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Are Canada’s environmental elders backing down from the fight?

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And who can blame them? People like Suzuki have been working relentlessly for decades trying to bring environmental issues to the forefront of public discourse. Their successes should not be undervalued—this is the generation that has helped shape international policy, introduce global talks around climate change and implement a number of widely used, sustainable practices that we now take for granted.

Now in a matter of years, or even months, the Canadian government has attempted to dismantle the foundation that the movement has spent so long trying to build. In an article in Ottawa’s Hill Times, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May stated that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are “destroying decades worth of environmental law and policy”. Respected scientists from the academic community have said the same thing.

The budget bill (Bill C-38) could effectively kill years of progress on environmental protections, in a political context where dissenting voices are likely to be silenced. When faced with such heartbreaking setbacks, after such a long and difficult struggle to get to where we are today, it’s no wonder many are feeling discouraged.

At the same time, Suzuki and other environmental “legends” have also birthed a new generation, brought up with an arguably better understanding of our environment and dependence on nature than its predecessors. And while the older group may be starting to doubt their effectiveness in the face of adversity, young environmentalists are taking the reigns and standing up for a world they feel is increasingly at risk.

The road ahead

Amidst all the doom and gloom, the public is starting to look to these young and creative green advocates for new ways to tackle climate change and prevent environmental destruction. Cavoukian addresses this generational shift in his blog post, adding to Suzuki’s points by asking what the movement can learn from its “failures”, and what he and others should be telling their protégés about the road ahead.

He suggests that now is the time for a sort of “reinvention” of the movement, and for “daring” new thinking and action spurred by the shortcomings of the past. And Cavoukian sees this new action involving democratic partnerships and new media—using the same types of social tools that brought the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street to life.

Examples of fresh (and growing) networks abound, fostering increased engagement around environmental, political and social issues. Take 350.org for example. The powerful web-based coalition managed to gather over 10,000 people at the White House to protest the Keystone XL pipeline, and had a huge impact on President Obama’s decision to delay the proposal. Founder Bill McKibben and his colleagues use new technologies to build community and help mobilize the masses against climate change, encouraging individual members to share their success stories and help motivate their peers.

In Canada, Leadnow.ca has been similarly successful in acquiring public support. Using social media and online promotion, the group has created a way for thousands of citizens to learn about and engage in national discussions that matter to them. Their latest campaign, to “Stop the Budget Bill from Selling Out Canada's Natural Heritage and Economy”, has already gotten over 21,600 Canadians to speak out against the legislation.

And they’re just getting started.

Instead of rolling over and submitting to industry and the Harper government’s attacks, this new generation of so-called “radicals” is heeding the call. They know that now is the time to be strong, get creative and rally the troops. Right now they may not be in an ideal position, but this battle is not over.

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