Originally published in the Chronicle Herald on Sept. 9, 2021
Our secret’s out: Nova Scotia is a special place. A haven in these tumultuous times and a top-ranked place to live, work and play.
But troubles lap upon our windswept shores with the catastrophic effects of climate change, biodiversity loss and rising societal inequities. Our oceans and coastlines, which make up the backbone of our economy, are where the effects of climate change and lax environmental management are most evident.
The major federal parties currently vying for our votes have rolled out climate plans, often with timelines and targets so distant as to be irrelevant. Will they be enough to nurture the place we all love?
We are facing the highest sea-level-rise predictions in Canada. Communities small and large are struggling to address the economic impacts of retrofits and mitigation strategies.
Only 13.81 per cent of our marine areas are protected and only 30 per cent of our commercial fish populations are considered healthy. Open-net pen fish farming grows unabated as the industry shifts attention from western Canada to the Atlantic region, bringing along their intrinsic societal and ecological problems. Meanwhile, offshore oil and gas developers benefit from government aid and soft or absent regulatory structures that undermine Canada’s ability to meet our climate commitments and restore ocean health.
To avoid the worst impacts of climate change, Canada needs to reduce domestic greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 — less than a decade from now. Governments, not known for being nimble, must nonetheless be so.
Citizens increasingly want tangible action on climate change, not political rhetoric. Still, candidates and parties are seemingly out of step with the needs and wishes of the people.
A recent Narrative Research poll, commissioned by Ecology Action Centre and members of the Offshore Alliance, found four out of five Nova Scotians want to see a transition to renewable energy along with training and income support for affected oil and gas workers.
Current Abacus polling echoes this result, concluding 61 per cent of oil and gas workers themselves believe the time is here to pivot towards a net-zero-emission economy, with 69 per cent willing to consider being a part of the shift and solutions.
Unifor, which represents 12,000 of those workers across the country, is in support of a more ambitious plan to achieve greenhouse gas reductions while ensuring a just transition for the workforce.
In Atlantic Canada, as we work to reduce emissions, we know that protecting carbon-rich marine ecosystems and rebuilding a healthy ocean is critical both for tackling the climate crisis and supporting prosperous coastal communities and new opportunities for all.
This federal election is an opportunity to cast a vote with the potential to transform our economy and reaffirm our relationship with the ocean. Let’s demand our chosen political leaders ensure that change is regenerative, focused on communities, protective of species and habitat, and that no one is left behind.
To build ocean prosperity, our leaders must:
- Centre Indigenous rights, support Indigenous governance and conservation leadership;
- End fossil-fuel production subsidies now, stop expansion of offshore oil and gas activity, and set science-based, not partisan, climate targets;
- Develop and fund coastal adaptation programs to support communities living in high-risk areas and adjust to the impacts of sea-level rise, coastal erosion and extreme weather events;
- Support low-impact fisheries and regenerative aquaculture in concert with local knowledge-holders to diversify economic benefits and champion communities tied to the ocean;
- Implement full-chain traceability for all seafood in Canada to stop fraud and illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, improve transparency and market access;
- Phase out open-net pen finfish aquaculture in Atlantic Canada by 2025;
- Meet Canada’s current commitment to protect 25 per cent of marine and coastal waters by 2025 and 30 per cent by 2030;
- Complete fisheries rebuilding plans by 2024 with strong targets and timelines.
Political parties seemingly cast adrift
In the cyclical race for power and leadership, politicians and political parties have forgotten economic systems and profit serve social needs, not the other way around. Successive governments have been swayed by Big Oil’s empty promises of prosperity that expedite climate change and needlessly place ecosystems at risk. At the end of the day, communities pay the price.
Even in the midst of this federal election, the truism stands: all politics is local. National leaders will shape our collective futures — both from the lofty towers of Ottawa and at sea level here on our urban harbours and rural bays.
Read the EAC’s What to Ask at the Door primer at https://ecologyaction.ca/2021-federal-election. Hold the incumbents and hopefuls to task. Your vote can turn the tide.
Maggy Burns is the executive director of the Ecology Action Centre, which is celebrating 50 years of environmental action and advocacy.