Jeff Heuchert email@example.com
A former Stratford resident and longtime champion of various environmental causes is tying up her laces and joining 1,000 like-minded activists in taking what she hopes will be a big step forward for the planet.
Anita Payne, an educator and the former Green Party candidate for Perth-Wellington in the 2007 provincial election, has signed up to participate in the first-ever Great March for Climate Action, which begins in Los Angeles March 1 and will take participants over 4,800 kilometres across America, ending in Washington, DC on Nov. 1.
Marchers will walk 22-24 kilometres per day and camp nearly every night, stopping along the way to make public presentations and to hear about people's environmental concerns.
The goal of the march is to inspire and motivate the general public and elected officials to act now to address the climate crisis.
"I'm really excited to be a part of this," Payne says. "It's a pretty big deal to put your life aside for eight months to walk the whole way."
Payne, who today lives in Perth, Ont., first learned about the march while attending a training event in Chicago last summer put on by Al Gore's Climate Reality Project – an organization focused on climate change education and countering climate change denial campaigns. The event was well attended and "the energy in the room was so exciting," she says. It also further reinforced in her a sense of immediacy that she feels is missing from today's debate about how to tackle such a large problem like global warming.
She says the recent ice storm that debilitated much of Southwestern Ontario, and the record-breaking rainfall that flooded many streets in Toronto this past July, should be a wake-up call that carbon pollution from burning fossil fuels is creating more extreme weather occurrences.
Payne is hopeful any meaningful climate action in the United States will influence political figures on this side of the border, though she's not overly optimistic given the Harper government's environmental track record. She specifically cites the Conservatives' Bill C38, which among other changes overhauled environmental protection laws, opening the door for a quicker approval of the Enbridge Northern Gateway oil-sands pipeline project, and cut more than $160 million to environmental spending.
Meanwhile those who oppose the tar sands pipeline are discounted as being part of environmental and other "radical groups," she adds, referring to a comment made last year by Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver.
"There are all kinds of Canadians like me who don't want to see the tar sands being developed at any cost," she says.
Payne is pushing for implementation of a carbon tax similar what has been in place in British Columbia since 2008. The system is designed to encourage less fossil fuel consumption by levying a fee on the production and use of fossil fuels while returning the revenue back to the citizens.
While critics have labelled a carbon tax as "job-killing," suggesting it would drive companies away due to the higher cost of doing business here, Payne notes it could just as easily be re-framed as a "job creation" tax.
"The idea is that it would produce an economic stimulus to invest in renewable energy," she says, adding Canada has a small but growing renewable energy sector that, due to a lack of government incentives, is currently being forced to sell its goods outside of the country.
During her advocacy, Payne says she has spoken with many parents who have told her they are worried about the state of the planet their children will inherit. In an effort to keep that message in the spotlight, throughout the march Payne will wear photographs of the children whose families have sponsored her participation in the event.
Payne will not be making the full trek, but has committed to walking a total of approximately 1,600 kilometres. She will join marchers for the first and last six weeks of their travels. Once in the nation's capital, Payne and the marchers will be lobbying government officials to take action.
"It's something that I hope will have some significance," she says about the march, "and have some effect on drawing awareness."