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It has now been over a week since the so-called “Freedom Convoy” took over Ottawa’s downtown, leading mayor Jim Watson to declare a state of emergency over the “threat to the safety and security of residents.” This past weekend, rallies also took place in cities across the country, including where I live in Vancouver.

While at first it is shocking to see and hear the rhetoric the protesters have been using, this movement did not arise out of nowhere. Not only have we seen previous protests against vaccines and other COVID-19 public health mandates, including those blocking hospitals in September 2021, but it has been nearly two years now since the pandemic first seriously disrupted people’s lives in Canada. Without an end in sight or a long-term plan, people are bound to become restless and disheartened.

These past two years have been devastating. Many people have lost family members or friends, have been unable to visit loved ones, have lost jobs or opportunities, or have had to parent or care for loved ones while continuing to work. And though the Omicron variant can cause less severe disease than its predecessors for those who are vaccinated, we are not yet through this pandemic, and we may never be fully rid of it.

To accompany this grief and uncertainty, two years of ever-changing and inconsistent regulations and messages from across our governments has not helped matters. And while I strongly disagree with those convening in Ottawa and other places in the name of “freedom,” I can understand the feelings of frustration, disillusionment, and loss of trust in our governments and institutions. I feel those things, too.

One of the recurring messages I have heard from the protesters this past week has been a desire to have our “old lives back.” People are exhausted from managing everything we have to do in this pandemic, and they want to go back to how things were before. I understand this, too.

But I also can’t help but think about the massive systemic changes we must make to transition our economy off oil and gas and about how little time we have left to do it. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in order to have a chance at holding global warming to 1.5 C, the world has until 2030 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 45 per cent below our 2010 levels.

I can’t help but think that if we can’t handle even two years of what — for those of us with privilege and even relative comfort — has been an inconvenience, how are we going to handle the even bigger changes we need to make to transition our economy to renewable energies and systems?

There are a few key differences between this pandemic and climate change, though, which give me hope. If nothing else, perhaps this moment can be a learning opportunity for how we can avoid the same mistakes in our approach to a just transition.

First, we absolutely need a long-term plan that is clear and consistent. Yes, at the beginning of the pandemic, we didn’t know what we were doing. (Remember when we were all wiping down our groceries?) Governments and institutions were scrambling to learn what this virus was, how it spread, and how to best keep people safe; because of this, information and advice changed rapidly for the first few months of the pandemic. While it is understandable we were only doing the best we could with what we knew at the time, the ever-changing regulations led to confusion, frustration, and the spread of misinformation.

Opinion: If we can’t handle two years of the inconvenience caused by the pandemic, how do we handle the even bigger changes we need to make to transition our economy to renewable energies and systems? asks Halena Seiferling. #NetZero #ClimateChange

With climate change, we have a key advantage: we know what is going on. We have decades of peer-reviewed research, we have six IPCC assessment reports mapping out projected scenarios, and we have an informed and engaged population. We also have a target for our first major milestone: 2030. This means we have an incredible opportunity to create a plan that is proactive: a plan that lays out how we will address this problem for the next eight years.

So, we need benchmarks to help us measure exactly what we will do and how we will know when we get there. We need back-up plans in case we don’t meet those benchmarks. We need detailed plans for every sector and industry. We need clearly outlined support for workers affected by the transition that must include meaningful engagement with those workers. But above all else, we need it to be long term. The pandemic response has shown us that, in the absence of a long-term plan, people become disheartened and fearful and lose trust in our institutions. We cannot let that happen with an issue as immense as climate change.

Second, we need clear, detailed and compassionate communication from our decision-makers and elected officials. During this pandemic, I have not envied those tasked with communicating new or changing public health regulations; I am sure it is an extremely difficult position to be in. However, across jurisdictions, the communication we have received about how to keep ourselves and others safe has been constantly changing and incredibly confusing.

While some measures have been consistent — like vaccination, hand washing, physical distancing, and masking — others have changed in seemingly illogical ways. When the required self-isolation period recently changed from 10 days to five days for vaccinated people in several provinces, in the midst of Omicron case numbers soaring, many folks were left questioning the validity of the regulations. While this decision was based on Omicron’s statistically quicker incubation period, as Dr. Bonnie Henry explained, this information was not communicated well to the public.

When it comes to how we approach a just transition, we need to learn to communicate better. Our governments and institutions must deliver consistent and supportive messaging about what we need to do, and why. And of course, this must go hand-in-hand with the long-term roadmap discussed above.

And, oh yes: the communication absolutely must be honest. Whether governments have changed safety measures so quickly that it raises suspicion (such as British Columbia introducing new regulations on Dec. 17 and then again on Dec. 21), or seemed to apply different rules to the public than to themselves, the negative backlash to a perceived lack of transparency and honesty from those in power is extremely damaging.

When it comes to addressing climate change, we don’t need anymore platitudes, empty promises, or targets that would fall short of the emission reductions necessary. What we need is simply the truth.

I fear that sometimes elected officials don’t speak honestly about climate change because the scale of the crisis we face can be so daunting; maybe they worry people will become pessimistic and will lose hope. But that’s why the honesty has to have two parts: as Seth Klein comprehensively argues, it must address the scale of the problem, and it must also outline how we’re going to fix it. People only lose hope if you leave them with the problem but no solution. We know the solutions, and we know how hard it’s going to be to get there, and we need to be honest about all of it.

Though many forces have coalesced to lead to the “Freedom Convoy” uprising, it would be foolish to think that the absence of a long-term and well-communicated plan about why and how we need to collectively respond to the pandemic is not one of those factors.

This moment has now shown us the cumulative effects that uncertainty, instability, and genuine pain can have on us, both as individuals and as a collective. We need to learn from this failure and not make the same mistakes when it comes to addressing climate change.

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Coming up with a long-term climate plan will not stop the right-wing money coming in from the US that will oppose, sometimes violently, any inconveniences placed on the fossil fuel industry.

The insurrections taking place in Ottawa, Alberta and elsewhere have less to do with the pandemic than a extreme right wing attempt at removal of basic democratic principles.

It is also possible that the convoy's concerted and well organized efforts to have their way regardless of law or political process is part of the right wings determination to continue ignoring the reality of climate change. After all, those big trucks aren't the smart way to transport goods in a climate constrained future, and the lifestyles provided by extreme extraction in oil and gas (bitumen and fracked gas now in western Canada) is a big trucks, no cattle kind of lifestyle.

Basic democratic principles may well be Greek to that lifestyle. CAPP speaks for big players, most of them not Canadian, the energy game is often in violation with so called environmental laws....regulations on paper are often just that.

I can't imagine folks who continue to argue vaccines and vaccine mandates are the problem, not the virus, will be any more scientifically inclined when it comes to our climate. For the most part, I suspect, its beyond them.