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Unicycling for climate justice

by Andy Crosby

Photo: Patrick Wade
Photo: Patrick Wade

Tens of thousands converged in New York City in the days leading up to the United Nations Climate Summit on Sept. 23 to demand immediate action on climate change.

A number of key events took place including a Peoples’ Climate March, a Flood Wall Street event to “shut down climate profiteers,” a Frack Off event featuring Indigenous women leading media campaigns, as well as a unicyclist from Victoria, B.C. travelling 5,000 kilometres to Ottawa before heading over to New York.

Joseph Boutilier rode on one wheel for over five months to “call attention to the climate crisis, demonstrate the political willpower for action, and encourage our elected leaders to work across partisan lines to address this and related environmental emergencies,” he told the Leveller via e-mail.

“The ride was fantastic,” he said. “People were so good to me and I really got to see first-hand the broad groundswell of support there is for climate action in Canada.

Boutilier arrived in Ottawa on Sept. 15 just as Parliament re-opened for the fall session.

“Since arriving in Ottawa I’ve had a press conference with MPs from 3 of our 4 major parties, attended two climate rallies, done a number of interviews and classroom presentations and am now preparing to join hundreds of Canadians for the People’s Climate March in N.Y.C.,” said Boutilier. “It’s expected to be the biggest climate protest in the history of the movement and I couldn’t be more excited.”

Given that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is snubbing the Climate Summit altogether, it’s not difficult to guess which one of Canada’s political parties refused to meet with Boutilier.

“Canada has become a climate criminal, from the muzzling of scientists to the slashing of environmental protections and rubber-stamping of fossil fuel infrastructure,” said Andrea Harden-Donahue, a Council of Canadians’ Energy and Climate Justice Campaigner, in a press release. “That’s why it’s so important for Canadians to be present at this march. We care, and we demand action, for people and the planet.”

The Alberta tar sands is the largest contributor and fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, according to many environmental organizations.

Between 100,000-200,000 people are expected to attend the Peoples’ Climate March, which has also drawn criticism from across the political spectrum.

Beyond the expected opposition from climate change deniers and opponents of sustainable energy, a number of  environmentalists have come forward with concerns in the lead up to the march.

“No target, no demands, no timing, no unity, no history and no integrity amounts to one thing: No politics,” said columnist Quincy Saul. “The biggest climate march in history will amount to something less than Al Gore.”

The crux of Saul’s argument revolves around the march being sanctioned and facilitated by police, having an aimless route around Times Square, and transpiring days before world leaders meet at the UN.

The following day, activists also organized a “Flood Wall Street” event, a sit-in outside the New York Stock Exchange described as a “mass action to shut down climate profiteers.”

Despite the inevitable issues that arise surrounding a mega-event organized by large environmental organizations, hundreds of Canadians made the trek with optimism, including Boutilier.

He returns to Ottawa to participate in ClimateFast which begins on Sept. 28 on Parliament Hill.

“ClimateFast is an annual four-day fast and vigil for climate action, and a series of related workshops and events,” he said.

For Boutilier, the last few weeks have been an incredible experience.

“It still hasn’t totally sunken in yet that I’m done,” he said. “Perhaps because the end of the ride is really just the beginning of the journey.”

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 7, No. 1

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Topics: Environment

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