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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Green New Deals

If you’re a Canadian, and you’ve been satisfied with the Liberal and Conservative governments’ records on Climate Change since the Kyoto Protocol marked the beginning of the present era in 1997, you’d probably be happy to vote for one or the other party again, because it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll get more of the same: toothless policy, broken promises, mere lip-service and outright lies. If you’re not satisfied with more of the same-old, same-old, you’re maybe looking for someone else to vote for – if you’re not completely fed up with the whole system by now, and have dropped out of the simulacrum-democracy we maintain…

But I will presume that you are one of the millions who appear to be answering the latest rallying cries we are hearing from the likes of Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, on the international stage, or, here at home, party leaders such as Elizabeth May or Jagmeet Singh – to name but a few. There does seem to be a growing consensus that a) the need for action is urgent, and a burgeoning belief that b) real changes are afoot. As someone who is on the record for having come to this first conclusion more than twelve years ago, I feel the need to express some skepticism about the second assertion – despite my own hopes and wishes. Twelve years ago, as I mentioned last week, there was a similar groundswell of protest against inaction regarding the very same crisis.

Here are some of my observations of that bandwagon of yore, and the trends that emerged since:

  •           People who insist that government regulate the problem away, saying that corporations and big industry have to be brought into line, often use this as an excuse to wait, and in the meantime take very action themselves
  •           People who do make and have made changes and sacrifices, see what little effect their example has on the greater community, and become discouraged, and/or cynical – sometimes ceasing to practice what they preach.
  •           Corporations use economic bribery to persuade people and governments to back down on their insistence for change.
  •           Activists and scientists have become very good at analysing the problems, criss-crossing the globe to conferences and summits, making declarations and recommendations, targets etc.; Having become experts at studying and recommending, this sub-class of bureaucrats cease to be activists.
  •           Politicians master lip-service, pass toothless laws and fail to meet targets – as mentioned at the outset.
  •           Gains made with moderate, well-intentioned attempts to increase alt-energy output have barely kept pace with global increases in energy consumption, putting no dent into fossil fuel numbers. In fact, overall emissions keep going up.
  •           Humans burn 90 million barrels of oil a day, about a quarter of which is consumed by 5% of the (affluent) population – which includes Canada

How do we ensure we don’t fall into the same patterns moving forward?

One favourite response is what has been presented as the “Green New Deal” which, in its American form, is both sweeping and progressive, and is verging on utopic: it promises to achieve a zero-carbon economy within ten years, and in doing so, provide social justice all around. Who can say no to that? (yes, some people will say no to that, but no, were not going to go there just now).

“…to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers;  (B) to create millions of good, high-wage  jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States; (C) to invest in the infrastructure and industry of the United States to sustainably meet the challenges of the 21st century; (D) to secure for all people of the United States for generations to come— (i) clean air and water; (ii) climate and community resiliency; (iii) healthy food; (iv) access to nature; and (v) a sustainable environment; and (E) to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as ‘‘frontline and vulnerable communities’’); (2) the goals described in subparagraphs (A) through (E) of paragraph (1) (referred to in this resolution as the ‘‘Green New Deal goals’’) should be accomplished through a 10-year national mobilization (referred to in this resolution as the ‘‘Green New Deal mobilization’’)…”

Again, I have been arguing for urgent, even drastic, sweeping measures for these past twelve years, and so, I do agree that a Green New Deal of policies is very attractive, but I have to object to the fantasies that are used to sell the program. Doesn’t a simple ten years that will usher in an ideal world not sound a little too good to be true?

Apart from wondering how a “GND” might avoid the pitfalls listed above, there are some serious questions to be asked regarding the plans’ feasibility, in energy terms. Or, as is cogently observed by Andrew Nikiforuk , the GND proponents (just like the delusional business-as-usual camp) may well be “energy-illiterate”. He makes the argument that any plan that aims to run the current, accepted “happy-motoring” techno-society on strictly green energy is dreaming wildly. I would add that it’s because we have a simple “have the cake and eat it too” mentality when it comes to our energy-intensive, consumptive lifestyle. We want to believe that all our current habits and privileges can continue unchanged on the renewable energy plan. Politics being what it is, that’s the only way we tend to sell it.

The fight against Climate change has always been faced with a conundrum: It is an abundance issue, and as we all do enjoy abundance – even if it is shared in a pathetically unequal manner – our problem at hand (CO2) is in a sense, just another aspect of exactly what we cherish and strive for. Therefore, the fight has always required some measure of sacrifice, yet sacrifice hasn’t been part of our vocabulary in the climate discussion. Probably due to the traumas of the early 20 Century, we have become allergic to the notion of sacrifice, but until we embrace it, we may only ever get lip-service on climate change …and rising temperatures.

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