and missing climate targets. As Michael Brune, Executive Director of Sierra Club US noted at the close of the Marrakesh meetings, "new research shows the U.S. is already on the path to meet key carbon reduction goals before they are even implemented. It is clear that this progress will not be stopped, even in the face of threats by President-elect Trump."
What does all this mean for Sierra Club Canada Foundation, Canada's only national grassroots environmental group? Well, it means we need to organize and be more effective than ever before. We need to communicate the real facts on what a Trump election means in terms of climate action. And we need to keep encouraging action at municipal, provincial, and federal levels to tackle climate change. And we need to continue our commitment to work in solidarity with indigenous friends, to fight the tendencies of fear that engender hate and discrimination, and to create real opportunities for those who might otherwise be left behind by a de-carbonized society.
We need to do all this as we grow our membership and increase our capacity on key campaigns in the year ahead. But given the years we endured under a government that was openly antagonistic to the environment movement, it’s not like we don't know how to fight and win in spite of some pretty steep odds.
From stopping pollution to surviving a politically motivated audit, we have the grit and the guts it takes. The diversity and depth of our grassroots folks make us pretty tough to weed out! In the past year alone, we have:
- Called for the revocation of oil and gas exploration in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to protect the Blue Whale
- Stepped up to overturn a NAFTA Tribunal decision that could call into question all environmental assessments for companies from countries with whom we have trade agreements (that would bring devastating effects for GHG emission targets, wildlife and communities)
- Brought key questions to the first day of hearings for the Energy East pipeline, including how the export project would possibly offset oil imports to Atlantic Canada (as the boosters of the project claim), risks to watersheds, ocean life, and communities.
- Provided thousands of hours of outdoor play for kids enrolled in our Wild Child program to explore, enjoy and be active outdoors, fostering the healthy relationship with nature that results in better outcomes for them and for the Earth
- Worked to support innovative initiatives on issues people care about on the ground like Watch for Wildlife, protecting urban biodiversity and ecosystems in Halifax, Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton, and acting to stop the shipment of dangerous nuclear waste … just to name a few!
As we vote our leaders this weekend, begin to develop a plan for the year ahead, and share information on our campaigns and goals, I have a sense that we are in a good place to take on the challenges ahead and shore up progress we've made. And it’s thanks to volunteers like you, and the abiding commitment of our members and donors who are with us every step of the way.
We can't be complacent but we need to be confident in our efforts and our Club. And we can do it even better because we do it together, with you our leaders, supporters, volunteers, members, donors and friends.
Gretchen Fitzgerald - National Program Director