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OPINION: The case for a millennial class-action lawsuit

We have to be honest about Canadian resource management. More often than not, we are unwise or greedy, or both.
Michael Atkins, president, Northern Ontario Business

If you read my column regularly, you are probably a little older than the median age in Northern Ontario and likely in business, government administration, health care or education.

You are a small ‘c’ conservative when it comes to taxes and government spending, although torn when you see the disparity between Northern Ontario and southern Ontario.

In Northern Ontario, we are in the resource business. We have had substantial cutbacks in forestry and mining employment, although our cities have seen expansion in our service, health and tech sectors. When you follow the chain of wealth that supports your community, the price of commodities remains perilous. We continue to lose population.

This circumstance does not easily build a constituency for climate change action. 

Last year, we had 1,325 forest fires in Ontario, charring 275,000 hectares of land. If you weren’t in a forest fire in Northern Ontario last year, you could certainly smell one. If you live in Bracebridge, or Mattawa, or Gatineau or Petawawa this spring your town has been under water, and not for the first time in the last few years.

Our provincial strategy to deal with this eruption of weather terrorism is vague and unconvincing and, ironically, leans heavily on achievements of the former government. It is in stark contrast to the very particular high-profile promises to stop planting trees, reduce funding for local conservation authorities, reduce funding to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, reduce funding to the Ministry of the Environment Conservation and Parks, stop supporting the purchase of electrical vehicles, discard the Ontario cap-and-trade program that was investing into climate change action and mitigation, and put stickers on gas pumps to discredit a carbon tax while taking the federal government to court for taking any climate action at all. Incredible.

We have to be honest about Canadian resource management. More often than not, we are unwise or greedy, or both. We have been granted breathtaking beauty and wealth. Often we do not deserve it.

In the Maritimes, we have destroyed much of our fisheries with overfishing. In British Columbia, it took a decade of protest to turn the tide on clearcutting forests. In Alberta, we have no provincial sales tax and deploy oil revenues to our operating budget, and then act surprised and angry when the price goes down, which was predictable and inevitable.

What is lost with this decadence is what we bequeath to our children and our children’s children. We are leaving floods, and forest fires, increasingly ferocious tornadoes, and fear and loathing about the future.

Why is it we are prepared to do this? Why is it so silly to put a price on carbon while compensating citizens for their out-of-pocket contribution to higher prices? What could be more sensible?

Since when do business people and individuals not shape their decisions by price? We do it every day of the week to maximize profit or lower our personal expenses. Why wouldn’t we buy more fuel-efficient cars and utilities to save money? Of course we would. Of course we have when gas prices are high.

The next time you are babysitting your grandkids or great-grandkids, imagine their world in 20 years. Think about the hundreds of people who have lost their homes in thousand-year floods that are becoming the norm. Think about what it’s like to flee your town with smoke choking you from both sides of the road. Think about what it’s like to be flattened by a tornado with 275-kilometre-an-hour winds. This is new. It is a death sentence for someone’s grandchild tomorrow.

I’ll tell you what my generation would do if we faced this catastrophe. We’d sue: for criminal negligence. 

It’s already begun. In Oregon, there is a youth class-action lawsuit working its way through the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals: Juliana vs. the United States.

It is just the beginning. We’ve earned it.