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Climate disaster survivors call for cuts to fossil fuel emissions

June 10, 2024

Survivors and activists urge the federal government to cap oil and gas emissions. 

cap oil and gas emissions

Darryl Tedjuk came to Ottawa from Tuktoyaktuk to call for a cap on oil and gas emissions. In his lifetime he has seen parts of his community wash away. Photo: Kerry Slack/APTN 

APTN News: Residents of Tuktoyaktuk, an Inuvialuit hamlet of about 900 people 1,400 km north of Whitehorse, have spent years watching their beaches erode, and the water around the community creeping higher causing a new shoreline.

Homes that used to be one to two kilometres away from the water are now right beside it.

Inuvialuit, Darryl Tedjuk, grew up there and has been working on a documentary about the impact climate change is having on his community.

A main island that protects the harbour from the worst of the sea’s force is expected to disappear in 10 to 15 years, exposing the main hamlet to more damage.

Tedjuk said scientists have told him the hamlet will disappear into the sea in 50 years if nothing is done to protect it.

“In the north, we are seeing climate change up close. Our winters are getting shorter. Our spring is getting longer. Our summer is getting hotter, with weather over 20 degrees. Up north we hunt off the land and it keeps us healthy,” he said. “With climate change it’s harder and risker to hunt because parts of the ice ae getting thinner, sooner.

“Everyone is worried about their home washing away into the ocean,” he said.

Tedjuk said he’s trying to tell the story of Tuktoyaktuk to anyone who will listen, adding it’s terrifying and heartbreaking watching the community he loves slowly disappear. “I love that community,” he said.

“I want to help in any way I can. I want my children and my grandchildren to see Tuktoyaktuk. Where are we going to go if our community disappears?”

Tedjuk’s account from Tuktoyaktuk demonstrates the realities of climate change—a challenge that is echoed in the experience of Diana Boston, from the Upper Nicola Band, whose life was also washed away by flooding in Merritt, B.C.

Boston was at home in bed one night. As usual, her partner got up in the middle of the night and went off to work. Not long after she started seeing flashing lights. Boston looked outside and water was engulfing her driveway, vehicle and house.

That’s what happened to Boston in Merritt, B.C. in November 2021. She had to flee her home when an atmospheric river flooded the city of 8,000 people just 100 km east of Lytton in 2021.

“Neither my daughter or I had ever been in a flood before. It was scary. We left at 4:30 a.m. Water continued to flow into the house until 9 a.m. There are some things the flood ruined that I can never replace —the antique vanity that my granny handed down to me, every Fathers Day gift my husband got in the last decade, all of it, gone,” said Boston.

cap oil and gas emissions
Diana Boston recalls the night her whole life changed during an atmospheric flood in Merritt, B.C. Photo: Kerry Slack/APTN

“I woke my daughter up and to tell her we have to evacuate, we’re flooding. We packed up our dogs, our cat, we grabbed everything we thought we needed. I remember walking out to the truck and the water was rushing so fast. I had to help my daughter to the truck and got her in. I went to go behind the truck but something was blocking my way and I was so cold. When I got into my truck the water rushed into it, that’s how high the water got. We had to go.”

Boston said they are still working to restore their home to its previous condition, and the nightmares continue.

“My family didn’t lose our house, but our neighbors did. They’re entire house fell down. It took two years to repair our house and when it rains, we can’t sleep,” she said.

“We think about that night.”

People from coast to coast who have been directly affected by climate disasters – including fires, floods, extreme heat and sea level rise –brought their stories to Parliament Hill to share a call for an end to delays in capping oil and gas emissions that are driving climate change.

Boston said she came to Ottawa with her daughter because she doesn’t want others to live through the same experiences.

And “because we’re done,” she said. “We saved what we could. We lost a lot of stuff. Everything from my kids’ childhood, all gone. My kids don’t even have photos anymore. We need to put a cap on these emissions. We need to help this world. We need to have a greener, healthier future. Not for us. For the next generations.”

It has been less than a year since Heather Mackay, a hairstylist and grandmother from Kelowna, B.C., lost her family home in the wildfire that destroyed or damaged 190 homes last September.

