Joseph Boutilier on his unicycle Promotional photo from Unity for the Climate

Lots of people have cycled across Canada. Joseph Boutilier is unicycling across Canada – at least most of the way, bringing his concerns about the government’s lack of action on climate change from Victoria, BC to Ottawa. We caught up with him last month to ask a few questions about his journey, his goals, and what he's asking of Prime Minister Harper, Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq and other party leaders. The Hill Times published an article by Boutilier yesterday (originally intended as an open letter to Harper and Aglukkaq). A letter to the other party leaders can be found on the Unity for the Climate website.

From the Hill Times article:

The 2015 federal election is rapidly approaching. My personal aim is to solidify climate change as the top priority for voters nationwide, by bringing awareness to the issue and demonstrating the passion and willpower of younger generations and others deeply committed to sustainability. Voters who choose to prioritize the fiscal-prudency and market-based solutions advocated for by the Conservative Party of Canada should not be forced to compromise their concerns for the climate crisis. I have faith that Harper will prove the integrity of his strong words for climate action by taking immediate steps to rectify our predicament in regards to emissions reductions, and getting Canada back on track for our 2020 targets before the 2015 election.

A\J: Where and when did you start this adventure, and where are you now?

Joseph Boutilier: I started in my hometown of Victoria, BC, on April 5. The trip has taken me over the Crowsnest Pass through the Cascade Mountains, over the frigid Paulson summit and the sunny Rocky Mountains before merging onto the TransCanada in the prairies. At Kenora I headed south through the US under Lake Superior before heading back to Canada through Sault Ste. Marie. Unicycling the International Bridge was a highlight for sure – pretty sketchy though!

I’m now in Sudbury, before heading south to Toronto, east to Kingston, and back up to my final destination of Ottawa. I will arrive on Parliament Hill at noon on September 15. I’m hoping supporters will join me there to call for climate action, and try and spark some discussions with our MPs on their first day back at work after the summer break.

Why are you doing this?

When I look at Canada’s political situation and our stance on climate change right now, it makes me physically ill. At a time when Antarctic ice melt has begun a fluctuation of three-to-five metres of sea-level rise, drowning coastal communities and entire countries, at a time when we’re on track for triple the estimated two-degree-Celsius ‘tipping point,’ and when climate change is killing hundreds of thousands of people annually, our politicians seem quite content to watch and wait. Our pitiful Copenhagen GHG reduction targets will not be met; that’s an Environment Canada prediction, not my own.

As Canadians, our per-capita contributions to the climate crisis are actually quite significant, and we all have a responsibility to make Canada a leader in finding solutions to global warming. Instead, our government is obstructing international progress by refusing to act. I fear for the future and future generation. How could we look the world’s children in the eyes and apologize for being complicit in this destruction? I hope I never have to do that.

What is the most important thing you're asking of Harper, Aglukkaq and the other party leaders?

Since we’re so late in implementing real policies for mitigation, we have a lot of case studies from other countries. We know what we need to do. I’m pushing for a carbon tax, or ideally a price on carbon (fee end dividend shows the most promise); an end to tax breaks and subsidies for fossil fuel companies; and a long-term energy plan for Canada.

Obviously, the government could have integrated these policies a long time ago if it wanted to. But I fear a change in government doesn’t necessarily mean a significant change in climate policy. It’s still a long way away, but most polls for the 2015 election are predicting some kind of minority government. And when our parties have done so little to demonstrate cooperation and unity to address a crisis this urgent, and when their climate policies are so varied and in ways vague, that’s very concerning. Ultimately, we need to demonstrate the political willpower for this to be a ‘wedge’ issue in 2015, and demand action and unity for the climate, regardless of who’s in power.

What sort of response have you been from people getting along the way so far?

It’s been overwhelmingly supportive and positive. A lot of thumbs-ups, honks of supports, kudos. Sure, some folks just laugh or call me crazy, and I’ve met my share of climate deniers who accuse me of ‘leeching’ or tooting my own horn. But the vast majority of people share my concerns and frustrations. Some people say their grandchildren will thank me.

Let’s make September 2014 the month that Canada truly begins to take climate change seriously.

Some reporters thank me for giving them a chance to write about climate change when their editorial mandate is somewhat limiting. Government employees at various levels have very discretely demonstrated support because they fear backlash. That means a lot to me; it’s terrifying we live in that kind of a country, but that kind of bravery gives me hope. A lot of small-business owners have also made generous in-kind donations.

What can our readers do to add their voices to this effort?

I hope that I won’t be alone on Parliament Hill on September 15 at noon. A strong show of support there could really set the stage for climate change being a key issue in the 2015 election; I feel like that’s kind of the make-or-break moment for this whole journey and campaign. Otherwise I would encourage anyone to check out my site at unityfortheclimate.ca, ‘like’ the Facebook page or find me on Twitter @josephboutilier and get in touch.

I’d love to contribute to other events and campaigns along the route and show solidarity with other advocates and activists. I also hope to participate in some capacity in the People's Climate March on September 21 in New York and ClimateFast on September 28 in Ottawa. I would also encourage everyone to participate in these historic events; let’s make September 2014 the month that Canada truly begins to take climate change seriously.  

Laura is a past A\J managing editor. She has an MA in Communication Studies from Wilfrid Laurier University, is an organizing aficionado, lackadaisical gardener, and former musical theatre producer. @inhabitings

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