Shouting “Fire” on a Crowded Planet

Canada’s Failure to take Adequate Climate Change Action and What Concerned Canadians Can Do about that Failure

Review by Tom Sandborn

Getting to Zero
Canada Confronts Global Warming

By Tony Clarke

James Lorimer and Company             Toronto

2018         248pp                                      $24.95

Maybe we are dumber than rodents. Showing less clear headed self protectiveness than a swarm of lemmings rushing off a cliff, the people of the earth are ignoring the imminent danger of climate change that will, unless we take dramatic action, make human civilization, such as it is, disappear.

At best, most of us take note of the latest set of scientific warnings, shake our heads and post a comment on social media. Our political masters either mouth the moronic, corporate funded inanities of climate change denial, a la Trump, or mouth hypocritical promises to address the crisis while making it worse, a la Trudeau. (Despite much rhetoric and many promises, the Trudeau Liberals are presiding over a national regime that saw Canada’s green house gas emissions spike upward again in 2016, as our nation produces more of the climate changing emissions per capita than any other G20 nation, while our location on the edge of the Arctic means that our emissions play a particularly dire role in driving climate changes there at the top of the world.)

Neither climate change denial nor climate change hypocrisy is a sufficient response, and it is up to us to demand real changed behaviour in our homes, our factories, our governments and our regulatory systems. Unless the people of the earth wake up from our long, self-indulgent slumber and take action, we will see a climate catastrophe within the lives of our children and grandchildren. Some of us may live long enough for our grandchildren to confront us about our lethargy as the flames of climate change burned ever higher. That should make for some interesting family dinners!

To be fair, not everyone is asleep at the climate change switch. The science of climate change is being improved and sharpened every day, and some of our public intellectuals like Naomi Klein and David Suzuki have been sounding the alarm and informing potential citizen activists about what is at stake. Local groups, often led by indigenous peoples, are blocking pipelines and fracking operations, and national and international NGOs continue to lobby for sane regulatory changes. Many Columbia Journal readers are veterans of these public actions and remain committed to doing still more to save our beloved planet from human induced firestorms of warming and climate change.

The book under review here is addressed to us. Tony Clarke’s Getting to Zero is a lucid, well researched and thoughtfully composed call to action, spelling out the most recent research about the dangers we all face (or, more commonly, turn away from.) But Clarke, an exemplary public intellectual, doesn’t just bemoan our tragedy or berate Canadians for our collective failures. He spells out a comprehensive plan for how activists on the ground could mobilize and have an impact on the upcoming Canadian and US elections and demand effective emission controls, for one thing. He points to existing resistance and public education projects and suggests how local activists could join hands across the country and around the world to create a truly global and truly effective movement for eco sanity and social justice, two goals, he argues persuasively, that must be advanced together. He calls for radical reforms of the climate change impacts in the energy, building and transportation sectors and for ongoing efforts to see that the changes we win do not end up abandoning workers to unemployment and despair, or pretend to address the crisis without taking into account the need to end white privilege and misogyny, in our movements and in our communities. His proposals are at the same time both practical and breathtakingly ambitious. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and this volume is a roadmap we should all consider.

The beginning of the New Year is traditionally a time for resolutions as we commit to more exercise, less fast food and fewer cigarettes. This year, we would all be well advised to resolve to read Tony Clarke’s challenging new book, share it with friends, family and the people we work with, and take some steps toward the comprehensive organizing project he is championing. It is time to act as if our lives depended on our actions, because they do.

Tom Sandborn lives and writes on unceded indigenous land in Vancouver. He and his beloved grandson Nati were both arrested at the gates of the Kinder Morgan pipeline tank farm this year and he has been a climate change and social justice activist most of his adult life. He welcomes your feedback and story tips at

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