When dinosaurs strode the Earth millions of years ago, seemingly unaware their end was near, I could imagine the spirit of a smiling Stephen Harper and his merry band of Canadian climate-change deniers hard at work. “Not to worry, my little ones,” I can hear them saying to any dinosaur that listened. “It will all turn out just fine in the end.” Fortunately, the rest of us now live in a post-dinosaur frame of mind and are not so sanguine.
When the history of this fragile planet is written, I suspect this past week will go down as a hopeful one. If for only a few days, the right-wing political echo chamber of self-serving cynicism and apathy about the perils of climate change was pushed to the background.
Instead, through the power of worldwide protests and the surprising legacy of oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, we were reminded that people care about the growing threats to their world, and that there is something that can be done about it.
Last Sunday, in what was called the “People’s Climate March,” hundreds of thousands of people turned out in more than 150 countries and 2,000 separate locations — including in Canada — to demand urgent action on climate change. Although it received scant media coverage in the U.S., it was regarded as the largest march of its kind in history. In New York City alone, more than 300,000 people participated.
The next day, heirs to the fabled Rockefeller family, which made its fortune from oil, announced they would sell their investments in fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy. The Rockefeller fund said it was joining a coalition of hundreds of other institutions and individuals to rid themselves of more than $50 billion in fossil fuel assets. For the Rockefellers, this included investments in Canadian industries.
All of this came as the United Nations on Tuesday prepared for the largest gathering of world leaders ever devoted to climate change, and the first such meeting in five years. More than 100 leaders attended the summit — but not Prime Minister Harper, even though he was in New York on Tuesday. It was a prelude to an even more crucial meeting in Paris at the end of next year when the world’s nations need to work out a new international climate-change agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol fast payday loan.
The initiative by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund took many by surprise. It was described as an effort to make oil, gas and coal investments as toxic as tobacco stocks became in the 1990s, or investments in apartheid South Africa in the 1980s. Stephen Heintz, the fund’s president, said the founder of Standard Oil in 1870, if he were alive today, would be “leading the charge” into renewable energy. It comes at a time when the “divestment movement” is gaining traction in many companies and on university campuses.
In the debate about climate change, the South African apartheid parallels have been cited by many. Can companies today be pressured to stop their investment in fossil fuels — like the Rockefellers — in the same way that companies in the 1980s were pressured to end their support of apartheid South Africa?
In recent months, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu has been particularly critical of Canada’s approach to the development of Alberta’s tarsands. This is in contrast to how he viewed Canada during the protests against South Africa in the 1980s.
I remember when I was part of the CBC news team in 1985-86 covering the state of emergency in South Africa, Tutu in particular told us how important Canada’s boycott of apartheid was for their campaign to replace that government.
Last Sunday in The Observer newspaper, Tutu urged that a similar campaign happen: “Never before in history have human beings been called on to act collectively in defence of the Earth . . . Who can stop climate change? We can. You and you and you, and me. And it is not just that we can stop it, we have a responsibility to do so.”
With Canada’s next election scheduled for October of next year, only a few months before the crucial Paris climate change summit, it will be critical to see “which Canada” shows up in Paris.