Dr. David Suzuki, a prominent Canadian environmentalist and author, and Stephen Lewis, a respected humanitarian and former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations (UN), are advocating for the climate crisis to be a key issue in Canada’s upcoming federal election.

As part of a tour called “Climate First,” Suzuki, Lewis, and Indigenous activist and singer-songwriter Buffy Sainte-Marie are speaking about their advocacy at U of T’s Convocation Hall on September 14

The environmentalists are advocating for U of T students to support candidates who prioritize fighting the climate crisis in this year’s election on October 21.

The opportunity of the upcoming federal election

In the 2015 Canadian federal election, the Liberal Party of Canada won a parliamentary majority with the leadership of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

As the Canadian federal election is fast approaching, Suzuki and Lewis have felt it crucial to draw voters’ attention to the effect this election’s result could potentially have on climate change.

Suzuki and Lewis spoke to The Varsity about their perspectives. “We want the next four years for Canada to play a leading role internationally in getting the world to recognize that we are in danger of self-destruction if we don’t respond dramatically,” explained Lewis.

Lewis continued by listing a series of catastrophic consequences of significant rise in average global temperature, including “the destruction of agricultural land, the melting of the polar caps, the inundation of the coastal regions, the way in which people are experiencing upheaval, [and] millions of [people displaced by the crisis] as it gets worse and worse.”

Controversy on 11 years left to save the climate

Lewis highlighted the urgency of the matter, saying that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has “made it clear that there are only 11 years left to save the planet.”

The IPCC is an association of the UN that aims to provide regular scientific assessments of the climate crisis.

The deadline has been reaffirmed by UN General Assembly President María Fernanda Espinosa Garcés, according to a press release.

However, the widespread stance that there are 11 years left to save the climate has been controversial among climate scientists.

“We don’t have 12 years to prevent climate change — we have no time,” said Dr. Kate Marvel, a NASA scientist, in a January 2019 interview with Axios. “[C]limate change isn’t a cliff we fall off — it’s a slope we slide down.”

Scientists writing in Nature Climate Change have also challenged the legitimacy of setting a deadline for the climate crisis, though research institutes such as Concordia University maintain that a tipping point could be in 11 years.

Regardless of the deadline’s controversy, 97 per cent of scientists agree that climate change is caused by humans, according to NASA. Both Marvel and the writers of the Nature opinion piece agree that the climate crisis is an urgent issue that people should address.

How U of T students can fight the climate crisis in the upcoming election

When it comes to what U of T students can do to help fight climate change, Suzuki encourages them to positively get involved in voting for the election.

Since young adults from the ages of 18–22 traditionally have a poor record of voting, Suzuki thinks it necessary for current U of T students to be aware of the “big decisions” the government can make on the issue of climate change. 

“We want to remind the students at the University of Toronto that they’re going to face [the consequences of the climate crisis],” reinforced Lewis.

Suzuki encouraged voters to treat climate crisis advocacy as warfare. Framing the crisis this way, he added, enables voters and political representatives to “respond as a single country, as if we were going to war.”

Students should attend campaign meetings to raise the issue of the climate crisis, Lewis noted, and advocate to their parents and friends about the urgency of the crisis. Crucially, said Lewis and Suzuki, students should prioritize the climate crisis at the ballot box.

“You ought to be voting for people that are saying that climate is an issue of the highest priority,” said Suzuki.