Between Rocks and Hard Places

Stop Everything
Rebecca McNeil and Darcy Higgins

October 27, 2009

After the flash mob that appeared in Parliament yesterday, disrupting question period to call immediate attention to climate change, we had very mixed feelings.

The flash mob evokes tactics of yester-year, though a little more clever. To those of us who are used to doing campaign and policy work in the environmental sector, making incremental change by going in the front door with a suit and a tie (well a suit, anyways), it’s hard to not feel like this approach loses credibility for our whole sector and the point we are trying to make – that our government must act now to reduce climate change.

On the other hand, this as a desperate act from people hoping desperately to wake our government up, and on that sentiment, we couldn’t agree more. We have issued press releases, sent letters and petitions, aired public service announcements, written columns (ahem), penned books, held community events and press conferences, schmoozed officials and any other “respectable” tactic you can imagine to try to evoke change, for twenty years! The issue of climate change is by no means new, and two decades of respectability has not bailed us out of this problem.

When Green Party leader Elizabeth May joined the protest on Parliament Hill on the weekend (pre-Parliament flash mob), Rebecca asked her about her days in the Sierra Club and whether she’d ever thought she would see this kind of youth-lead activism when she helped form the Sierra Youth Coalition. Her response surprised us: “I never thought I would have to. I never thought it would get this bad.”

The woman’s got a point. Even the biggest of “doomsdayers” (as we have been affectionately called) didn’t anticipate that this kind of action would be needed because we all hoped our government would wake up before this. While some see the tactics of the flash mob as disrespectful, inappropriate, entitled or juvenile (all taken from the lovely “comments” section at the Globe and Mail), frankly, what mass demonstration has ever been pretty? When people are backed against a wall they will use every tool they have to fight back. After all, we are talking about scientific evidence that points to heightened and increased natural disasters, food and water scarcity for an already over-populated world, and the potential for international conflict, climate refugees and displaced people. Not only is there a Nobel prize-winning international scientific panel who agrees on this, but we have already begun to see the evidence.

In a press conference after the demonstration, May said that these youth were Canada’s best and brightest. Particularly in comparison to the country’s MPs. The chants didn’t sound much different from the regular banter in the House she thought, a theme the Globe picked up on as they started their story on the issue: “The shouting and heckling in the House of Commons had nothing to do with MPs yesterday...”

We didn’t think that the style of activism that spread through campuses in our parents’ generation like carbon-induced wildfires would be included in the activism of today.

May’s commentary was politically risky, but maybe it’s time we all started taking risks.



Youth shout protest in Question Period, gain attention to climate crisis

Stop Everything

See youth protests on Bill C-311 and commentary by Elizabeth May at the CBC.

"Veteran parliamentarians said they could not recall a protest in the House of Commons that had ever involved so many people or which seemed as well-orchestrated." - National Post


the largest day of action in global history by far


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Mahatma Gandhi changed the world, so what are you doing?

Stop Everything
Darcy Higgins

October 23, 2009

"Someone who works in a morgue, who sees so many bodies so many times doesn't realize the impact that someone else would."

It's an analogous situation with us and climate change, we sometimes keep observing events, in the newspapers, and we miss the profoundness. This is what Suresh Prabhu, told us when Rebecca and I caught up with him at the global screening of The Age of Stupid. Prabhu is a member of the Parliament of India and former Minister of Industry and Minister of Environment and Forests, among other posts.

The environmentally-minded politician saw Stupid as an effective wake up - a film that brings out these events with the necessary context.
Certainly it does that. Watching it is an experience, with the context provided by a number of stories of people today, in India, Louisiana, England and Nigeria. Most of these people want to do the right thing, but it isn't in their best personal interest do do so. It became evident to me that a significant change in our economy and job could be one of the significant and necessary changes that would both help these people and the impacts they make on the planet.

So what can we do? We asked Prabhu his thoughts on youth as activists.

"One man can change the world, look at Mahatma Gandhi," said Prabhu. "Transformational change must come from government, but we also need to ensure lifestyle change, things will not change by law alone."

He told us that massive education and movements were key to success. Government is just a starting point.

"You call the fire engine to stop the fire," he said.

