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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/26/16

Canada's founding myths hold us back from addressing climate change

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Reprinted from Globe and Mail


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It has been one year and one week since a coalition of dozens of organizations and artists launched The Leap Manifesto, a short vision statement about how to transition to a post-carbon economy while battling social and economic injustice.

A lot has changed: a new federal government, a new international reputation, a new tone around First Nations and the environment. But when it comes to concrete action on lowering emissions and respecting land rights, much remains the same.

Our new government has adopted the utterly inadequate targets of the last government. Alberta has a climate plan that would allow tar sands emissions to increase by 43 percent, wholly incompatible with the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

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And the push for new pipelines -- often sold as "nation building" -- continues to tear us apart.

What I find striking is the narrowness of our public discourse -- how much continues to be treated as unsayable and undoable when it comes to keeping carbon in the ground. Other countries are moving ahead with policies that begin to reflect the scientific realities. Germany and France have both banned fracking.

Even in the United States, there is a wider spectrum of debate. The new platform of the Democratic Party, for instance, states that no new infrastructure projects should be built if they substantively contribute to climate change -- essentially the same position that caused all the outrage around The Leap Manifesto.

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So what's going on here? Why is it so hard for Canadian political leaders, across the political spectrum, to design climate policies that are guided by climate science?

There are many factors, of course -- the need for jobs in an economic downturn, the power of the fossil-fuel lobby, to name a couple. But we are hardly the only country contending with these forces.

I think there is something deeper at play, something that brings us back to the founding narratives of this nation. The story begins with the arrival of European explorers, at a time when their home nations had slammed into hard ecological limits -- great forests gone, big game hunted to extinction.

In this context, the so-called New World was imagined as a sort of spare continent, to use for parts. And what parts: Here seemed to be a bottomless treasure trove -- of fish, fowl, fur, giant trees, and later metals and fossil fuels. And in Canada, these riches covered a territory so vast, it seemed impossible to fathom its boundaries.

Again and again in the early accounts, the words "inexhaustible" and "infinite" come up -- to describe old growth forests, beavers, great auks, and of course cod (so many they "stayed the passage" of John Cabot's ships).

From the start, Canada was conceived as the place of endlessness, a wilderness of such bounty that the very idea of ecological limits seemed gone for good. Except, of course, that it didn't work out that way.

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The early U.S. economy was brutally extractive too, of course -- but in a different way from Canada's. The Southern slave economy was based on the brutal extraction of forced human labor, used to clear and cultivate the land to feed the rapidly industrializing north.

In Canada, cultivation and industrialization were secondary. First and foremost, this country was built on voraciously devouring wildness. Canada was an extractive company -- the Hudson's Bay Company -- before it was a country. And that has shaped us in ways we have yet to begin to confront.

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Naomi Klein is the author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, now out in paperback. To read all her latest writing visit www.naomiklein.org

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