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What can concerned communities do when their governments aren’t stepping up?

Hadrian Mertins-KirkwoodClimate change is here, whether we like it or not, and communities across the country need a plan for it.

It’s not only the physical impacts of a warming world that we need to prepare for, such as more frequent floods and wildfires, but also the economic changes being imposed on us by a global economy that’s slowly but surely moving away from fossil fuels.

How will our communities transition away from the coal, oil and gas industries, the country’s biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions? How will we stop burning methane gas to heat our homes and oil to fuel our cars? And how can we make sure that, throughout these transitions, we’re creating good jobs for workers and strong public services for the people who need them most?

It all starts with a plan, and that’s exactly what our governments are failing to deliver.

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In the latest federal budget, the government told the private sector to take the wheel on climate action. The feds are handing out $80 billion in corporate tax breaks for the clean economy and even transferring control of big public spending projects, like the $15 billion Canada Growth Fund, to private managers.

That market-first approach might work for scaling up clean investment overall, but there’s no guarantee that workers and communities will share in the benefits. For example, it may come as little consolation to laid-off oil workers in Cold Lake or Sarnia that there are new, greener jobs available in Calgary or Toronto.

Even in places that don’t depend on the fossil fuel industry directly, we need plans on how to manage the shift to a net-zero economy, especially if we want to make sure it’s a more inclusive economy than today. For women, racialized workers, immigrants and other marginalized groups, the transition to a cleaner economy could bridge some of those gaps, but it won’t happen without a people-first climate strategy.

So, what can concerned communities do when their governments aren’t stepping up?

In a recent report, researchers from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the University of British Columbia lay out a blueprint for grassroots community climate organizing. And all it takes is a few motivated citizens to get the ball rolling.

It starts by defining the community in question and designing a process for engaging with other concerned people and groups. Once you’ve got your community to the table, you need to dream up a greener future together – what does an inclusive and sustainable community look like to us? Next, determine the obstacles to achieving that vision. Finally, deliver concrete actions that show your community what real change can look like.

This five-step framework – define, design, dream, determine and deliver – is a roadmap toward positive, practical alternatives for communities who feel abandoned by their governments.

Eventually, even the most successful community organizers will need to confront and engage with the state. There’s no avoiding that. But getting communities organized is a vital step for clarifying direction, building social power and putting concerted pressure on elected officials.

Dozens of groups are already taking up this mantle from coast to coast, from Climate Justice Victoria to Climate Justice Edmonton to Climate Action Newfoundland & Labrador. Canadian communities aren’t sitting idly by while their governments fiddle on climate change.

But there’s still a long way to go. Many communities have yet to start organizing. And as the climate crisis intensifies, with all of the physical, economic and social consequences that it entails, there’s no time to waste.

Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood is a senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

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