Making climate justice action accessible: Amnesty’s “Stop Paving Over Our Rights” comic

Amnesty International Canada has published a new comic book that makes the connections between transportation, climate, and human rights easy to understand. Stop Paving Over Our Rights: How to have fewer cars, less pollution, and better transportation for all follows Andy and Samira as they organize against a highway expansion project in their neighbourhood.

The focal point is a middle school next to a highway the government is planning to widen at a cost of $1.2 billion. The fact that governments are spending billions on projects that worsen the climate crisis because they deepen reliance on fossil fuels, and violate the right to a healthy environment, is a key focus.

The title of the comic reflects Amnesty International’s current climate justice policy document Stop Burning Our Rights: What governments and corporations must do to protect humanity from the climate crisis, which states that“The climate emergency is a human rights crisis of unprecedented proportions. Climate change threatens the enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights of present and future generations and, ultimately, the future of humanity” (P 6). The focus of the comic is also based on recommendations in Stop Burning Our Rights, specifically that governments must stop spending public funds on “urban highway expansion, and instead promote the development of low-carbon transport infrastructure” (p 87).

Transportation is the second largest source of greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution in Canada, and emissions have been climbing relentlessly. Globally, GHG pollution from transport has more than doubled since 1970 and is increasing at a faster rate than any other energy end-use sector. Highway expansion is a serious threat to the futures of young people.

There are about 1.3 billion cars in operation globally, and the manufacturing of automobiles of all types, including electric vehicles, is still mainly powered with climate-disrupting fossil fuels. And the concrete and steel used to build parking structures and urban highways also have a massive greenhouse gas footprint. If the rapid increases in the number of vehicles in Canada and globally were to continue, the climate impact would be catastrophic. The impact of mining minerals for electric car batteries is explored in the first comic in this series.

Describing a problem isn’t much use if it isn’t connected to solutions, so the comic follows our heroes through organizing a local rally on a global day of action against highway expansion and shows photos and social media of the other actions around the world.

And after years of organizing, our heroes get to enjoy the changes in their neighbourhood with far fewer cars and cleaner air.

The final panel shows how cities can be transformed when road space is reallocated from cars to public transit, walking, rolling and cycling. This vision may seem ambitious, but as the definitive IPCC Sixth Assessment Report on climate mitigation states “transformative changes in the transport sector… are needed to meet climate targets” (p 10-4).

Governments must redesign our road networks and public spaces to make walking, cycling, and public transport convenient and pleasant, and reduce the number of cars on the road. Numerous studies show that when road space is reallocated to public transit lanes, protected bicycle lanes, and space for walking, traffic ‘evaporates’ and traffic speeds usually stay about the same (and sometimes traffic even moves quicker). With fewer cars, cities can become healthier, cooler, more inclusive, and more pleasant.

Read the full Stop Paving Over Our Rights comic (you can print your own on any color printer)

NEW! 2-page discussion guide

Learn more about energy transition and just transportation

Take Action! 

Please write to Canada’s Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities, Dominic LeBlanc, and Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Steven Guilbeault. Ask them to Stop Paving Over Our Rights.

  • Explain why you want better public transit, walking, rolling, or cycling options in your community
  • Tell them you’d rather see the billions of dollars set aside for highway expansion reallocated to these more climate and health-friendly options
  • Explain to them why better public transit, walking, cycling, and rolling options could also relieve the financial burden of owning and maintaining a car for you and/or others
  • Remind them that better public transit can make life more affordable, pleasant, and just
  • Finally, remind them this isn’t just an urban or suburban issue: frequent and affordable bus service between communities would make life more affordable and safer for people across Canada and is essential for respecting the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and in particular Indigenous women and girls, in rural areas.

Write to: 

Dominic LeBlanc, Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs, Infrastructure and Communities 

Steven Guilbeault, Minister of Environment and Climate Change

Eric Doherty is a transportation planning consultant who contributed to Amnesty International’s Stop Burning Our Rights report and provided advice on the content of the Stop Paving Over Our Rights comic. Eric is based on Lekwungen Territory, in Victoria BC, Canada.