I recently travelled across Canada with David Suzuki Foundation staff, from St. John’s to Victoria and up to Yellowknife, joined by friends and allies along the way. Besides our Blue Dot Tour evening events featuring some of Canada’s best-known musicians, writers, artists and thinkers, we also took part in many community events and discussed environmental stewardship and treaty rights with Indigenous people.
We visited places that lack access to clean water in a country that boasts having an abundance of the cleanest water in the world. We met people trying to protect their communities, wildlife and habitat from fossil fuel development and pipeline projects. We joined more than 1,000 people in Toronto for a celebration of local food, music and nature during the Homegrown Park Crawl. We took part in nature-themed scavenger hunts with schoolchildren.
It was a lot of work that included many serious discussions, but it was also inspiring and fun. It’s empowering to know that so many people share the understanding that our health, well-being and survival depend on clean air, fresh water, healthy food and the natural diversity that makes it all possible. More than 460 volunteers joined us on the tour and tens of thousands of people attended events and signed postcards and a pledge of support for the right to a healthy environment.
It’s also been empowering to see people of all ages and backgrounds on Burnaby Mountain near Vancouver standing against pipeline development and oil sands expansion, the Tahltan Nation and allies protecting the Sacred Headwaters in Northern B.C. from Imperial Metals’ proposed Red Chris mine, and hundreds of thousands taking to the streets around the world for events like the Peoples’ Climate March.
But we can’t go on stamping out small fires when they keep igniting again and again, and when an inferno threatens us all. When I look back, I see many battles we thought we had won rearing up again — including stopping major dam projects in Brazil and Canada, keeping oil exploration and tankers from threatening fragile West Coast ecosystems and preventing clear-cut logging in old-growth forests.
We’ve been so focused on individual projects that we’ve failed to realize these battles reflect fundamentally different ways of seeing our place in the world. And it is our deep, underlying worldview that determines the way we treat our surroundings.
That’s why I embarked on the Blue Dot Tour with the Foundation and Ecojustice. To resolve the serious environmental issues we face in Canada and beyond, we need people from across the country and all walks of life to join together to make protecting the people and places we love a priority. We’ve been asking people to advocate in their communities for recognition of the right to clean air, water and food by all levels of government — and, ultimately, in the Constitution’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Local-level organizing has already been incredibly successful. Municipal declarations of the right to a healthy environment have now been adopted by Richmond and Vancouver, B.C., The Pas, Manitoba, Montreal (preceded by its borough of Rosemont-La Petite-Patrie), Quebec, and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories — all thanks to citizens of those communities working together. More than 11,000 volunteers have signed up and similar efforts are now underway in 30 communities.
More than half the world’s nations, about 110, have constitutional rights to a healthy environment. It’s time for Canada to join them. Research shows the benefits go beyond protecting the environment and human health to strengthening the economy by stimulating innovation, diversification and competitiveness, and reducing health-care costs. It’s not about slowing progress or stopping development; it’s about ensuring those occur in the best ways possible, reducing environmental degradation and ensuring that the long-term needs of citizens are prioritized over short-term corporate profits and political ambitions.
The tour may be over, but the movement is just getting started.
Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundations Senior Editor Ian Hanington.
Learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org.