Stephen Lewis at the University of Manitoba
At the recent Climate First tour talk in Winnipeg recently, the last speaker of the evening was the well known Stephen Lewis. Even though I have heard him speak a number of times, I felt sorry for him because he had to follow the earlier brilliant speakers. I need not have feared. Lewis, is a passionate speaker.
He pointed out that when David Suzuki had asked him to speak with him on this tour, Suzuki pointed out that both of them had reached an elderly age. They were the “silverbacks” that could speak the unbridled truth. Neither of them has to suck up to anyone anymore. Neither is seeking grants or power. So they can speak truth to power.
Lewis started out by talking about Greta Thunberg who had inspired him. Recently, at the UN she had spoken passionately, with obvious great emotion, in a shaking voice and said to the people of power that were gathered there:
“How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering and people are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you? For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you to continue to look away and say that you are doing enough when the politics and solution needed are nowhere in sight? You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency but no matter how sad and angry I am I do not want to believe that because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, you would be evil and that I refuse to believe…If you chose to fail us we will never forgive you.”
Thunberg said she should be back at school rather than at the UN, but she had to come, because “old people were stealing her future”. How would you like to face your grandchild 30 years from now with such a charge? These old men are what Lewis referred to as “political ideologues lurking around drunk on fossil fuel.” Who wants to be one of those guys?
First, Lewis mocked the political leaders of the world that showed up at the Paris conference on Climate change in 2017 for their mouthing of self-serving homilies. He said that this led him to “incandescent up.” Lewis concluded, “These world leaders are criminally suicidal.”
Lewis contrasted those leaders with James Hansen from NASA who spoke at an international conference in Toronto in 1988 when he told people that he was 99% sure that climate change was caused by human activities.” And as Lewis concluded, “Had we taken him seriously in 1988 we would not now be speaking of self-immolation as we are doing.”
And that really is a pity. Had the world listened and acted 30 years ago, the problem would have been manageable. For 30 years corporate interests have obfuscated the issues and poisoned us with lies by deliberately selling us doubt. That this was done deliberately really is despicable. I really wonder how we allow this happen. Should this not be a chimer? Does this not show capitalism at its predatory worst? Partly as a result, for 30 years our political leaders have not helped us to act, and now we all have to pay the price. As Lewis said, “for 3 decades the governments of the world have betrayed human kind.” Now we have to transform completely the political world. Nothing else will be good enough. It is too late for easier measures.
The 2018 UN report has made things clear: we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% before 2030 and 100% by 2050. And that won’t be easy. That is why we need radical action, such as the Green New Deal! At the Paris accord in 2017 the world’s leaders said they wanted to hold average temperature rise to 1.5ºC but could absolutely not accept more than a 2ºC rise. They recognized that such a rise would be intolerable. Yet little is being done.
Lewis also pointed out, like the other two speakers, that the destruction of the planet and climate change are intimately connected.
Lewis joined Thunberg in saying “given we are in an emergency as Parliament has acknowledged, all parties should put aside party in favor of the country, as they would do if we are at war.”
Lewis made a rousing finish by saying, “I am with Greta Thunberg against the club of old politicians against all the odds and defiantly filled with hope.” Again the crowd gave him a standing ovation. It was a great way to end the 3 talks and the crowd rose with thunderous applause.