UBC students mobilize to make climate change an election issue

Photo of UBCC from Facebook

Students took to the streets in Vancouver on Saturday as part of a Storm the Riding Campaign to engage the public in conversation about Canada’s lack of political leaders willing to take serious steps to address climate change. 

Students and volunteers went door-knocking to speak to Vancouverites about how climate change and carbon emissions should be a major issue to consider when they cast their ballots in the federal election this year. 

“I admit going door-to-door scared me at first but it’s not the kind of thing that you just post a status about, you have to reach out to people in person,” said Liam Scanlon, a student at UBC and a member of UBCC 350.

“It’s worth gulping down those fears because no one has a stake the way we do in what’s going to happen to our planet.”

Students said they are concerned with the current political trajectory that is dependent on fossil fuels.

“We’ve got dozens of student groups to fill out applications to the National Energy Board to say that they’re directly effected by climate change,” said Sam Harrison, a student coordinating executive at Toronto 350 and a student at the University of Toronto. 

In addition to these political campaigns, universities recently have been urging their school’s to divest from all fossil fuel stocks and its endowment. The University of Toronto is one of those schools that has been successful in getting their university to officially consider divesting and will vote in the fall. 

The main political parties vary widely in their views on climate change and environment. The Conservative Party's policy declaration, for example, very briefly discusses the environment. It notes that the preserving the environment and creating jobs should remain in balance, although it does not state what that “balance” should be. But rather than discussing in depth what Canada should do, it puts the blame for climate change on “major emitters” like China and the United States.

The NDP’s Policy Book writes that the New Democrats will “establish binding targets and clear standards to cut greenhouse gas emissions.” But party leader, Tom Mulcair stated in a news conference in Toronto on Nov. 12, 2014 that he may be for the proposed Energy East Pipeline so long as oil companies pay for the pollution they create. Mulcair told the Vancouver Observer earlier this month that it was impossible to "get to yes" on major pipeline projects today, however, due to the lack of a credible environmental assessment process.  

The federal Liberals have stated the party will “set national targets on carbon emissions” but has provided little indication about what those targets would be or how they would successfully meet those goals.

“There’s frustration with youth about the options that they have to vote for and the lack in every party to address some of the big issues youth see and face,” said Julie Van de Valk, a geological engineering student and election campaign coordinator for UBCC 350.

One of the major concerns over the youth vote is how low the turnout tends to be on election day. An estimate published by Statistics Canada for the last federal election in 2011 observes that the youth vote in Canada is 11 per cent less than the national average. Voter turnout for Canadians aged 18-34 was just 50 per cent, much lower than the 83 per cent of voters in the 65 to 74 year old category. 

But professors involved in UBC's climate change movement feel that this might change in the 2015 vote. 

“Historically, voters vote on the basis of economic issues. But there have been certain periods where environmental issues have proved to be very important in the vote,” said George Hoberg, a professor in the faculty of forestry at UBC and faculty coordinator for UBCC 350.

“We’re hoping to create another moment like that.”

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