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      Climate Justice Organizing in the Time of Covid-19

      By Alison Bodine

      The Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed that Canada's government places the interests of pipelines before the interests of people. Despite the threat to public health, and especially to the health and safety of Indigenous people in Canada, both federal and provincial governments continue to give the green light to the construction of climate killing resource extraction mega-projects and their billionaire backers during the pandemic.

      In British Columbia alone, the construction of the Site-C dam, Coastal GasLink natural gas pipeline (CGL), and the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion (TMX) has proceeded to put the lives and safety of workers and the surrounding communities at risk.

      While people in Canada were being told to “stay at home” for public health, the number of workers at the Site-C dam increased in March to nearly 1,000 people, sleeping, eating, and working in close quarters. This recklessness did not go unnoticed, as Fort St. John city councillor Byron Stewart explained to media, “It is not an emergency service. It is not a front-line service. I personally would like the province to come in, shut it down, and send everybody home.” However, his pleas and the demands of the surrounding community and of the Union of BC Indian Chiefs to halt construction of the Site-C dam were not met by the provincial government.

      Further North in BC, Wet’suwet’en Nation members have repeatedly spoken out against the continued construction work preparing the way for the CGL pipeline on their territory. Not only is this work being carried out without the approval of the Wet'suwet'en people, but it is also threatening their health and safety. They have reported CGL contractors on-site delivering pipe and clearing forests, increasing the risk of a Covid-19 outbreak in an area of BC that already faces severe healthcare shortages.

      This gross negligence of health during the time of Covid-19 has continued in the urban center of Burnaby. There, construction work at the Burnaby Mountain tank farm has continued preparing the way for the TMX pipeline expansion project. The violations of social-distancing protocols have been thoroughly documented by concerned members of community organizations; the Mountain Protectors and BROKE. Despite this evidence, construction work has been allowed to continue.

      The Covid-19 pandemic has further exposed that Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier John Horgan are both unwilling to act on the environmental, health, and safety concerns of people in Canada.

      The Trudeau Liberal government also continues to funnel taxpayer money into oil and gas. This includes the $4.5 billion purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline and the expansion project, which is now projected to cost over $12.6 billion in public funds according to Trans Mountain CEO, Ian Anderson. As one striking example, at the end of April, EDC, the export credit agency of the government of Canada, also signed a loan agreement for between $250-500 million for the Coastal GasLink pipeline.

      On February 29, the grassroots climate justice coalition, Climate Convergence worked together with the local Climate Strike organization, the Sustainabiliteens on a fundraiser for the Unist'ot'en Camp, which is leading the resistance to the Coastal GasLink Pipeline on Wet’suwet’en territory. This dynamic fundraiser, which packed the Burnaby Neighborhood House hall at a time when it was still safe to do so, had something for everyone to contribute and a way for all to donate. There were live music and poetry, a bake sale, delicious homemade soup by donation, a book sale, and a silent art auction. The artists who donated their time and talent included Tawahum, Nitesun, Kaya Ko, Dae Nneka, Rupert Common, and Estea Elements.

      Fast-forward only two weeks and gathering in large groups for climate justice actions was no longer possible due to Covid-19. Adapting to this change, on April 15, Climate Convergence organized its first webinar, an online forum titled "Protect the Planet, Not Profits! Save People, Not Pipelines! Climate Justice Organizing in the Time of Covid-19.” This webinar brought together over 120 people from across the Lower Mainland, BC, as well as throughout the U.S. in Colorado and California to begin the important discussion about how we can unite for our mother earth to confront the challenges of environmental crisis and the current health crisis.

      Presentations at the webinar included Dr. Chris Carlsten, Head of Respiratory Medicine Department at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Carlsten spoke about the direct correlations between the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and pre-existing health conditions brought upon humanity by climate change and air pollution. Next was Brandon Gosnell of the Mountain Protectors. He reported on their essential work exposing the ongoing Trans Mountain tank farm construction on Burnaby Mountain, which is regularly violating social distancing measures and putting the surrounding community at risk. Climate Convergence organizer Alison Bodine closed off the panel by examining the failures of capitalist countries to protect human lives during the Covid-19 pandemic. This explains how the capitalist system is even more unprepared and unable to preserve humanity in the face of the climate crisis.

      Climate Convergence is continuing to support and organize online actions that demand that the climate-destroying mega-projects in Canada be stopped immediately and the billions in Covid-19 bailouts go directly to workers and communities in need, not the corporations. Climate Convergence organizers have also been bringing new art to Vancouver's boarded-up streets, in the form of large, climate justice posters that call on Canada's government to “Save People, Not Pipelines” and “TMX and CGL: Get Your Dirty Hands Off the Lands!”

      To join the bi-weekly online meetings, and get involved in Climate Convergence, visit www.climateconvergence.ca, on Twitter: @climate604 and Instagram: @climateconvergence.

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