On Saturday March 16, tens of thousands of people marched through the streets of Paris demanding action on climate change. At the same time and not far away, a group of gilets jaunes protestors were demonstrating, sometimes violently, against the economic policies of President Macron—one of which increased the tax on gasoline and diesel fuel. This was intended to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases from the transport sector and help France meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.
Something is wrong here. Both groups of protesters agree that climate change is a problem that needs to be urgently tackled, but they disagree vehemently about how this should be done.
Pricing carbon is a delicate instrument that needs to be wielded with care. Either Macron doesn’t understand this or doesn’t care. Either way his policies to reduce carbon emissions are incredibly cack-handed.
Increasing taxes that push up the price of gasoline and diesel fuel is likely to be unpopular almost everywhere that people drive vehicles, and where agricultural produce and goods are delivered by road. Which is to say just about everywhere in North America and Europe.
There is only one way to sweeten this bitter pill and that is to make carbon pricing revenue neutral. Households are compensated for the additional costs they will incur paying for fuel, and receive a modest annual payment–ideally in advance.
In some places, communities will swallow this pill and grin and bear it. But this requires a widespread understanding of the urgency of climate action and a willingness to pay the price of being a polluter–which in fact is what all of us who operate a gasoline or diesel vehicle actually are. But in many jurisdictions, and obviously in France, an increase in the price of fuel is going to be met with strong resistance.
End of the world, end of the month
This is a slogan scrawled across the vest of several gilet jaune protesters. So which is more important—the end of the world or the end of the month? For those of us that don’t need to worry about what the end of the month may bring in terms of mortgage or rent payments, credit card statements, and utility bills, the answer seems obvious: an existential threat like the end of world could hardly be placed second. But for most people in the lower half of the income spectrum—and that’s a lot of people, the existential threat to the planet is not that immediate and only occasionally tangible. Going hungry and being evicted—that’s personally existential and very immediate.
The priority concern for the majority of people is not climate change and global warming–although the polls show that almost everyone is worried about it. Many of us are anxious about the deteriorating world in which our children will live. The warnings and horror stories are nonstop and getting worse. But in Canada, the US and Europe fears about climate change doesn’t top the list.
It’s a no-brainer. If you are unemployed, still working with coal, or in the oil, gas or petrochemical industries, your primary concern is employment: now and in the future. The security of your family—economic, physical, and emotional, is and always will be the primary concern of the majority of people. As it should be.
This means that the imposition of any kind of economic policy that weakens that sense of security for many families will be strongly and, in some cases, violently resisted.
Plus de banquises, moins de banquiers
Icebergs or bankers? Another great slogan that goes to the heart of the present conflict. We know that the climate crisis is caused by the constant emissions of greenhouse gases caused by the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas. There are many ways to fix this problem. But the reason that strong and effective action to reduce these emissions is constantly being derailed, blocked, and impeded is because the deep pockets of the oil companies and the petrochemical barons finance a small but pervasive group of enablers, corrupt politicians, compliant administrators, and helpful bankers that provide continuous CPR to the status quo. Business-as-usual is very profitable for the small minority but very influential group of people on this planet who earn a fortune from its continuing despoliation.
Jobs first, planet second
There’s a lesson here for the political parties like the Greens that believe that banging on about climate change is going to eventually swing the electorate over to their side. It might; let’s hope so. But why on earth would you be so blinkered as to believe that climate change and the environment are the only issues that counts when it comes to the way people vote?
First, make sure that people have good jobs, solid employment prospects, a relatively safe environment, access to affordable housing—and only then, when they feel that their financial situation is secure, and that their future and the future of their kids looks good, they will turn to the larger problem that they know will imperil and jeopardise that future: climate change.
So can we have high employment and effective action on climate change? Not according to the Conservative parties in Canada that frame that debate as either-or. The way they see it: either we can have full employment or we can tackle climate change. But we can’t do both. Take your pick.
The real employment numbers tell a much different story—but one that right-wing politicians in the US and Canada studiously ignore.
In the US, the latest employment figures show that 2.25 million Americans work in energy efficiency businesses. It is the fastest growing job market in the energy sector, accounting for half of the entire energy industry’s job growth in 2017. This is a workforce twice as large as those working in the coal, oil, and gas industries. In addition, direct employment in the solar energy and wind power industries adds another 440,000 jobs. And don’t forget the almost 200,000 workers constructing electric and hybrid vehicles. Moreover, we haven’t even begun to count those working in the energy storage industries where megawatt-scale Lithium-ion batteries are rapidly becoming a key element in powering up with solar and wind.
The numbers in Canada are harder to come by but are likely lower because of the lack of government support for renewables and energy efficiency. But the message is clear. If you want clean air, less extreme weather, a safer world for your children, and full employment you transition to a low carbon and energy-efficient economy. And you do it fast.
Check out these sources:
See: We were ecologists before the capitalists’: the gilets jaunes and climate justice. //www.climatechangenews.com/2019/03/20/ecologists-capitalists-gilets-jaunes-climate-justice/
For the US employment figures: //static1.squarespace.com/static/5a98cf80ec4eb7c5cd928c61/t/5afb0ce4575d1f3cdf9ebe36/1526402279839/2018+U.S.+Energy+and+Employment+Report.pdf
See also: Renewable Energy Is Creating Jobs 12 Times Faster Than the Rest of the Economy. //fortune.com/2017/01/27/solar-wind-renewable-jobs/