It is difficult for a democracy to achieve intergenerational fairness. The decisions we make today will profoundly affect future generations who have no voice. Even among the current generations, children cannot vote, and younger people are underrepresented among voters, senior civil servants, and elected leaders in all levels of government.
When children and young people organize themselves politically, we have a duty to welcome their participation and to take their concerns seriously. We must listen particularly keenly when young people raise long-term issues. They speak not only for themselves but for all future generations.
Through the Climate Strike, the children and young people of the world are telling us with unprecedented clarity that we need to do better to prepare for climate change.
Young people are right to worry. The evidence is clear that climate change will cause massive global economic, environmental, and human harms within my lifetime. The harms in my children’s lifetimes will be even greater.
We have failed profoundly.
We have failed both to reduce our emissions and, specific to Newfoundland and Labrador, to diversify the economy and prepare for a slump in oil prices. We have seen the climate crisis coming, and we have not prepared for it. Now we will have to work hard just to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. We can do it: we just need to transform several sectors of our economy all at once.
The obstacles to reducing emissions are political, not practical. From an economic perspective, many of the changes we need to reduce emissions would be beneficial even without the threat of catastrophic climate change. For example, through the Muskrat Falls Project we’ve bought more carbon-neutral energy than we can use. We have to pay for it whether we use it or not: so if we can electrify transportation and home heating, we will be in a better fiscal situation.
When you consider the threat of catastrophic climate change poses, lots of changes become affordable or practical by comparison. When your boat is leaking you have to bail, no matter how inconvenient.
The threat of climate change also creates the risk of a fall in oil prices. If the international community ever takes effective action to reduce fossil fuel use, oil prices could fall permanently and never recover. So far international action has not happened, but who knows how long that will last? Every year the risks of climate change grow closer, and the cost of sustainable alternatives falls. We cannot anticipate when the tipping point might come or how quickly action might follow.
We are not ready for a permanent fall in oil prices. My friends are planning for careers in the oil industry; our government is budgeting for ever-rising oil revenues. What will they do if the international community finally takes effective action to reduce fossil fuel use?
As Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, we should understand that an economy built around environmentally unsustainable resource extraction can fail — suddenly. Born in 1991 and growing up in a fishing community, my childhood was shaped by our collective failure to plan for the foreseeable risk that cod stocks might collapse. This time we have lots of notice; we should be doing whatever we can to prepare ourselves.
Climate change is the great challenge of our times. Even though the changes we need are systemic and political, each of us as individuals has the ability to make a difference. Each of us has the power to help change the political reality.