MacKay was returning from work when the evacuation order went out. She didn’t have time to finish her commute before she had to leave town.

There is the guilt of knowing her husband and daughters had to gather their belongings without her help.

“I feel guilt that I wasn’t there at the time,” said Mackay. “I am heartbroken when I hear my daughters talk about how they wish they had some of their stuffies from when they were little or their baby box and how they will never be able to wear my wedding dress in their weddings.”

“It’s embarrassing that I mourn material things but that was 49 years of curated things gone into six inches of ash,” she said in a tear strained voice. “I miss our family dynamic in that home.”

Oil and gas executives at committee

The leading cause of the climate crisis is the burning of fossil fuels. Last week, the House of Commons Environment committee called the heads of Suncor, Imperial Oil, Cenovus Energy, Shell and Enbridge faced questions about their companies’ rising emissions amid record profits.

It came the day after scientists at Copernicus, the European Union’s earth monitoring arm, reported that last month was the warmest May ever on record globally, and the 12th straight month in which average temperatures broke previous records.

The 2015 Paris climate accord, which almost every country in the world agreed to, committed signatories to reduce emissions in an effort to slow global warming and keep average temperatures from increasing more than 1.5 C above pre-industrial temperatures.

According to the latest National Inventory Report from Environment and Natural Resources Canada, Canada’s oil and gas sector is responsible for nearly one-third of national emissions, significantly more than any other industry. The sector’s emissions climbed by 83 per cent between 1990 – 2022.

The Climate Change Tracker’s website said fossil fuel emissions are driving climate change, which, as reported by the Natural Resources Canada’s website, increases the likelihood and severity of extreme weather events like wildfires, heatwaves and floods.

In addition, last year, scientists found climate change made weather conditions that led to fires in Quebec twice as likely as reported by the Societe du Protection des Forets Contre le Feu, (the Society for the Protection Against Forest Fires) on their website.

Another study from IOP Science found that emissions from 88 major oil and gas producers were directly linked to increased wildfires across Western Canada and the United States.

“It’s important to keep bringing this up. We are living in a climate emergency and we need to act like it,” said Liberal MP, Patrick Weiler. “The more we delay, the more we are going to have these tragic stories. We need to also be able to sort through all the misinformation. These companies are 5 per cent of the GDP but 31 per cent of the emissions, how is that fair?”

“What’s clear is that companies are not going to act unless we force them to.”

Cool-Fergus, national policy manager with Climate Action Network Canada, said these companies pay a lot of money to lobbyists to make the issue seems less urgent than it is.

“As the fossil fuel industry tries to weaken and block climate policy, people across Canada are already suffering from climate disasters. The science is clear —to prevent climate catastrophes from getting worse and to keep people safe, we need to cut emissions faster and deeper,” said Cool-Fergus.

“Federal politicians must listen to Canadians who support putting a limit on oil and gas emissions —not greedy oil and gas CEOs collecting record profits as their companies pollute our climate. Canada must immediately regulate the oil and gas sector — no more delays, and no more loopholes.”

She stressed that climate change is not a partisan issue, it affects everybody.

“We are asking politicians to put partisanship aside and address these issues,” said Cool-Fergus.

NDP MP Laurel Collins agreed that the current government is less than responsible with their environmental considerations.

“This government has been listening to oil and gas CEOs and lobbyists over everyday Canadians and climate experts,” she said. “They continue to water down key policies like the oil and gas cap because oil and gas CEOs and lobbyists ask them to. It’s not enough for the government to say, we hope that you voluntarily reduce your emissions We need a government that will make these companies stop polluting and stop asking Canadians to pay for the clean-up of that pollution.”

For the residents of these affected communities it’s not enough to hope politicians will do the right thing.

“We can’t stop all wildfires but we can prevent them from becoming more frequent and intense,” said Mackay. “That’s why I’m asking federal politicians to stop delaying and put a cap on oil and gas emissions that are driving climate change. It’s only fair that the sector responsible for the biggest source of climate pollution does its part to limit its damage.”

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Kerry Slack,