As I’ve wrapped my head around the dire warnings of the latest IPCC report, I feel frustrated that political leaders have failed to do enough in the last 40 years. After all, global warming has been an issue since I was a child.

Since the 1990s, one Canadian Prime Minister after another have made promises to reduce emissions, but all have failed. I remember feeling hopeful when Jean Chretien described us as “good citizens of the world” during Canada’s signing of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. I had joined a rally and attended two meetings at my university. Students were pleased that leaders of the world were taking action, finally. Most of us realized the targets were low, but at least, it was a start. However, the Liberal government did little to make it happen, relying mainly on voluntary campaigns. How often do industries volunteer to make less money? Stephen Harper, when he had a minority government, made a few lukewarm commitments to climate change. However, once he had majority government, he formally withdrew Canada from Kyoto in 2011. I felt so embarrassed. When Justin Trudeau became Prime Minister, it was a proud moment when he declared to the world that “we’re back”. However, his record over the last few years has been a focus on fossil fuels and pipelines. He appears to be just as beholden to big oil as our previous governments and we have failed abysmally to deliver on CO2 reductions. At this point, Canada is being described as one of the worst offenders (per capita), as the world falls short of climate-change targets.

In moving forward, it is now imperative that we improve our personal behaviours and, if necessary, make bigger sacrifices. Equally important, we need to be active in making sure that our political leaders have the integrity to walk the talk. Most political candidates make statements about protecting the environment when they are running for office, but their records in office will reveal an inability to make difficult decisions, to think for the long-term, to lead.

By dispersing power, democracies are “safer”, but inefficient – it takes time and consensus to get things done. However, history reveals that the alternatives to democracy have not been better. Even when we get lucky and end up with a benevolent monarch, by the time his son or grandson come into power, it often becomes a degenerate mess. So, for now, we have to make do with democracies, where the system of elected leaders for short terms means that they are thinking mainly for the here and now, jobs and money. Most politicians are unwilling to make decisions that involve some sacrifices now in order to save our future because they are more focused on being re-elected. So, as citizens, we need to insist that our leaders take real action.

 

How can we propel political leaders to act?

  • Be informed. Read up on issues that you care about and as you gain a depth of understanding, keep your mind open to new perspectives and ideas.
  • Check how politicians have voted during their time in office, especially if they are planning to run for office again. Knowing the history of their decisions (or lack of leadership) can help us determine if we should vote for them again. Check the status of proposed laws in your countries. Some examples of sites to help us scrutinize government.
    • Canada – Open Parliament – openparliament.ca
      Find out what your representatives in Ottawa are doing.
    • Canada – LEGISinfo – parl.ca
      Find information on legislation before Parliament.
    • UK – TheyWorkForYou – theyworkforyou.com
      Presents open data from the UK Parliament.
    • US – PolitiFact – politifact.org
      Non-partisan, fact-checking journalism.
    • US – Center for Political Accountability – https://politicalaccountability.net
      Reports on how much US corporations spend to back candidates and shape US policy.
    • US – GovTrack – www.govtrack.us
      Voting records and the status of federal legislation.
  • 79 Countries – Open Government Partnership – www.opengovpartnership.org
    Brings together government civil society leaders to create action plans that make governments more inclusive, responsive and accountable.
  • If you cannot find similar watchdog sites for your country, start writing. Generate discussion and debate about how your country is being run. The pen is mightier than the sword.

 

 Get involved.

  • Discuss issues that you care about with others. Think and write. Post on social media and find others who care.
  • Contact your elected representatives to ask questions and voice your opinions.
  • Join advocacy groups and if one does not exist for your issue, start one.
  • Volunteer for organizations that you like.
  • Watch the actions of government, it’s a thin line between lobbying and corruption.
  • Consider running for office, especially once you’ve gained some knowledge and experience. You don’t need to be a Prime Minister to make a difference. Many important decisions are made on community boards and local levels of government.
  • Please vote.

 

Sherry Crowther

Author Sherry Crowther

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