When Jeff Lewis, a professor of geography at Vancouver Island University, spoke recently in Campbell River about the many risks associated with man-made climate change, someone in attendance bemoaned the lack of young people in the crowd.
The irony became apparent the following day, when students from at least two local schools staged a climate strike, walking out of classes for the afternoon and holding a protest at city hall.
Student leaders said they have two goals: the relatively modest local-scale objective of protecting the environment with a ban on plastic bags and straws, and the big-picture ambition of getting Canada to align itself with emissions targets outlined in the Paris Agreement.
During the rally, students as young as 13 told me they’re frustrated by the fact that they can’t vote.
Meanwhile, full-grown climate change deniers – or increasingly, those who no longer deny that climate change happening, but who say it’s “natural” – remain highly vocal online.
One of my favorite variations of this gibberish is what I call the “natural cycles” argument.
One example from a Facebook user: “Nobody is denying climate change. We’re just saying that it’s completely natural and we have less to do with it than the Alarmist’s (sic) say we do.”
This has such a West Coast flavour: it manages to combine the Earth Mother worshipping language of Gulf Island hippies with a wholesale rejection of climate science that might as well have come straight from the lips of an oil industry mouthpiece.
But these people can vote. And they seem highly motivated to cast a ballot for anyone who will ditch the carbon tax, which the federal Liberal government is trying to implement in provinces that haven’t done so already.
It’s important to note that B.C.’s carbon tax has been in place for more than 10 years. It’s widely cited as a model for carbon pricing because it has been associated with economic growth and a reduction in greenhouse gases. It’s also largely revenue neutral.
But nobody should be surprised that such policies are generating resistance in communities like Campbell River.
Recall that when working-class jobs disappeared with the closure of the Elk Falls pulp and paper mill in 2009, in the midst of the global financial crisis, many of those workers found jobs in the Alberta oil patch.
Many of these people need a helping hand. They seem to regard the state as their enemy and the oil industry as their friend, or at least as an entity that helps feed their families.
A policy of nationalizing the oil companies and using the profits to invest in clean energy was put forward by my friend Martin Lukacs in his column in the Guardian back in 2014.
These energy corporations “would ultimately convert themselves into different sort of companies: instead of drilling wells or laying pipes, their workers would assemble solar panels and rig up wind turbines.”
It’s a bold vision and a good one. But politicians and technocrats of the neoliberal era are clearly more comfortable with market-based solutions to climate change – such as the carbon tax – than large-scale economic interventions.
But there’s a feeling of insurgence among the climate change deniers, and they will continue to pretend the problem doesn’t exist if it means they save a few dollars in the short term.
Political leaders who care about climate change would be well advised to take this seriously. Because the more they lose ground to politicians like Donald Trump and Jason Kenney, the worse the effects of the climate instability will be.
And if young people don’t see results from their peaceful protests, you can expect their radicalization as climate-related disasters multiply.