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Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois gives Keynote at Powershift 2012

by Isabeau Doucet

See video

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, former spokesperson for the Quebec student association CLASSE, called on the student movement and the labour movement to join forces with the climate justice movement in the opening keynote of PowerShift 2012, at The Canadian Museum of Civilization.

In light of the recent Idle No More mobilization, here is an English translation and partial transcript of his speech, which is more pertinent now than ever.

Gatineau, QC – 26 October 2012 

For our generation, climate change is no longer a hypothesis. Unless we see rapid change, it has become a certainty. Extinction of species, melting icebergs, desertification, drought, freshwater crisis, floods – the impacts of climate change are too numerous to list.

That said, incredible progress has been made in the past decades and now it’s almost impossible to deny we are faced with an ecological ecological crisis without precedent. Asides for a few, the majority of people, including political parties, recognize the existence of a major environmental problem. We have, so to speak, almost no one left to convince.

Statistics show that people are, slowly but definitively, changing their living habits. Almost all of our houses are now equipped with recycling bins, increasing numbers of us now compost; the market for ecological products is literally exploding; it’s now possible to buy ecological makeup, ecological toilet paper, ecological food and ecological furniture.

We can now write on recycled paper, drink out of recycled water bottles, wear recycled clothing and even travel on recycled bicycles. I believe I can say it is now possible to spend ones life consuming in an entirely “green” and responsible manner. Isn’t this a thing of wonder?

And yet, the destruction of our world continues and even accelerates. Therefore a second observation presents itself: these individual gestures of green consumption may be comforting, romantic and in vogue, but they are absolutely not sufficient. I would add that they are even dangerous, as they divert our attention from the real problems. At worst, they can even be counterproductive.

I would even go so far as to say that individual gestures serve only to allow people to feel at peace with themselves, but at the systemic level are insufficient and sometimes complicit. They are complicit because they make the wrong people feel guilty. They condemn the lifestyle of the working class, they blame people for their daily activities in their homes after work. What we should call attention to instead is what people do during the day while at work. We should focus not on consumption, but on production.

While blaming each other and comparing our daily level of ecological purity, we have forgotten that the heart of the problem is not at the level of consumption, but in the very infrastructure of out economic system. It resides at the level of production. In other words, the real problem is much deeper and more painful than our individual habits. The problem is the very infrastructure of our economy, it is what we produce and how we produce it.

As long as we avoid this question, our actions will be at best inadequate and at worst literally useless. Our collective action mustn’t be the mere sum of our individual actions. Our program as militant ecologists must be both more vast and more realistic. We must sever ourselves from an economic system that structurally disregards its impact on nature.

The situation we find ourselves in now is not the culmination of a recklessness few; it is not even the result of our collective recklessness. The situation we’re in now is the logical and necessary result of an economic system that refuses to admit that the world has limits. Our world is limited. All conceptions of economic growth as unlimited can but, in the end, destroy this world. Sustainable growth does not and cannot exist.

Our world has limits and so must economic growth. We must break with the culture of endless growth. The ecological movement must clearly identify the cause of the ecological crisis if it wishes to be effective.

We know the cause: it has no face, no employment, it’s not a man nor a woman; it’s a structure, a worldview, an idea, a reality, an economic system with a name, and we must stop being afraid to call it by its name. It’s called capitalism.

It is imperative that the ecological movement be conscious of this and realize that it will not win alone. Its timid alliances with social and labour movements must solidify into a veritable common front. And for this to become reality the ecological movement must realize that its adversary is the same as that of social movements. These in turn must realize that the ecological struggle is not parallel with that of social justice, but they are one and the same.

The people who want to increase tuition fees in our universities, people who want to privatize our education and health care, the people who pillage our natural resources, the people who exploit our workers and prevent them from unionizing – all these people are the same, with the same interests, in the same groups, political parties and economic think tanks. These people constitute one and the same elite; a gluttonous, vulgar and corrupt elite that sees education as a mere investment in human capital, that sees a tree as but a sheet of paper and a child as but a future employee. It is against them that if we don’t fight together we will each fail in our corner.

If the environmental movement fails to integrate into its discourse the concerns and reflections of social justice, it will quickly become a fad of which even the greatest capitalists will partake. If they do not embrace the ecological cause, social and labour movements will become objective allies of a destructive economic system. In fact, I believe we no longer have a choice, our fates are tied and our enemies work in concert, and if we don’t do it ourselves we will lose altogether.

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Isabeau (Doucet, Isabeau)
Montreal, Qc
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