(Foreign Minister of France Laurent Fabius and Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change Catherine McKenna in Paris on Nov. 9, 2015 for talks ahead of the upcoming UN climate conference. Photo: Twitter)
BY DANIEL PHANNENHOUR
The history of Canada, as a European colony and dominion, begins with fish, according to the political economist, Harold Adams Innis. Basque fishermen initially come to the Grand Banks to fill their nets with the abundance of cod found there. Then French and English traders come to exchange with aboriginal harvesters, European goods for pelts of beaver fur, a popular material in European apparel at that time. Traders are followed by permanent settlers who clear and cultivate the land, harvesting timber for shipbuilding, and growing wheat to feed the growing population of Europe and its colonies.
Through a combination of lies, reinterpreted treaties, and political expediency, this settlement process pushes to the margins of economic and political life the aboriginal peoples who had occupied the land for previous millennia.
When settlers push west with railways, the pattern of European conquest and development continues into the Canadian Shield where valuable minerals are discovered and mined to meet the demands of rapidly industrializing economies in both Europe and the United States.
From fish, to fur, to timber, to wheat, to minerals, to the currently valued raw material, oil and gas, Canada has developed as a nation by responding to the world’s demand for the resources it possesses. For the past several decades the extraction of oil and gas has fueled Canadian economic development, and has influenced its political landscape as successive governments have sought to deliver this commodity to world markets efficiently and reliably by the construction of extensive pipelines.
This latest chapter in our history, however, has brought us, and our entire planet, to a point of global crisis. Aware and informed people, including a consensus of scientific experts, are warning that the burning of fossil fuels like oil and gas is choking the atmosphere of our planet with harmful greenhouse gases, leading to a gradual but inevitably catastrophic change in global climate. The oil and gas that has been a source of wealth for our nation, and a source of energy for global industry is now a dangerous threat to life.
In three weeks, the governments of the world, including Canada, will meet in Paris to work together toward a plan that will reduce the global consumption of fossil fuels and their resultant emissions of greenhouse gases. Canada needs to be prepared to make commitments at this summit that will require a drastic change in the shape of our economic development.
The world no longer needs our oil and gas, but we can continue to provide for the world’s needs by offering what is now needed most: innovation in the production of renewable sources of energy, and a renewed way of life that values continued human existence above the extraction of wealth. Innovation begins with restructuring our tax code to eliminate incentives that support the continued extraction of oil and gas while offering greater incentives for the development of renewable energy production. Buildings need to be constructed so that they reduce their energy consumption to a minimum, and meet standards for renewable energy use. A further commitment to research and development will make these standards achievable.
To renew our way of life, we need to seek the assistance of aboriginal peoples who have a long history of living rich, meaningful, and sustainable lives in this land. Treaties that we have neglected need to be honoured, and marginalized people need to be restored to full partnership in our political life. Reconciliation is essential to the process of learning how to live together toward a life that is sustainable for future generations.
In addition, we need to set specific and significant targets for the reduction of our own greenhouse gas emissions and be accountable in honouring them.
We need to protect the boreal forest of our northern regions so that it can continue to absorb carbon dioxide we produce.
We need to electrify travel between and within urban areas.
We need to provide $4 billion, our share of assistance to less developed nations who suffer disproportionately from the consequences of climate change. This assistance needs to be in the form of grants rather than the ongoing burden of loans.
Canada has been providing raw materials to the world for a long time. Now we can provide a way of life that will ensure the continuity of life on this Earth for generations to come. It may be our most historically significant staple provision yet, one that can lead us on the path of national development toward justice, reconciliation, and sustainability.
From fish to a future, this is the opportunity for Canada to be the nation that she is meant to be.
Daniel Phannenhour (Pastor Dan) is an unretired Lutheran pastor and father to three lovely young women. He currently lives with his wife in the Oakville parsonage, and is exploring new ways of embodying the Christian faith while celebrating the multicultural and multifaith diversity of our community and nation.