Monday, October 27, 2008

My letter to Prime Minister Harper

Dear Mr. Harper,

I've walked from Toronto to Ottawa to bring attention to the disastrous effects of climate change already occurring in the world.

We are already seeing rising sea levels, droughts, floods, freak storms, desertification, mass species extinctions, an enormous global refugee crisis, disease spread, resource wars and other disasters. This is the tip of the iceberg, with all these issues projected to become much more grave in this century, and with acidic oceans belching noxious gases across dying landscapes as a potential end result if climate change is not brought under control.

In Canada, we're already beginning to feel the effects of climate change, with Inuit communities being threatened with wildlife loss and permafrost melt that destroys their homes. Our forestry industry is being devastated by the spread of the pine beetle. Climate change is bringing on increased rates of asthma, increased disease spread, increased heat waves and their associated threats and other critical health issues as outlined in a recent report from Health Canada.

I want to thank you for committing $100 million to climate change adaptation in developing countries. The amount is far too small, but is a welcome recognition of our responsibilities for this global crisis.

My biggest concern is that Canada enter international negotiations on global climate change treaties in good faith and as a leader, not a laggard.

I noticed that you expressed your opposition to the Kyoto Plus initiative that would ask for Canada to commit to emissions reductions targets of 25-40% below 1990 levels. This is irresponsible. These targets are, if anything, too low. The WWF released a report this morning updating the science in the last report of the IPCC, and recommended, as a result, a 30% emissions cut as a bare minimum by 2020, and to be met without relying on overseas offsetting. This report was endorsed by the new vice chair of the IPCC, Prof. Jean Pascal van Ypersele.

James Hanson, of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who has been carefully and methodically analyzing climate data for decades, has recently stated that safe atmospheric levels of CO2 must certainly fall below 350ppm, a level we have already passed. Although he recognizes that oceans can still absorb some carbon, they are rapidly losing their ability to do so. The emissions pattern must be reversed in a matter of months, not decades, if we hope to avoid the worst excesses of climate change.

I am concerned that the very real concerns about the economy will create the common but false idea that the environment needs to be put aside for the moment. As you must know, the environment underlies every economy, and the current crisis is not unrelated to environmental, resource and climate issues. The price of foods, for example, is going up because of droughts and competition with bio-fuels. Recently, it was reported that deforestation removes $2-5 trillion from the economy annually. This alone is a threat greater than the current economic crisis. In the United States, where deregulation was the principal reason for the mortgage crisis, a serious secondary factor was that house prices were falling as fuel prices soared, particularly in areas far from job locations. If we do not curtail a pattern of resource depletion with no regard for the costs involved, economic destabilization will continue.

In a study commissioned for the UK government, economist Nicholas Stern estimated in 2006 that the costs of unchecked climate change would be greater than those of both world wars and the depression combined. This last summer, he concluded that he had grossly underestimated the economic costs of climate change and that the true numbers were several times higher.

I understand that you inherited a country that had neglected its international obligations for far too long. I understand that this makes the task harder for Canadians. But I do not believe Canadians are unwilling to take up the task. What they need is a clear understanding of the risks, a clear understanding of the goals, and a clear understanding of the strategies required to get us there.

Al Gore has issued a challenge for the United States to replace all its generation from fossil fuels with renewable power over a decade. Both presidential candidates have pledged to try to meet that goal. Canada has vast hydro resources and thus a much lower dependence on fossil fuels for generation. There is no reason why we couldn't meet a similar target. So we need to implement whatever combination of incentives, regulations and market mechanisms are required to get this done. There are many jobs available in the manufacture and installation of wind turbines, solar thermal, photovoltaic and marine systems. This would help the Canadian economy to grow.

The biggest priority, however, needs to be investing in conservation and efficiency through incentives to support an appropriate regulatory environment and strong market mechanisms.

We need to stop subsidizing fossil fuels. Kairos, a Canadian ecumenical justice organization, is calling for a withdrawal of all subsidies to fossil fuels in a postcard campaign. I would go further. I believe that an economy-wide market mechanism that discourages carbon emissions will be absolutely critical. The carbon tax is one such measure that you opposed without giving a reasonable alternative. Given the crisis at hand, I believe this was irresponsible.

We also urgently need public investment in three critical areas, both of which can help to stimulate the economy as well.

