Massive protests. Now what?

As hundreds of thousands of students returned home last Friday after protesting on the streets of cities across the globe, the question is this:  Is all this energy, anger and frustration actually going to change government policy?  If so, how?  And if not, how soon before the anger and frustration boils over into stronger more direct action of the kind that Extinction Rebellion believes is necessary even now?

Substantial reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases that are generated by the constant pollution from industrial nations can only be driven by forceful government action. This means that government policies have to radically change. But there are no signs that this is happening.

Toronto climate action–but you still have to check your phone

In Canada and the UK, national elections are imminent.  Many students are too young to vote, but it’s time for them to have a talk with their parents.  If their parents say it’s none of their business, teenagers should angrily respond: ‘Yes, it is! I’m the one who is going to have to live in the ruins of the global environment caused by what you have accepted for decades as normal behaviour, even when the signs of global climate deterioration were plain to see. You could have spoken up, but you didn’t.’  

In Canada, what might be called the progressive parties—the Liberals, New Democratic Party, and the Greens, have all shown various degrees of commitment to tackling climate change and forcing down emissions of greenhouse gases. The Liberal Party deserves credit for imposing a price on carbon in all the provinces, but their climate credentials have been fatally weakened by their failure to stand up to the oil and gas industries, and their reluctance to accept the fact that the majority of Canada’s petroleum reserves must stay in the ground if Canada’s target under the Paris Agreement is to be met.  There is no getting around this reality.  It’s a bullet that the Liberals are going to have to bite.  The Trans Mountain Expansion Pipeline (TMEX)  is a monster white elephant. If it’s built, the bitumen production from the Alberta tar sands will ramp up commensurately, and Canada’s climate credentials will be in ruins.

Drawdown Toronto

The Green Party has the strongest policies that will have the greatest impact in terms of reducing emissions. No TMEX, no natural gas infrastructure, and the rapid close out of coal-fired electricity. Those commentators who don’t believe that this platform is technically feasible are simply ignorant of the latest data on the tumbling costs of solar energy, wind power, utility-scale electricity storage, and the game-changing demand reduction impacts of residential energy storage and rooftop solar.

Those who vote for the Progressive Conservatives are deliberately choosing to avert their eyes from the increasingly obvious effects of the climate crisis.  The PCs claim they have effective policies that will reduce carbon emissions with little or no impact on taxes or household income.  But there is absolutely no objective evidence that their policies will work. No reputable economist agrees.  The PCs have engaged in a thoroughly deceitful campaign that totally misrepresents the economic impact of the carbon pricing mechanism introduced by the Liberals—a mechanism which refunds more money to households than they might possibly expend.

Greta Thunberg’s words resonate

The blatant lie that a price on carbon will devastate jobs and imperil the economy is nonsense—as a cursory review of the economies of British Columbia and Quebec will rapidly show. Furthermore, employment opportunities in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy audit technologies are substantially higher than those in the oil and gas industries. The future lies with cutting-edge clean technologies that are powered by renewable energy, not with the petroleum fuels that are polluting and suffocating the planet.  A vote for the Conservatives is not a vote for a stronger economy or greater opportunity; it is a vote for business-as-usual: the same corporate bankrupt policies that caused the mess in the first place.

It’s not only at the federal and provincial (state) level that strong action on the climate crisis is crucial.  Municipalities also have a critical role to play.  People often overlook the fact that city councils are responsible for a wide variety of policies that have a very substantial impact on urban air quality and the emission of greenhouse gases. Municipalities decide how much money goes to public transport; they can tighten building codes making residences more energy efficient; they control urban sprawl and development; they can incentivise the use and deployment of electric vehicles; they manage recycling operations and the disposal of household waste. In short, the way a city is run, and the policies it implements, has a huge impact on the level of its carbon emissions.

Councillors are elected. Far too often, they are tied to commercial interests that are more concerned with profit than with the urban environment and the health and welfare of its residents. This is one way that teenagers too young to vote and young adults can mobilise and make a difference. They should volunteer to work for the election of candidates who support strong environmental action. Better still: young adults should think about running for office!   

It’s understandable that people tend to associate the leader of a political party with its policies. But that can be a terrible mistake.  Justin Trudeau has done some seriously stupid stuff.  But that doesn’t mean I’m going to reject the Liberal party’s platform just because I’m embarrassed by Trudeau dressed up as Aladdin.  A political party is a lot larger than the politician that stands as its head.  It’s the same with the Conservatives. It’s not Andrew Scheer that’s the problem: it’s the PCs policies on the environment and climate change that’s the issue. Voters should look past the person who leads the party and vote for the policy platform that they agree with and support. They should also consider past form.  Look what Ontario got with Doug Ford’s ‘efficiencies’.

In the US, the level of government corruption is staggering. Donald Trump has enabled and facilitated a level of industry control over environmental, social and economic policy that is truly breath-taking. The degree to which he has profited from this self-serving manipulation of the regulatory apparatus of government will only become clearly evident after he has been forced from office. He promised to ‘drain the swamp’.  In reality, he has wallowed in it–because more than anyone else he knows exactly how to profit from the way it works.  If Trump is re-elected, it will be an environmental disaster on a global scale.

Young Canadians and Americans tend to blame politicians for the lack of action on forcing down greenhouse gas emissions and resolving the climate crisis.  But anyone who is eligible to vote is complicit.  If you stayed at home and didn’t vote, you are partly responsible for your government’s inaction.  If you voted for the party in power and they did nothing  to challenge the climate crisis, then you carry part of the blame.  Politicians are not a ruling class.  They are elected by people who for the most part still seem unconcerned by the worsening climate crisis. Your government is a reflection of who you are. 

You can change that.  Vote for a future that will keep your children healthy and safe. It’s that important.

3 thoughts on “Massive protests. Now what?

  • 09/30/2019 at 11:43 am

    While the Green Party may indeed have “…the strongest policies that will have the greatest impact in terms of reducing emissions…” it seems to me they are not addressing some of the most foundational issues that are contributing to our existential environmental/ecological dilemmas.
    First, there is the issue of the infinite growth culture that we currently exist within. The Green Party, it would appear, would have us continue to chase this but simply shift to ‘clean/green’ energy sources, none of which are green, clean, or sustainable (let alone require significant fossil fuel use to mine, process, produce, distribute, and maintain). If they were truly interested in some type of sustainable future, they would be discussing degrowth strategies since we have likely already overshot the natural carrying capacity of our environment. But they are not. Instead they seem to be weaving a narrative that we can smoothly transition to alternative energy sources that will fix our problems–a narrative that avoids the extreme complexities and true sacrifices that we likely need to make in achieving a sustainable future.
    Second, and very much related to the infinite growth chalice our politicians are always chasing, is the credit-/debt-based monetary system that requires perpetual growth to avoid collapse. So long as we use such a system we must pursue economic growth (to say little of the need to have future growth to pay off the enormous debt obligations that currently exist–hundreds of trillions of dollars worldwide).
    Until and unless these two base causes of our environmental/ecological crises are addressed, everything else seems to just be a narrative to appease certain segments of the population and gain votes. I see zero evidence of either of these issues being front and centre, or even on the periphery, of any party/politician.

  • 09/30/2019 at 10:18 am

    Excellent article Martin. I will circulate it to my mostly Conservative bridge group.

    Peter O’Brien


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