Union members inspired by climate justice conference

For two PSAC members working as teaching and research assistants at University of New Brunswick, the recent gathering of PowerShift Atlantic was a source of new passion for environmental activism.

PowerShift is a youth-led organizing effort to build a movement in Canada for climate and environmental justice. The conference held in Halifax at the end of March was the second of six planned regional gatherings, with the first being held in Victoria, B.C. on October 2013 and the last slated to be held on October 2015.  It is a project of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition.

Jeff Clements, a student in the field of climate science, and Amir Abouhamzeh, who’s studying aromatics engineering with a research background in environmental studies, came away from the four-day conference with some inspiration and new knowledge about the issues surrounding climate justice.

“As a climate scientist, I know first-hand the dangers and consequences of climate change, and I feel that we scientists have an obligation to speak out about it,” Clements says. “I wanted to attend PowerShift to learn some novel ways of speaking out that are out of my comfort zone and to learn what others are doing to act on the issue of climate change.”

For Abouhamzeh, meeting other delegates aroused his interest the most. “The most interesting for me was meeting a lot of enthusiastic young people who think outside the box and look beyond their daily problems and fight for climate justice. Their dedication was very amazing and inspiring.”

PowerShift Atlantic comes at an opportune time, especially as resistance mounts against the Northern Gateway pipeline project, fracking, the tar sands as well as  hosts of other environmental campaigns.  It also claims to build on movements such as Occupy, Idle No More and the Quebec students’ strike and is ripe for building a Canadian climate and environmental justice movement.

The Atlantic conference, which was held on unceded K’jipuktuk, Mi’kmaqi territory, had a roster of keynote speakers dominated by indigenous women. This allowed for the introduction of the issue of environmental racism, a topic rarely discussed in climate justice discourse.

“PowerShift opened my eyes to some pretty disturbing trends,” says Clements. “The most disturbing would have to be environmental racism and the outward discrimination against Canada’s indigenous people by energy corporations. Discussion surrounding the exploitation of indigenous territory and the people residing in Ontario’s Chemical Valley was a disheartening, enraging, and emotionally provoking example of how these monopolizing corporations are targeting indigenous land to build their facilities.”

Clements and Abouhamzeh’s participation in PowerShift was funded in part by PSAC’s Social Justice Fund, and Abouhamzeh feels unions should continue to be active in environmental and climate justice issues.

“I think since unions are more of representative of society than corporations,” says Abouhamzeh. “They should include environmental issues in their demands when collectively bargaining with corporations. It’s something that people around the world are affected by and unions, like PSAC, are in the frontline of achieving climate justice.”