Joanna Kerr Keynote Address
Joanna Kerr was the Keynote speaker at our conference on Sunday, November 9, Conflict and Climate: Changing Course NOW! Kerr is the Executive Director of Greenpeace Canada.
The following are her notes for her Keynote Address:
“Greeting [Slide 1]
Good Morning and thank you very much to Lyn, Janis and the VOW organizing committee for inviting me to speak to you today.
I’m honoured to be sharing the stage with these incredible women today, addressing what really is the defining struggle of our generation.
Introduction [Slide 2]
The conference theme today—conflict and climate change—really goes back to Greenpeace’s roots.
Our story began one day in the winter of 1970, when members of the “Don’t Make a Wave” Committee rushed to an emergency meeting in a Vancouver church determined to stop nuclear bomb testing on Alaska’s Amchitka Island. By the meeting’s end, those women and men had agreed they would sail a boat into the test zone in protest. One departing committee member flashed a peace sign to his fellow, Bill Darnell, a soft-spoken ecologist. Darnell replied in kind, but adding, “let’s make that a green peace.”
And, it stuck.
Thinking about conflict and climate change as two linked processes of human-led devastation forces us to reflect on the systemic way in which the actions of our governments and corporations lock in pathways of exploitation and oppression—in Canada and abroad.
As Canadians, we have the power to hold those who speak on our behalf accountable to these injustices. We have the power to say “not in my name.”
I am hopeful. Across the country more citizens are waking up, getting active, making choices to bring about change towards a peaceful world, stopping climate change and injustice.
There is still much work to be done, for the only way to overcome deeply entrenched corporate power and centuries upon centuries of elite privilege is to turn up the heat on our simmering, collective “people-power” across Canada and the world.
So, what I want to speak to you about today, is why and how we can use people-power and women’s leadership to tackle climate change and nurture a peaceful planet.
First, I want to talk about the importance of democratic space and social justice here in Canada. These have been much depleted during these Harper years. Recognizing that it is impossible to talk about climate justice without social, gender and Indigenous justice must be the jumping off point of any people’s movement for a peaceful, sustainable future.
Second, I want to emphasize the immediacy of the rather abstract and distant scientific questions of climate change—including those related to militarization of the Arctic and the tar sands. Being conscious of the fact that climate change impacts us all, people-power must look beyond Canadian horizons and work in solidarity with women and men the world over.
And third, I absolutely want to talk about solutions and the way forward.
1. The Home Front: Democratic Space & Social Justice [Slide 3]
Here in Canada, we are experiencing—at an unprecedented level—a dramatic curbing of democratic space that limits our ability to speak truth to power.
Once citizens of a country that was a global leader in the environment and human rights, we find ourselves now faced with new realities that would once have been unfathomable.
Our environmental protection framework has been systematically dismantled to pave way for processes that make resource extraction easier. Key pieces of environmental law have been weakened, the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy was disbanded, we’ve pulled out of Kyoto. And last year, we pulled out of the UN Convention to Combat Drought and Desertification last year—we’re the only country in the world to have done so.
We’ve also seen disturbing acts of censorship, which undermine our civil liberties. Scientists have been muzzled within our own government and through funding cuts to research organizations. Progressive charities are being intimidated into silence through political audits conducted by the CRA. Lawsuits are being used to target activists, whom governments and corporations transform into public enemies by applying narratives of “eco-terrorism” and “radicalism.”
All these methods against groups and individuals – from defunding to surveillance — are being carefully documented by a group I’m involved with called Voices.
Groups working on gender issues are among these. As Voices says, “Research undertaken to date indicates that women and gendered-focused civil society organizations attempting to critically discuss government policy decisions have been the target of legal and extralegal measures that undermine their capacity to participate in public debate and dissent on important policy issues” (see the report Gendered Dissent).
As I speak, it as if I’m describing the plot of a science-fiction novel instead of the place we call home. But, with Resolute Forest Products serving Greenpeace and two of our staff with a $7 million SLAPP, I know these to be only too real.
Meanwhile, the indefensible and continual violation of the rights of First Nations, Inuit and other Indigenous communities is helping make it clear that social justice is climate justice (and vice versa).
The people on the front lines of climate change are also those on the margins of society. They’re the people of the Beaver Lake Cree who have documented 20,000 Treaty rights violations; or communities like the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations, where 80% of their traditional territory cannot be accessed for much of the year due to tar sands developments.
Last month, I had the opportunity to see the tar sands for myself.
