Joanna Kerr – Conflict and Climate: Changing Course NOW!
The Executive Director of Greenpeace Canada, Joanna Kerr, graciously attended our conference as the keynote on Sunday November 9th, Conflict and Climate: Changing Course NOW! VOW National Office Admin Assistant Fiona Miller wrote an overview of Kerr’s presentation.
By Fiona Miller
Kerr was eloquent, on point, and inspirational to all attendees. She discussed the in-your-face environmental advocacy tactics that are a Greenpeace trademark and necessary to motivate the drastic systemic changes that must occur in the coming years. Kerr commented on the changing political landscape, and the attack of the non-governmental realm in Canada.
Kerr shared her recent trip to Fort Mac and the Tar Sands in Alberta, and her visceral reaction to flying over the sight. She noted the horrible reality of the chemical tailings ponds, the drug addiction in Fort Mac, the sex workers that travel to Fort Mac so violence in Edmonton by oil workers is lessened, and the local Indigenous experience with rare kinds of cancer and unusable water.
A theme of her presentation was the necessity for the Indigenous population to be a part of the broad coalition. How do we create an enabling space in Canada? Through “people-power”; this is the strongest tool according to Kerr. With the Canadian government working to shrink democratic space, to attack human and citizens rights, and to systematically dismantle environmental policy, “people-power” and the use of supports outside of Canada are key to preventing further environmental degradation on our soil.
A movement against climate change must combine efforts with social justice initiatives, human rights initiatives, and sustainability initiatives. Kerr shared the statistic, “The environment has been linked to 40% of conflict in the last 2 years.” Furthermore, there are unprecedented levels of environmental activist murders in the last decade. Due to Greenpeace being a larger organization, they are able to use their weight to help other Canadian NGOs, without fear of being audited and silenced by the Canadian government.
Kerr stated, if we do not turn things around by 2017, “we have driven off the cliff and done irreparable damage.” Even worse, Stephen Harper is turning to 10% of the world’s oil deposits in the Arctic, and views economic development in the North as his legacy. As clarified by Kerr, the Arctic is “our freezer and is keeping the world’s balance.” The Canadian government is neglecting dangerous ice melting in the Arctic.
The Tar Sands is the largest industrial project in the world, and Greenpeace does not just want to prevent future growth, but wants to SHUT THEM DOWN. Greenpeace sees two main areas of focus at this time:
- They will not be able to stop runaway climate change unless millions/billions of people are motivated. There has been a mini revolution in Greenpeace, according to Kerr. They wish to now be people centred, and where they once focused on hiring campaigners and controlling the message, they now focus on online information sharers. Greenpeace therefore no longer has absolute control of the message, but connect individuals from all organizations to speak with online autonomy. “People themselves become the heroes.”
- Greenpeace can no longer motivate with fear, because this pushes people away. Those that want the Tar Sands to reign will continue to undermine Greenpeace/environmental efforts, and it can only be through positive language and hope that this can be prevented. Kerr brought acclaimed actress Emma Thompson to the Arctic to view the ice melting, and Ms. Thompson published her journal writings in Oprah Magazine. As stated by Kerr, this may seem like fluff, however this is the exact spreading of the message with the general population that is required for change.
Kerr shared a recent effort for advocacy by Greenpeace Canada. Protestors climbed one of the initial oil derricks in Alberta and created a pirate radio, taking song requests through twitter with the theme of sunshine. At this positive protest, Kerr stated that oil workers gathered and shared their support for Greenpeace’s efforts.
Kerr wishes efforts towards green energy to be our legacy.
The presentation was ended with a quote Kerr shared by the late Maya Angelou;
“Courage is the most important of all virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”
Thank you very much for attending our conference Joanna Kerr.