This is what we youth and adults are doing across Canada Saturday. We're calling 911. Though "911" is "350". And longer-ter, we must work to change minds, that so easily get accustomed. "A process of unlearning," Prabhu called it.

Over in India, where each person contributes roughly one tonne of carbon dioxide compared with the average Canadian's twenty, the youth movement is taking strong action.

Much of the emphasis of the Indian Youth Climate Network is their delegation team and work with the Indian government. The youth have in fact asserted themselves so that they are being listened to by Lok Sabha, the Indian lower house.

The current Minister of Environment and Forests, Sabhu's successor put out a media release on their consultations.

Indian youth are a significant proportion of the voting population, and are engaged in citizenship. What can we learn from them? How can we demand that our concerns on climate are put into action by the Harper machine? If we don't have many politicians like Prabhu, maybe we have to be this change ourselves.


Stupid is playing across Canada tomorrow. Remember to act as well.

See you in Ottawa?

Stop Everything
Darcy Higgins

October 17, 2009

By now, if you haven't heard about 350, Powershift or C-Day, you probably haven't been too engaged in the climate movement or not reading our column. Really, no hard feelings... but now you've got no excuses.

The buses are being readied, the organizers in place. Facebook's abuzz. If you're not heading to Ottawa, please act in your community.

I've been pondering what this will all mean. After most developing countries walked out of a meeting with Canada this week, what chance do we have to shift the position of Canada's New Government? What is the most effective way to make change?

How do we engage the public in a significant way to make this the issue?

Whatever the tactic, hopefully a conensus on the next move can come out at Powershift. This Saturday is the time to convene and to act. See you there!

I'll write soon with some ideas from India.

With less than two months left to define an international agreement in Copenhagan, young sustainability activists Rebecca McNeil and Darcy Higgins are writing Stop Everything, a column engaging in political strategies for change in tackling the climate crisis. They follow the youth climate movement in Canada and others as they work to cap greenhouse gas emissions and change society, and show you ways you can be involved at this most critical juncture.
Find, discuss and learn at: Sustainability is Step One

Image from: http://iycn.in Spectral Q / Shiv Ahuja


Back at ‘ya, Harper

Stop Everything
Rebecca McNeil

October 9, 2009

I have spent the past year trying to follow the antics of the big players on Parliament Hill, and this weekend just threw another wrench in the drama that is becoming Canadian politics. Over the past year we have watched the Liberals change leaders from a boy scout to an assertive “foreigner”, the NDP go from the biggest denouncers of Harper to backing them in a confidence motion, and watched Harper move the Conservatives slowly but surely from far right to right of centre – not a small step in the world of Conservative Party politics.

In an October 1st editorial Globe and Mail writer Michael Bliss announced that “In a historic shift, the Tories have seized the centre and are set to become the natural governing party.” I assume if you have time to read this blog you’ve likely already scoured the daily papers so this won’t require a full explanation, but it is becoming increasingly evident that Harper will be our leader through the rest of this year. This means he’s our guy for the international climate change decisions this year, and we are going to have to find a way to make sure that strong climate change policies and action makes it onto his agenda.

The good news is that with a government turning increasingly to the centre, they are backing a lot of issues on would not have normally have been supportive. Take Employment Insurance. Harper has taken an uncharacteristic stance to secure his Party’s position as leader of this country, and the NDP in turn propped up his government as a big ol’ thank you. Call it opportunistic, but it gives me some comfort to think that in the midst of achieving his own priorities our Prime Minister is able to adopt policies that will actually end up supporting Canadians.

In this hopeful vein, myself and several thousand other people will be heading to Parliament on October 24th, to “fill the hill” and let the Prime Minister know we are serious about taking action on climate change, and want him to be as well when he attends the international talks in Copenhagen this December. We don’t have many shots to get it right, and neither does Harper.

As the Prime Minister belted out this weekend that he gets by with a little help from his friends, I think we were all curious if there was some sort of symbolic message with the choice of song. I’ll be the first to admit I sort of loved watching his literal song and dance. But a quick piece of advice, Mr. Harper: if you want more friends, making decisions that won’t condemn our country to a life of natural disasters, drought, disease and possible extinction, will make you a very popular guy. And a rendition of Mean Mr. Mustard couldn’t hurt either.