First, we need to immediately stop building all structures that are inadequate for a post-carbon future and work rapidly to retrofit existing structures. Europeans have developed the Passivhaus standard which eliminates the need for mechanical heating systems. Proposed legislation will make this standard mandatory throughout Europe by 2016. The increased costs are negligible, occasionally negative and dropping as expertise increases. Insulation is far cheaper than furnaces and ductwork. California will be making a net-zero standard mandatory by 2020. This standard would force every structure to produce as much energy as it uses. Canada needs to adopt a standard such as one of these if we are to have any hope at all of achieving the required goals. Similarly, we need to embark on a rapid retrofit program, targeting at least 3% of our existing structures annually.

In the fall of 2007, Natural Resources Canada anticipated a shortfall in deliverability of natural gas of 11% by the end of 2009. Canada has not prepared for this crisis, which combines resource depletion and climate change. An enhanced country-wide building code and retrofit program helps to solve both crises and stimulates the economy in productive directions.

Second, we need to build out a public transit system to replace our reliance on the automobile. I'm sure that some electric cars will exist in the future, but energy will become a very precious commodity, so we will undoubtedly be less mobile, and we'll have to move more efficiently when we do. Car-dependent suburbs need to be reoriented with transit hubs or they will not be livable in the future.

Third, we need to reassess our agricultural base to make sure production can sustain Canadians first, rather than be directed at maximizing profits through export. We will not be able to truck fruits in from Mexico in refrigerated trucks in the future (and this is quite irrespective of climate change, simple resource depletion will guarantee it). Many chemical fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides are derived from fossil fuel sources and require enormous energy inputs. We need to make sure we have a plan in place so Canada can feed itself as we stop using fossils.

There is more work to be done. I have not touched on industry, except in manufacturing for a post-carbon economy. But we must make the first priority a guarantee of a livable planet for our children, and a close second the availability of food and shelter for all in the upcoming times of change.

Thank-you for your attention. I look forward to your response.

Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu


We arrived at the entry to the Prime Minister's office shortly after noon on Monday, October 20 to a cheering crowd of 50 people.

Dewan's speech was uplifting. Rita's and mine were not particularly. We're worried about the implications of a government headed by Mr. Harper determining the delegation that Canada sends to negotiate global climate treaties for the post-Kyoto period. The Earth hangs in the balance. Still, I want to thank Andrea Harden of the Council of Canadians and Katherine Sullivan of the Canadian Federation of Students for following with a positive message. The Raging Grannies ended with a song and everyone joined in.

Afterwards, Rita delivered our letters to Prime Minister Harper. This is a process that's becoming rather intimidating. You speak to a security person through several layers of glass. After describing what you want to deposit, he opens the lock to a large metal bin, into which you drop your correspondence. Apparently, your letters aren't even delivered directly to the Prime Minister. They are scanned for security.

Afterwards, we walked to Ottawa's City Hall and spoke to two supportive city councillors, then rushed back to Wellington Street just in time to see Mr. Dion arriving at the press conference where he was to announce his future plans. Dewan shook hands with him at that point. We waited outside and afterwards, I pressed our postcard into his hands. I'm still trying to arrange an interview with him. We would like all parties concerned about the looming threat to humanity to put aside their differences and find a way forward.

But I'm also trying to spend time with my family, bridging the distance my absence created.

We Sunshine Walkers are settling in on the idea of making our next goal helping David Suzuki turn out 100,000 people in Ottawa to demand appropriate climate action. As a first step, we'll be organizing the Global Day of Action on Climate Change, to be held on December 7 in cities across Canada.

I need to thank Ken Billings of ActCity Ottawa for his support and hospitality, Glenn MacIntosh and Soo Luen Tom of EcoSanity for their incredible support, coming out to document our progress throughout our walk and helping us get home, and the whole crew of the Council of Canadians, the Federation of Students and Kairos for making the Ottawa event possible.

Monday, October 20, 2008

More media

From the Frontenac News:

Preparing for today's events

We have almost arrived at Parliament Hill. This morning we'll be starting out at the National Archives shortly before noon to arrive at the Prime Minister's office shortly after noon.

I'm getting the last few things in order.

Thanks to Ken and Susan and Kim and Dewan's cousins for making the day wonderful. In addition to walking, we spent a couple of hours at the National Archives yesterday listening to John Raulston Saul speak about his provocative new book and an hour or so at the National Museum of Civilization. We had dinner at The Table, which I would highly recommend.

