Kevin Washbrook explains why Bridge to a Cool Planet may be Canadians' last best hope in effecting stronger action on climate change before Copenhagan


In anticipation of this Saturday's big climate change rally and festival as part of International Day of Climate Action, I put a few questions to Bridge to a Cool Planet founder Kevin Washbrook.


But I'll be honest about my current state of mind: With more and more reports coming out about Canada's rising consumption and the Harper government's continuing immobility on emissions cuts, I'm feeling pretty cynical. Canada's role in climate talks has thus far been minimal, with Stephen Harper famously "choosing donuts over climate change" and his delegation prompting a mass walkout at climate talks in Thailand.


I'm also not entirely convinced that Canadians care all that much. I mean, sure, if you're reading this post, most likely you are a Canadian who does care. But the truth is Canada is one of the planet’s worst offenders when it comes to energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, with both continuing to increase even as other countries have begun implementing radical reduction strategies.


So I asked Kevin:


Do you think this reflects the level of interest by the general Canadian population to fight climate change? Do Canadians care less than people from other countries?


Kevin Washbrook: Not at all! I think many Canadians are deeply embarrassed by our position and our obstructionist antics. Hence the message on the banner that will be revealed on Saturday—but you'll have to come to the event to see what it says.


Right, Saturday is Bridge to a Cool Planet. Where did the name come from?

This event is about getting where we need to be from here and crossing over that near-overwhelming gulf of uncertainty and effort that lies between.


I've wanted to organize a major global warming festival in an iconic public space for a long time. A bridge seemed like an obvious choice.


It's also all about building bridges between communities—between Vancouver's cultural communities, between environmentalists and social justice activists, businesses and faith groups and more.


It's about building a broad based movement for change—because we are all in this together.


Why October 24?

Bridge to a Cool Planet happily coincides with the Vancouver, Canada-wide and international events coming together for the International Day of Climate Action organized by aims to be the largest international mobilization for climate action ever with more than 3,700 events in over 189 countries!


What are the goals of the event?

Through spectacle and sheer numbers, the goal is send a powerful message to Ottawa that Canadians care and want to see strong, positive leadership on this issue.


... [And to] have fun, and inspire those who feel overwhelmed at the thought of taking action on this issue. This is our future we're trying to create—we should have a good time making it happen!


How will you measure success? What do you want to hear from Ottawa?

As an outcome of Copenhagen, we want Canada to commit to immediate and steep reductions in emissions. When our negotiators come home, we want our government to quickly hammer out efficient and transparent policies to get the job done.


Tzeporah Berman, executive director of PowerUp Canada, told a crowd at the Vancouver premiere of the film The Age of Stupid, "Canada is one of the top 10 global warming polluters, and that's true both per capita and in absolute emissions."


She said, “We need laws, not new light bulbs,” indicating that the most important initiatives to control climate change need to come from government and less so from minor consumer choices, such as energy efficiencies in the home.


What kinds of policies would you like to see the federal government implement?


1.    Putting a price on carbon emissions in a way that doesn't hurt those least well off, using some combination of:


a.    A national tax on emissions, with tax levels rising over time;


b.    A transparent cap and trade program for large emitters, with the cap declining over time and permits auctioned by government;


2.    Working with the most progressive jurisdictions in North America to require that vehicle manufacturers continually increase the percentage of their total sales that are zero and low emission vehicles (including vehicles for freight transportation).


3.    Working with the most progressive jurisdictions in North America to require that vehicle manufacturers adhere to a regular schedule of improved fuel efficiency standards.


4.    Developing continually improving federal appliance efficiency standards, and working with the provinces to establish continuously improving building and land use codes.


5.    Investing in the research and development of low and zero emission energy sources, energy conservation and efficiency, carbon capture and storage, and the enhancement of natural carbon sinks.


6.    Establishing permanent, ongoing federal funding for public transit and rail service and an end to federal funding for highway expansion.


7.    Working with the provinces to aggressively increase the percentage of renewable energy in utility power portfolios.


8.    Leaving tar sands in the ground. Period. No question.


The New Economics Foundation estimates that in less than eight years, or two full terms of government, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases will begin to exceed a point at which it will no longer be likely that humans can temper or “reverse” climate change.


What can Canada do to play its part in preventing more than a 2 degree rise of global average surface temperatures?

Note the NEF estimate is based on doing nothing. We can avoid this outcome with immediate action. See above for policy recommendations.


Broad picture: we need immediate and steep reductions in emissions now, not a gradual leveling off and decline by 2050. That will be far too late. We are very close to tipping points now.


Some, especially, say we need to actually reduce emissions already in the atmosphere to bring CO2 down to a safe level. There is good evidence that they are right.


Clearly what we need is a fundamental transformation of how we live, work and travel. No one knows exactly how that will look, and we can only achieve it if we work together.


Hence the need to build bridges—build a movement. If we are going to fundamentally transform society and scale down our consumption, etc., then we are going to have to address issues of poverty and social justice—both in Canada and internationally.


Should world governments fail to meet the challenge, and we exceed the 2 degree tipping point, how will Vancouver residents be affected?

More severe weather. More expensive food. Dryer, hotter summers and warmer, wetter winters leading to less reliable water supply (and ski season), as much of our summer water supply comes from melting snowpack. If it falls as rain all winter it isn't stored in the mountains and we run out in summer.


Also, we’ll see a huge strain on public infrastructure—flooding, dike building, dealing with more rapid water flows, storm-related damage, etc.—and public health, especially in terms of heat-related stress.


Cool… can’t wait.


How is Bridge to a Cool Planet any different from other climate change awareness events that have happened in the past? How do you hope to capture the hearts and minds of policymakers in Ottawa?

Bigger, better, more diverse! Not wet wool and shouting into megaphones. This is a positive and inspiring celebration. Numbers will capture attention in Ottawa, as will threats to marginal seats in the next election if this catches on as a voting issue.


Do you think mass events like this are as effective as voting in motivating change at a government level?

It's clear that this government is not willing to act unless it is forced to do so.


People vote on many issues, and in any case, there won't be an opportunity for Canadians to vote on this issue, or on the Harper government, before the talks in December. We have to take initiative now to show that current government actions are not good enough.


Also, mass events are visual, and bring together people who are passionate about what they're doing—these can be more effective at generating media coverage than visuals at voting booths. And media coverage that demonstrates vast numbers of diverse people wanting change can be very effective.


We need to inspire people who don't vote, or who think they can't do anything about this, that they can make a difference—by coming to the bridge and showing they care.


If there’s one thing you want the attendees of Bridge to a Cool Planet to come away with, what would it be? What’s the takeaway message? What’s the action plan?

We want them to make their voices stronger, and to gather more voices to convince Harper that Canadians care very much about climate change issues, that we are unhappy with Canada's current stance, and that our voices will grow and numbers will grow until he hears us and responds by shifting his position on Copenhagen.


We want Vancouverites contacting their MPs, phoning Ottawa, emailing, signing petitions and persuading everyone they can to do the same. We want them to know that they matter and that they can make a difference.