“The poor are the most vulnerable”: Elizabeth May speaks at UBC on climate change and inequality

On Tuesday afternoon, students and other members of the UBC community packed into the Frederic Wood Theatre for another talk as part of the Lind Initiative. This time, the speaker was Elizabeth May, member of Parliament and leader of the Green Party of Canada.

May has long been involved in the environmental movement. In the 1970s, she helped lead a successful grassroots movement to stop the spraying of aerial insecticides on forests in Nova Scotia. She then went on to be the founding executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada and was a senior policy advisor to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney.

Although she has been the leader of the Green Party since Stephen Harper’s election in 2006, May still considers herself an activist.

“I would have very happily continued as executive director of the Sierra Club of Canada, except that Stephen Harper became Prime Minister in 2006,” said May in an interview with The Ubyssey. “And I realized right away … that working from Sierra Club — where we’re non-partisan — I wouldn’t be able to expose what he was doing, to talk about what he was doing, [or] raise awareness, so I ran for leadership of the Green Party of Canada because it was the only thing I could think of to confront what was about to happen to Canada.”

May’s talk on Tuesday was on the topic of climate and inequality, looking at equity through the lens of climate change.

“On planet Earth right now, the greatest number of human beings are poor and pollute less than the minority of human beings in societies that pollute a great deal. But the richest societies are less at risk from the damage of the climate crisis than the poorest societies,” she explained. “The poor have done nothing to create the climate crisis and yet they are the most vulnerable to its impact.”

During the public discussion, May focused on actions she thought the Canadian government should be taking, particularly in the upcoming COP21 talks in Paris. She named a determination to rapidly move away from dependence on fossil fuels as being of the utmost importance.

“The collectivity of national government commitment, as of today for the negotiations taking place at the end of this month, are far too weak to avoid hitting two degrees level average temperature increase. We really must have movement from particularly the wealthiest countries,” said May to The Ubyssey.

She argued that the current initiatives such as the carbon tax and other trading schemes “open up the possibility of fraud and gaming the system.”

May’s advice for young people had a more positive note.

“The most important thing right now is to build on the political power and clout established by … more youth [turning] out to vote. We had 68 per cent voter turnout October 19 — the highest voter turnout since 1993. I’m convinced that Stephen Harper was driven from office from thousands of students who decided to vote in 2015.… Seize that political power and push it further,” said May. “That’s the single most effective thing the youth of Canada can do right now.”