New book calls for systemic changes to fight climate change

It’s not enough to plant trees in exchange for carbon emissions in the fight to mitigate climate change, say York environmental studies Professor Anders Sandberg and York environmental studies master’s student Tor Sandberg in their new co-edited book Climate Change – Who’s Carrying the Burden?: The Chilly Climates of the Global Environmental Dilemma.

Nor is it enough to set up a supposed green company in the Global South to offset the spewing emissions of companies in the Global North. Without a substantial system change, an alternative way of living, climate change will continue unabated, says Anders Sandberg. “I don’t see any change, frankly. Carbon emissions are still increasing dramatically.”

When carbon emissions are traded or bought for offsets, such as planting trees, they are done so at the end of the carbon change cycle, rather than at the beginning. A lot of money continues to go into the development of more carbon sources. “From my perspective it’s not very positive,” says Sandberg. Much of the offset purchasing is by large multinationals in the Global South, where they set up green companies to offset pollution in the United States, but by doing so they displace many of the local people and their economic livelihoods.

In the book, the Sandbergs write, “The concept of climate change itself can be an oppressive force…hiding the historical connections of the carbon economy to colonialism, capitalism and rampant and exploitive resource extractions.”

“We’re asking people to look at the climate change issues from a broader perspective, which could bring forth more ideas,” says Sandberg.

In Climate Change – Who’s Carrying the Burden?, the third volume in the Our Schools/Our Selves book series, 2010, published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the Sandbergs look at who is most affected by climate change and the need for systemic change beyond capping and trading carbon emissions.

They don’t believe that free markets, new green technologies and international agreements are enough to alleviate climate change. Despite green technologies, levels of consumption will likely remain high. Even if all the cars are electric, there will still be suburbs, roads and gridlock, potentially leading to an increase in the amount of electricity used and the building of more hydroelectric dams, which then affects the environment and the people who use it. “I think we need to look at and imagine other ways of living,” says Anders Sandberg.

Left: Anders Sandberg

Although climate change is a global issue, the solutions are not. What’s needed is a closer look at the origins of climate change and the areas it most impacts, he says. Areas such as the Tar Sands of Alberta, the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa, the Canadian north, the coastal regions of Bangladesh and the island states of the Pacific.

“We have to look at the people on the ground who are harmed by this. What we are trying to do is turn the prism from the global to the local. But we’re not just looking at the horror stories; we’re also looking at the hope and resiliency of these communities and whether they might have some answers to the climate change problem.” For one thing, it’s important to understand the vulnerabilities that have built up in these communities, explore their origins, call for reparations from those who are responsible and build on the resiliencies that remain.

One of the contributors to the book, York environmental studies master’s student Jelena Vesic (BES Spec. Hon. ’08), points to the polar bear as a symbol and a victim of climate change. There is now a threat to First Nations who harvest them because they are considered endangered, yet a closer look reveals that in some regions the polar bear is holding its own. Banning their harvest would affect First Nations communities that have hunted polar bears as part of their culture for centuries. The ban would also affect the local economy and the resiliency that’s built into the particular relationship between the Inuit and the polar bear.

Right: Tor Sandberg

Climate Change – Who’s Carrying the Burden? contains a collection of papers from prominent people such as Stephen Lewis, Canada’s former ambassador to the United Nations, who looks at the health impact of global climate change; author and journalist Naomi Klein, who talks about paying the climate debt; and scholar and activist Vandana Shiva on the G8/20 summit and climate change. Green Party of Canada leader Elizabeth May explores shrinking ecological footprints and expanding political ones, while visiting Fulbright scholar at York Professor Noël Sturgeon challenges the family values and environmental practices that are tied to the carbon economy.

The majority of articles, however, are written by junior scholars and graduate students in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies who are passionate about climate justice. They write on a range of topics, including the recent climate-focused conferences in Copenhagen and Cochabamba, climate change-induced migration, Hurricane Katrina, the Niger Delta, the First Nations youth adoption of hip hop music to fight HIV/AIDS. the largest squatter settlement in Europe (the free town of Christiania in Copenhagen) and food policy in the Greater Toronto Area.

The Sandbergs discuss what they see as the dominant story – cap and trade and offsets –and the alternative story that calls for systemic change and climate justice, which emerged at the 15th United Nations conference on climate change they attended last December in Copenhagen.

Anders Sandberg is currently using Climate Change – Who’s Carrying the Burden? in his course – Environmental Studies 1200, Taking Action, Engaging People and the Environment.

The book will be officially launched by York’s Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability (the Sandbergs were part of the institute’s delegation to the climate change conference in Copenhagen) on Wednesday, Oct. 20, from 3 to 4:30pm at 305 York Lanes, Keele campus.

The themes of the book will also be featured in a session titled “Climate Change, Climate Justice and Human Rights” during York University’s Inclusion Day – Dialoguing Across Differences tomorrow.

For more information on the book, visit the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives website.

By Sandra McLean, YFile writer