“Vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change differs substantially among and within regions (very high confidence), driven by patterns of intersecting socio-economic development, unsustainable ocean and land use, inequity, marginalization, historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, and governance (high confidence).” (IPCC Sixth Assessment Report, 28 Feb. 2022)
Much has been made of the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) acknowledgement in its Sixth Assessment Report that persistent colonialism is a causal factor (with “high confidence”, no less) for catastrophic climate change. And it is a noteworthy addition. However, both the wording in the report and much of the positive reaction to it underestimate the pervasiveness of colonialism and colonial relationships beyond the obvious geopolitical level.
If we take the reprehensible Trudeau Liberal approval of the Bay du Nord deepwater oil and gas development off Newfoundland and Labrador as an example, then, yes, of course, it represents a selfish move on Canada’s part to (at best) lay claim to an even larger share of the globe’s remaining carbon budget, while dismissing the shifting of the additional burden of counteracting the climate emergency to others – most likely to others in the global South. That is troubling enough for a country that has long pretended to be a progressive force in addressing inequality globally. The irony that this development will take place in the Atlantic Ocean, just as the IPCC underlines the growing certainty of coastal flooding in the global South particularly, adds to the embarrassment. It is truly a global Fuck You!
But that is only a small part of how the Bay du Nord decision illustrates the effect of colonialism.
A majority of Canadians are now aware of the consensus findings of virtually all the globe’s scientists and accept the consequent moral mandate to halt all new production of fossil fuels, to cut back on consumption and production of the same, and to ramp up energy efficiency and develop alternative energy sources asap. They have reached that conclusion despite the continuing flood of oil industry propaganda and misinformation about the relative cleanliness of their product, its apparently irreplaceable contribution to the economy and employment and the ghastly consequences of investing in green alternatives.
That majority is distressingly complacent in the face of government decisions, like this one over Bay du Nord, decisions that fly in the face of majority will and the public and global interest. How are we to understand the frequency of such decisions, so familiar to Indigenous and marginalized peoples in this country, not to mention former colonies in the global South?
As the IPCC states, though perhaps without fully grasping the implications for Northern polities, climate change is driven by “patterns of inequity such as colonialism”. I can only make sense of our national government’s dismissal of the science, its hypocrisy regarding its public commitments, its outright lying, and dismissal of the majority will as fitting a “colonial pattern” of responding to unaccountable power centres in our society and beyond.
But more serious still, our federal government does so because we, the citizenry of a democracy, permit it. How do we justify and make sense of that contradiction? In this case, our government and society have been colonized by an industry we have empowered very effectively to pursue its own selfish interest at our expense, kicking back just enough benefits to pretend that such subjection is worth it.
This pattern is not unique to our relationship with Big Oil, but encompasses our whole economy to varying degrees. Another good example would be the quasi-monopolistic control we have ceded to giant corporations over our communications infrastructure. And then there is the financial sector, beginning with the banks who continue to invest billions in a catastrophic fossil-fuelled future, despite our wishes.
Colonialism is both the seizure of responsibility from and cession of responsibility by a citizenry. Our democracy will fall far short of its ideal, as it does so evidently today, until we address our readiness to accept such colonial relationships, not just at this level, but in our daily lives. We are far too ready, nay, schooled, to accept the idea that someone, or some entity, knows better what is good for us, or what we can achieve together as a society. Consultation, whether in an election, or later as part of a legislated impact assessment process, is meaningless if our input is habitually ignored (as it was in the case of Bay du Nord). That is merely a manifestation of a more sophisticated colonialism.
There are so many levels on which colonial patterns of thinking operate. Today, we are acknowledging one in particular. We will look at others in posts to come. God knows, we confront them every day.