While I was knowledgeable about them on an intellectual level, seeing them in person distilled this knowledge down to a visceral and emotional level. The place felt like a war zone to me—vast expanses of Earth laid bare; noxious fumes and smoke that hangs in the air; the propane cannons that pierce the air every 30 seconds to scare birds away from the toxic tailings ponds; the truly depressing camps hundreds of workers live in.
On top of that, I met with several Indigenous women leaders, many of whom were dealing with the effects of chronic illness—a consequence of contaminated air, land and water resources in tar sands adjacent First Nations reserves.
Higher rates of sexual and gender-based violence in northern Alberta has been a documented corollary of tar sands expansion.
Gender-based violence, domestic violence, and overcrowded women’s shelters are booming alongside the oil.
In Africa and Asia and Latin America – in my former role at ActionAid I spoke to countless women living in poverty about the impacts of climate change . From the distances travelled to collect food, water and fuel to the responsibility for farming, feeding families, and ensuring the wellbeing of children in good times and in disasters, they are front and centre.
Across the Global South, these women are becoming leaders in disaster reduction, sustainable small-scale farming, solar energy and more. It’s the same here in Canada, women are identifying contaminants in our rivers, opposing the tar sands and pipelines expressly with other concerned women, and calling for more open, democratic processes.
My point here, is that as much as climate injustice in Canada is about censorship and climate denial, it is as much about human rights and women’s rights. This is the pivotal point at which we need to reframe the climate narrative.
We know that environmental degradation can amplify drivers of armed conflict and undermine peaceful coexistence. The environment has been linked by the UN to 40 per cent of all violent conflicts in the last 60 years.
And the flip side of this: those who speak out are the targets, as we’ve seen dramatic rise in violence against frontline leaders: at least 908 environmental activists have been killed over the last decade.
In the coming years, Greenpeace has explicit objectives to take back our democratic space.
First, we will ensure the ability of Greenpeace and allied groups to advocate in Canada for a green, peaceful, and just future without threats.
Second, we will protect the right to protest and the right to freedom of expression in Canada, while acting in solidarity with activists and civil society around the world.
2. Beyond Borders: The Arctic and the Tar sands [Slide 4]
Ultimately, climate change impacts us all.
Since around the Industrial Revolution, average global surface temperatures have risen 0.8°C. The International Energy Agency warns that in order to keep increase within the safe levels of 2°C, we need to take stringent actions by 2017.
Otherwise, as the IEA puts it, that door will be “closed forever.”
This doesn’t leave us much time.
Canada’s carbon emissions are about 20.3 tonnes per capita—a Canadian burns 3 times more carbon than a Swiss person.
We’re off-track to meet our targets. Globally, we’re not pulling our weight.
In fact, the Canadian government and corporations are actually opening a new front of exploitation that will certainly push as beyond the 2017 door of no return: The Arctic.
Canada, Russia and other countries have ramped up competition and militarization of the Arctic, which is thought to contain 30% of the world’s recoverable gas and 10% of remaining oil deposits.
Instead of recognizing the possible two-thirds reduction of Arctic sea since the 1980s as the canary in the coalmine for climate disaster, these countries are choosing to take economic advantage of the newly navigable waters.
Canada is among the several countries, including Russia and Denmark, who have laid claim to the Arctic, including the North Pole, which lies near an underwater oil patch.
Our government regularly carries out military exercises in the Arctic and has proposed spending $25 billion to build a new fleet of armed combat vessels.
Earlier this year, the government tested the use of drones in the North Pole
and has proposed a network of Northern Operations Hubs which will be well-equipped to handle and influx of troops and supplies in the event of an “emergency.” This happening at the same time as Russia is reactivation former bases and completing the largest full-scale military combat exercises since the crumbling of the USSR in the Arctic.
Part of the Conservative narrative for the Arctic is the outlandish notion that our sovereignty depends on a “use it or lose it” approach.
With this mentality, and without a change in trajectory, a confrontation in the Arctic might seem inevitable.
The Arctic matters to us all, wherever we live. It’s like the world’s air conditioner, keeping us cool and bouncing sunlight back into space. It’s also home to some of the most amazing animals on earth.
Any oil and gas exploration in the Arctic is bound to be devastating. Aside from the climate impacts and those on wildlife, we lack adequate technology to properly contain spills in icy deepwater conditions. And given major ocean currents, spills would likely be difficult to clean up and contain to one country or body of water. A major oil spill in Canada’s western Arctic could spread to Alaska and Russia.
That’s why Greenpeace is seeking a ban on offshore drilling and a moratorium on industrial fishing in the region, we as the creation of a global Arctic sanctuary in the uninhabited area around the North Pole.
