by Cameron Fenton, National Director, the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition
This is the text of my presentation to the House of Commons All Party Climate Change Caucus as presented on June 7, 2012. The full text of the motion presented by PowerShift can be found here.
My name is Cameron Fenton and I am here on behalf of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition. But also as a representative for the voice, concerns and hope of young people across Canada.
I want to start by thanking all of all you for giving myself, and everyone else gathered here the opportunity to present. All too often, as the increased security will tell you, we’ve been forced to resort to ‘unconventional methods’ of having the climate change message heard in these halls.
You’ve already heard from nearly a dozen organizations about the dire situation we are in when it comes to climate change. You know that it was just announced that we crossed the 400ppm threshold of carbon emissions, and honestly, if I were in your position, I know that I would be pretty worried.
Seriously, sometimes when I give talks on climate change, especially to youth, I feel like my job is to professionally bum people out.
Climate Change is the single largest challenge facing my generation. The successes or mistakes of politicians today will leave us with either a just, sustainable world to inherit and grow on, or it will leave us to clean up the pieces. Unfortunately right now it feels too much like the latter, and too little like the former.
But this feeling isn’t simply limited to the climate. Right now we are facing the highest youth unemployment rate that my generation has ever seen. The cost of post-secondary education continues to rise - my own student debt is low at only around $10,000, but many of my generation are graduating with 20, 30 and 40 thousand dollars in debt. Debt that many will never pay off.
I could continue, but I think that all of you get the picture. No jobs, can’t afford school, and the planet is burning.
Remember what I said about bumming young people out for a living.
There is another way.
The sheer size and scope of climate change, and what it will take to address it means that we have the opportunity to build a more just and sustainable society by addressing the crises of our generation. We can create green jobs, we can make our schools affordable and we can alleviate climate change at the same time. It is simply a question of priorities.
As all of you well know, Canada gives a huge break to the fossil fuel industry. Over 1.4 billion dollars each and every year.
If we were to end these handouts and instead invest that money into any number of programs to benefit youth and future generations the benefits would be unimaginable. From reducing post-secondary tuition by 57% across Canada to creating a billion dollar green job creation and training program we could take a major step towards dealing with climate change and create a vision of a better future.
The fact is that we feel so strongly about this, we went ahead and wrote the legislation for you. It calls for a strong commitment from this House to end the two largest remaining subsidy programs; the Canadian Exploration Expense and the Canadian Development Expense before the next election..
Fossil fuel corporations do not need tax breaks. Last year the five biggest made nearly $140 billion in profits. In 2010 Exxon-Mobil made more money in profits than has ever been made in the history of money. Now this is not to demonize anyone for making such massive profits, but when young people see these profits and compare them with our wages, the unemployment rate and our prospects - something is wrong with this picture.
Let me recap.
We can either continue giving $1.4 billion to some of the wealthiest companies in the world, or we can help the world leap forward on climate change and invest in any number of programs to make the world a better place for my generation, your children, your grandchildren and generations still to come.
Now I was raised to speak truth to power. So I want to be perfectly clear about a few things.
What we are asking for here is the absolute minimum. We know that ending subsidies will not solve climate change alone, we know that it will not solve youth unemployment in a single stroke or make education more accessible to all.
Youth are not stupid.
I want each and every Member of Parliament in here to consider this a challenge.
This is a challenge to set aside partisan politics and work together for future generations.
This is a challenge for each party to live up to your promises - as all of you have committed to ending these subsidies.
This is a challenge for you to show my generation that this system is not as broken as we think it is.
I have heard from each of your parties the same thing - if my generation were simply to vote, the priorities would change. Now I don’t dispute that, nor do I dispute that my generation has removed itself from the electoral part of the formal political process, but I have seen a frightening unwillingness on the part of politicians in this country to accept any responsibility for causing the problem.
Put yourself in my shoes.
Overwhelmingly, the fate of this planet is a major concern of my generation, yet when we look to our politicians for solutions we see bickering, partisan fighting and each side blaming the other for the lack of progress. When we want progress, we see parliament and then we get told its our fault for not voting.
You haven’t given us anything to vote for. This is your chance.
I can’t, in good conscience, lie to my generation. I can’t tell them that if they vote that our generation will get on the agenda, because I have no evidence to back up my claims.
We’re a skeptical bunch by nature, and a lot of us don’t trust authority. Mix that with a perceived lack of progress, a skyrocketing youth employment rate and everything else I’ve described, and you have a pretty strong cocktail of disempowerment.
And believe me, its disempowerment, not apathy. Have any of you looked at Quebec recently?
Hundreds of thousands of youth engaging in political action is not an apathetic generation, its one that that is angry, wants change and has lost faith in the political system. No matter your opinion on the issue, you can’t deny young people are engaged in it.
So this is it, this motion is my generations challenge to you. It is our challenge to you to show us that when we ask our leaders for something, they listen and they act.
We will do the work to get youth on board, in fact when we hold PowerShift here in October, there will be hundreds of youth right here, ready to support this. They will be backed up by thousands more across Canada.
If you are serious about restoring my generation’s faith in this process, about dealing with climate change, and about renewing the opportunities for young people in this country then take this motion and get it passed, better yet make it into a bill and phase out these subsidies immediately.
This is a race to the starting line.