The ugly side of climate change denial may lead to violence

Is it possible that some who are not convinced climate change is real could become extremists?

Is it possible that some who are not convinced climate change is real could become extremists?

They say all is fair in love and politics. And if recent elections in Canada are any indication it sure is nasty out there. I am neither a political junkie nor a historian so I can’t tell whether it is worse today than in the past but I can tell you for sure that I have no desire to subject myself to that kind of scrutiny or attack.

Still, are there no rules at all? It is one thing to bring up what a candidate stands for or what they said/wrote/posted/tweeted in the past. It is entirely another to use a taboo word to describe them.

This is exactly what happened to Ottawa MP and former Environment Minister Catherine McKenna. Right after the most recent election someone spray painted the ‘C’ word on the window of her campaign office in the tony Ottawa neighbourhood of Westboro. The graffiti was put right over a photo of the MP, leaving little doubt as to who the target was. Ottawa police noted that unless they find corroborating evidence of a hate crime, the vandalism on McKenna’s office would be considered mischief.

“F–k you, Climate Barbie”

This act could be dismissed as the puerile ‘art’ of some moron a few neurons short of a load. Ms. McKenna, however, has been the object of similar slurs in the past. Earlier this year, while walking to a theater with her children someone driving past rolled down the window and yelled “F–k you, Climate Barbie.” As a result of these and other incidents Ms. McKenna sometimes now requires a security detail, a level of protection even cabinet ministers don’t usually get.

Aside from noting that I am disgusted at this behaviour, as should all Canadians, I would like to relate this incident to the threat of ideologically-motivated violence. I have been speculating for some time, including in the pages of this newspaper, that we may be on the brink of a new kind of terrorism: ecoterrorism. As climate change continues and worsens, and those sounding the trumpets for urgent action feel they are being ignored, it is highly possible that a few will conclude that only acts of extremism, including violent extremism, will garner the right attention.

A few bombs here, a few bombs there, perhaps targeting energy companies or mass polluters, may send a message that will be heard. If this were to transpire it would have to be called terrorism as it would fit the definition as laid out in the Canadian Criminal Code.

I really hope that the harassment Ms. McKenna has endured is nothing more than immature idiocy. 

But what if all this concern over the fate of the planet were to lead to an equally worrisome yet opposite wave of violence? By this I mean a reactionary kind of violent action by those who not only deny that we are in the midst of environmental catastrophe but who want to shut up those ringing the alarm bells. Is this far-fetched? Not necessarily.

There have been many occasions on which the actions of one group have spurred similar actions by another group. Think of the standoffs between neo-Nazis and pro-immigrant activists. Or the tit for tat violence between Palestinian and Jewish extremists in the West Bank. Or between Hindu and Muslim extremists in South Asia. The bottom line is that violence begets violence and always has.

It would be irresponsible of me to label the spray painting of a slur or the yelling of an insult extremism, let alone violent extremism. At the same time, however, this phenomenon warrants watching so we can be as prepared as possible should it venture into violent territory. There may be some who are so angry at what they perceive as climate fearmongering that they would countenance the use of violence to silence them.

I really hope that the harassment Ms. McKenna has endured is nothing more than immature idiocy. We might want to nevertheless consider other possibilities not just to ensure her safety but to nip this ugliness in the bud.

This piece appeared in The Hill Times on December 02, 2019.


    By Phil Gurski

    Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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