It is beyond irony. For many people concerned about climate change, the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is a climate criminal who is allowing us to cook the planet by exploiting the dirty tar sands.
Instead of being castigated by his peers, Harper last week won a “world statesman” award.
Speaking at a glitzy a reception at the Waldorf Astoria hotel after receiving his award from the Appeal of Conscience Foundation, Harper said that politicians should endeavour to make decisions “for the wider interests of humanity.”
Ironically, Harper has called climate change “perhaps the biggest threat to confront the future of humanity today”.
However, he clearly thinks his government should not be included on the list of those who should care about humanity, sustainability or anything else for that matter.
Harper’s government has killed Canada’s only major federal programs to promote renewable energy and home-energy efficiency. At the same time, his government is actively working to undermine international climate change negotiations.
But it is his government’s exploitation of the tar sands that is most worrying. Moreover, Harper, the climate criminal, is trying to criminalise those who do care about the climate and who are protesting against the tar sands.
A year ago, in late September 2011, hundreds of Canadians protested against the energy policies of the Harper government and lack of action on climate change.
The focus of the peaceful sit-in was the development of the dirty tar sands and expansion of pipelines such as KXL.
Most of the protestors paid fines, but thirteen of them have decided to go to court. One of those is Graham Saul, the former executive director of Climate Action Network Canada, a coalition of environmental, labour and faith-based groups. Before that Graham worked for Oil Change International.
His lawyer, Mark Ertel, contends that efforts by the Canadian authorities to restrict people from circulating freely on Parliament Hill were “preposterous.”
In an op-ed, Graham and Liz Bernstein, the executive director of the Nobel Women’s Initiative group, have outlined why they are not criminals.
“We are both middle-aged Canadians, outspoken and yet not radical or prone to misunderstanding the value of working with governments to bring about change … Neither of us want to be arrested, handcuffed, detained or imprisoned. But we are doing everything we can to raise our voices against policies that go against our values – and, more importantly, those of most Canadians”.
They argue that “despite the collective efforts of Canadians to work toward a sustainable future, the Harper government continues to systematically lie to the people of Canada about its intention to do its fair share to slow global warming.”
Graham and Liz add that “while most of the rest of the industrialized world is slowly trying to put in place policies that will help us phase out oil, coal and gas and increase renewable energy and energy efficiency, the climate change and energy policies of the Harper government are actually moving our country in the opposite direction.”
The pair argue that their protest was not a radical act. “What is radical is actively promoting policies that tear at the life-support systems of the planet and put people’s lives in danger,” they write.
Indeed, if Harper’s government wanted to stop the protests, it has done the opposite. On 22 October, there will be a mass sit-in in front of the provincial legislature in British Colombia. Organised by 80 influential Canadian leaders, over 2,400 people have so far said they will take part.