A new launch video from the Climate Emergency Unit digs into Canada’s past to create a hopeful call to action, illustrating how even a fight that feels overwhelming can be won when a nation comes together.
The Emergency Unit, a project of the David Suzuki Institute, was launched over the last month to build on the momentum established by team lead Seth Klein with his 2020 book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency (excerpts here and here, feature interview here).
- Concise headlines. Original content. Timely news and views from a select group of opinion leaders. Special extras.
- Everything you need, nothing you don’t.
- The Weekender: The climate news you need.
“There is no home in Canada, no family, and no individual, whose fortunes and freedoms are not bound up in the present struggle,” begins the video, posted to YouTube last week. The speaker is no climate activist, but rather late Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, rallying Canadians to rise and fight fascism at the beginning of the Second World War.
Drawing a clear parallel between the existential threat of Nazism and that of the climate crisis, the video cites Canada’s all-in, all-hands-on-deck response to war last century as proof of the power to rapidly and dramatically reduce emissions, leaving future generations with a “fighting chance” for “a safer and more equitable planet.”
But to get there, the narrator says, we must have leadership at the top.
At the centre of the video’s lesson are the four markers by which Canadians will finally know their government has “genuinely shifted into emergency mode” on the climate crisis—lessons learned from that Second World War response.
The first is a government determined to “spend what it takes to win.” C.D. Howe, the minister who oversaw military production during the war, once answered a question on how he justified a tenfold increase in wartime spending by declaring: “If we lose the war, nothing will matter.”
Ottawa pledged to spend C$5 billion per week when its COVID-19 response demanded it—“when our governments recognize an emergency, the money is there,” says the narrator. But it has not come close to that level of spending on the climate crisis. The current Canadian budget for climate defence is about $5 billion per year, when what’s needed is $130 billion per year, the video states.
The second hallmark of commitment is the creation of purpose-built economic institutions to get the job done. Courtesy of 28 brand new Crown corporations, 1940s Canada went from having an “army of 4,000 men and two tanks” to 800,000 military vehicles, 700 ships, and more than 16,000 military aircraft. The equivalent increase in production could today be applied to churn out solar panels, wind turbines, and heat pumps—and hire the workers to produce, install, and maintain them—if the same political will existed.
The third sign that a government is serious about an existential threat? It “shifts from voluntary policies to mandatory measures.” A Canada as serious about fighting the climate crisis as it was about the Second World War would immediately ban all forms of fossil advertising, mandate all new buildings to be heated with green energy by 2022, and make it illegal to sell fossil-fuelled cars by 2025—not 2035.
Finally, the video states, a government in command of a crisis “tells the truth about the severity of the crisis, and the measures necessary to combat it.” Yet with the current danger so devastatingly clear, the Canadian government still sends muddled messages by championing new fossil infrastructure.
In the words of Mackenzie King, “I appeal to my fellow Canadians to unite in a national effort, to save from destruction all that makes life itself worth living, and to preserve for future generations those liberties and institutions that others have bequeathed to us.”
And, in the words of the Climate Emergency Unit, our governments today must begin to “speak and act like it’s a damn emergency.”