We are all thinking about next steps, but I'm heading for our appointment in a couple of moments.

Thanks to everyone who reads this and supported us along the way.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Media Advisory for Monday's event on Parliament Hill

WHAT: A press conference outside the PMO in Ottawa on October 20 at
12 p.m. to welcome the Sunshine Walk for Climate Justice, a group of friends
who left Toronto by foot on October 4, 2008 on a 400 km walk to the nation's
capital to demand immediate action from the federal government on climate
chaos. The walkers are angry about the endless empty talk from our political
leaders on carbon cap and trade systems, carbon taxes and carbon
sequestration. They, and the many Canadians and federal candidates they met
along the walk, want our "new" government to stop tilting at windmills and
start building them. Our environment and economy need less carbon and more
green jobs and green energy - wind, solar, wave and geothermal - now! The
Sunshine Walkers will also collect signatures for the KYOTOPlus pledge from
invited politicians and will deliver letters collected between Toronto and
Ottawa to the Prime Minister.
WHO: Confirmed speakers:
Dewan Afzal, Sunshine Walker
Adriana Mugnatto-Haum, Sunshine Walker
Rita Bijons, Sunshine Walker
Andrea Harden, Energy Campaigner, Council of Canadians
Katherine Sullivan, Green Campaigns, Student Federation of the University
of Ottawa
Raging Grannies to sing a few songs!
When: Monday, October 20, 2008, 12:00 to 1:00 p.m.
Where: Outside the Prime Minister's Office, corner of Elgin Street and
Wellington Street
For further information: Stuart Trew, (647) 222-9782; Kim Kerridge,
(647) 221-9169

Getting lazy

We didn't finish today's route.

First of all we started late, and then of course we all managed to get lost. We reached into Ottawa but then took a city bus to the rally. We then marched into Parliament Hill, and then went on to Confederation Park, where we once again saw David Suzuki for the Flick Off campaign. Great music and great people. We quickly ran out of flyers to hand out.

Ken Billings of ActCity Ottawa was with us for most of the day, riding his bike alongside me in the morning, and sticking with us through both rallies and for dinner at a lovely vegetarian establishment he recommended. It was good to see Dylan and Andrea and other Ottawa organizers, and especially Kim, who has been pulling so many things together for us from a distance. After dinner, we had to say goodbye to Alex at a bus stop where she went off to pick up her train back to Toronto.

Afterwards, we all just wanted to relax at the homes of a couple of local hosts. We'll pick up the trail where we left off tomorrow, leaving the last kilometre or so for Monday, so we actually arrive at Parliament Hill. Then we meet at the Prime Minister's office at noon. We also plan to meet with the mayor following the event.

David Suzuki today repeated what he had told Rita last night - that we need to gather 100,000 people in Ottawa to get appropriate action on climate change. We need to do that before the Canadian delegation goes to Copenhagen in December 2009 to negotiate the final terms of the post-Kyoto climate change treaty. So that will be our work for the next year or so.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On to Ottawa...

Another lovely day in the country. We reached a sign announcing our arrival in Ottawa shortly after 9 am, then continued to walk through wooded countryside.

It's gotten a lot cooler now, so we were all bundled up in bulky sweaters and gloves, Rita and I in knitted caps. We had to spend time in the morning waiting for the car to warm up, while Rene scraped the ice off the windows.

The kind lady who let Rita leave her bike overnight on her property made a batch of muffins for us. Thank you so much.

It was our last full day of walking. Tomorrow's walk will bring us to Parliament Hill in slightly less than the 30 km we're used to. We're all looking forward to Sunday's rest.

This evening we went to a fundraiser for the Ardoch Algonquin which featured David Suzuki. Mr. Suzuki was brilliant as always, but I was more interested in the first nations representatives, notably Leeanne Simpson, who spoke so passionately and sensibly about respectful and enduring relationships and first nations ideas about connectedness. Also, the Unity Singers were very powerful. There was a reception following with delicious snacks.

We saw Mayor John Fenik of Perth, Anne and Eric from near Godfrey, Ken of ActCity Ottawa and Jeff of Frontenac News, which put our story in their paper. And, of course, the Ardoch Algonquin and other organizers. Good people all.

Rita spoke to Dr. Suzuki about building large coalitions and they both latched onto an idea of joining elders and youth in a coalition demanding a future for the planet.

We have a great deal of work to do.