The other frontier in the new scramble for Extreme Oil is of course, the tar sands.
Over half of Alberta’s tar sands oil goes the US, where the Pentagon is the largest institutional user of petroleum on the planet; it uses 395,000 barrels of oil each day.
For 40 years, these exports have spiked alongside wars and occupations (including the Yom Kippur war, Iraqi oil embargo, Afghanistan and Iraq). In short, the tar sands are facilitating US military expansion, with terrible consequences for the climate.
The US military gave off 100 million metric tonnes of CO2 during the war in Iraq.
Globally, emissions from military operations are responsible for 6 to 10 per cent of global air pollution. The tar sands are the largest industrial on the planet and Canada’s fastest-growing contributor to GHG emissions.
It is conceivable that total tar sands expansion could increase global temperatures by 0.4oC on its own.
Canada’s own military spending has risen to the highest-ever levels, post-Cold War at $23 billion. That means—living as we are in what Naomi Klein calls “Decade Zero” of the climate crisis—national defence receives 28% of spending while environment Canada received only 2%. Less than $1.5 billion is dedicated to environmental protection and climate change.
More than ever, war and armed conflict is increasingly synonymous with “ecocide.”
The International Energy Agency further estimates the additional investment needed in climate adaptation to transition to low-carbon energy systems between 2010 and 2015 at about $45 trillion globally—that’s about $1 trillion annually, about equal to military expenditures.
The opportunity costs of the militarization of the Arctic and “petropolization” of the country couldn’t be clearer.
Any people-power movement must look beyond Canada’s borders if we are to put the brakes on runaway climate change by 2014. Solidary and campaign coordination with allies in other countries is essential if multiple countries are to support key binging global policies—especially in the Arctic.
So, how do we change? How do we do more than “say no” and what does that future look like?
3. Solutions and people-centred campaigning [Slide 5]
Greenpeace aims to inspire and unite a billion acts of courage. Each voice is a whisper that when united with others becomes part of a mighty roar for climate justice.
People-powered campaigning means mobilizing millions of Canadians for the environment and putting people at the heart of what we do. It means creating meaningful ways for supporters across the country and around the world to drive change. We will support people wanting to participate in Greenpeace campaigns, but also to support them to champion their own local issues.
Whether confronting corporate power, inequality, injustice – we want to people to feel stronger than David in the face of Goliath.
As we pioneer this new approach, we aim to amplify our campaign messages. And we want more of this messaging to be about climate solutions.
(Slide on solutions in alberta)
We need business models that decentralize energy ownership, reverse collusion between government and corporations, that invest in renewables and that allow shared, people-owned power production.
The Canadian technology sector generated $9.1 billion in 2010
and the emerging green economy sector in the renewables sector is expected to be worth about $3 trillion by 2020.
Good, green jobs and industries are viable options. The choice between economy and environment is a myth.
Already, Iceland is already fuelled 100% by renewables, Portugal 70% — compared to Canada’s paltry 16.9%.
Average prices for solar photovoltaic and wind energy have dropped dramatically, making them increasingly affordable—in some cases, at par or below the cost of conventional fossil fuels.
Globally, solar is 15 times more common than in 2007 and wind is 3 times more common.
They are also the fastest growing sources of electricity in Canada, though they contribute less than 3% of electricity generation. In other words, we have lots of room to scale up in a way that’s good for people, food for the planet, and good for the economy.
Greenpeace is already supporting rural and First Nations in northern Alberta to go solar.
If we can transition and scale these clean energy sources, we would have more than enough oil without exploiting the tar sands or the Arctic.
Closing [Slide 6]
So, here we are, standing atop a very precarious tipping point.
This is it.
If we choose wrong between now and 2017, we’ll have to stick around and live the consequences, risk handing down a dying planet to our children.
Nationally, we’re on the cusp of a federal election. We have a choice to show the world what Canada stands for. We must show up with strength in numbers to hold our government to account and take courageous action to adapt to climate change.
I have faith that by activating our collective people power that we can make the right decisions on both levels.
Our movement is gaining strength. More of us are refusing to be bullied by Big Oil and smokescreens hiding the true impacts of extreme forms of oil—including euphemisms like “ethical oil”—are being exposed for the indefensible doublethink they really are.
Climate change is one of the great unifiers of our time. Every human on the planet has something at stake.
This is where we make our stand. This is where we decide what we stand for. And we need to do it together and embrace courage. As great author and feminist Maya Angelou said.
Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”