February 27, 2020

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Opinion

Time to take the message to the streets

On Friday, I will escort my kids out of school and take them to the Winnipeg portion of the Global Climate Strike.

This is a first for me. I’ve worked on climate issues for the better part of 20 years — advising governments and businesses — yet I’ve never taken my kids to a protest. We’re not a family that marches in the streets. But it’s time.

I’ve been in many meeting rooms with international leaders and heads of multinational companies, and there’s always a lot of talk about how we must act urgently on climate change "for our children ... and our children’s children."

Well, those kids are here. My 10-year-old daughter, 12-year-old son and their peers are starting to speak up. Four million of them marched in the streets of big cities and small islands around the world last week demanding more action on climate change. I hope even more turn out Friday.

They’re not thrilled with our progress to date. They’re right.

Although people all over the world are working to reduce emissions and protect vulnerable communities, we’re not moving quickly enough to keep up with the changes already happening. We certainly aren’t moving fast enough to reduce the harm of the disruptions coming.

Just this week, our children learned they live in a world with three billion fewer birds than the one we grew up in. They found out bird populations in Canada and the United States have dropped by 29 per cent since 1970 and climate change will only speed this decline. Then they were told the last five years have been the hottest since record-keeping started in 1880, all because their parents and grandparents have failed to reduce emissions fast enough.

Finally, they heard from a new report that heat is severely damaging the ocean, creating profound risks for coastal communities and food supplies.

You can see why they’re upset and are doing just what is needed to make us pay attention — because although we already know a lot about what technically must be done, we’re not having an honest conversation about who needs to be involved to make it happen.

The simple answer is: everyone.

Every single government, sector and person needs to be involved. This isn’t an issue that can be tackled from the sidelines. It’s not just an environmental effort. It’s not a left-wing conspiracy to kill jobs. Because we’re burning fossil fuels, we’re going to see more frequent and stronger storms, loss of natural habitats and increased instances of drought and flooding. These changes are happening whether you "believe" in them or not, and they will have enormous impacts on our lives and economies.

This year, the Bank of Canada integrated climate-related risks into its financial stability analysis for the first time. It would be great if our business leaders were at the march today telling our kids how they plan to embed climate change opportunity and risk management in their everyday business decisions and products.

It would be great if doctors in our community were at the march talking about the health risks of climate change. Or if history teachers were there to talk about the importance of protest movements in making social change. It would be great if adults from all walks of life show up so our governments know they have our support to move faster on this issue.

There is no silver bullet. No one charismatic leader or genius inventor is coming to save us. We need sustained pressure to prioritize climate action because it is hard to change business as usual.

I know we’re busy. Kids are adjusting to new classes; our own jobs are demanding; hockey tryouts are in full swing. But on Friday, I’m taking my kids to the Climate Strike march and I hope you do, too.

Scientists are doing their job. They’ve come together to clearly state what’s happening and to call for action. In fact, they’ve been doing that for decades. And kids are now doing their job. They’re holding up a mirror that shows us the disconnect between the risks to their futures and our unwillingness to change.

It’s time for us to do our job.

Jane McDonald is interim president and CEO of the International Institute for Sustainable Development. In her previous role as policy director for the federal minister of environment and climate change, she supported the Canadian government’s role in the Paris Agreement.

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