Documenting Recent History of Environmentalism in Canada

Tweetable Summary: Text & film on recent environmentalism in Canada. Focusing on Indigenous voices, water & energy. @NaomiAKlein is creating a similar work.

Context: Having asked many people, including Canadian historians focusing on the subject, there appears to be no good critical and accessible work on the successes and failures of the recent environmental movement in Canada. Those in the movement seem to be too busy doing the work and planning the next campaign to take the time to reflect together and discuss what has been happening. This makes for a movement that is hard for those not in it to understand, understand how they are part of it, and see their beliefs reflected in it. As climate change is now perhaps our largest national security threat, the approach to the 150th anniversary of Canada in 2017 seems like as good a time as any for some serious national reflection on the subject.

Idea: A work in print and/or film to document the last 20ish years of the environmental movement in Canada. Indigenous voices would make up a key part of the narrative. Water and climate change may be central themes to build from, and could be illustrated by small examples of recent moments in time and developments in different places in the country. A major part of the work would be hearing voices in the environmental movement as well as prominent figures in politics, business, law, and academia. This would weave together a narrative of what the movement has done well, how it has failed (as David Suzuki likes to say), and ideas of what can be done moving forward. It is not a small piece of work.

Note because Naomi Klein is doing something very related: It’s really exciting to mention that, on a more worldwide level, a few brilliant people are making similar pieces of work happen. Naomi Klein is currently writing a book on climate change and the failures of environmentalism (and, of course, failures of the current economic system) and her husband, Avi Lewis, is making an accompanying film (both for release in 2014), as described in this great interview. Their work will certainly change the conversation on these topics in unpredictable ways. A lot of the content in their book and film is probably similar to what appears in these addresses and conversation held at Georgetown in April 2013 (Naomi starts talking around 15:35, presents a thesis at 38:30, and a rallying cry starting at 42:35 leading up to an epic “it can be done, but not without a drag-out ideological battle, something that the conciliatory green groups, who have been at the driver’s seat on this, have been absolutely determined to avoid”. She hammers the point again at 1:05:13 with “the truth is, we have been trying this path of low expectations and unimaginative incrementalism for two decades and the track record is clear…it’s not working.”  It also has cool shout-outs to the Quebec student movement and the fossil fuel divestment campaigns). Their work seems to be global in scope with particular attention to the USA, and not specific to Canada and to Canada’s role in the world.


  • Whose voices are heard?
  • Who is weaving the story together? Is there a distinct gaze?
  • What is chosen as important to include?
  • Funding?
  • How to give enough attention to the complex and intersectional nature of these problems
  • Other people are starting to do these sorts of projects but it is unclear which parts
  • Long term, this will take a while to make
  • How to make it inspiring but realistic and not depressing and not cheesy

Things already happening


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