Category Archives: Climate change

Opinions on Climate Change

Talk About wasting money

 

Our governments have given hundreds of billions to the fossil fuel industry in subsidies. If we used that money to fight climate change, instead of using it to make things worse, we would have a substantial down payment on the funds required.

Subsidies include a myriad of payments, indirect and direct, made by governments to oil, gas, and coal companies. They include tax credits, and government underwriting of corporate risk. The OECD has identified a surprising 250 mechanisms currently in place to support and subsidize the oil, gas, and coal industries.

At the same time, renewable energies get much less. They are not allowed to compete on a level playing field.  So we have to get serious about tackling these issues. We can’t wait for better times. As Damian an Carrington from the Guardian said,

“If you thought that tackling the red-hot issue of cleaning up energy now was tantamount to burning money, you ain’t seen nothing yet.  Without urgent and transformative action, today’s conflagrations will seem like stray sparks compared to the wildfires to come.”

As Fatih Birol has pointed out,

“One of the most surprising and alarming issues in the climate change arena is the fact that fossil fuels causing global warming continue to receive substantial government support, making them artificially cheap and encouraging more of them to be consumed. It’s a form of madness. What’s particularly baffling is that while government support given to environmentally beneficial renewable power is subject to seemingly endless media and political scrutiny, the 500% larger subsidies given to oil, gas, and (to a much larger extent) coal rarely get much attention…So what would happen if all these subsidies were phased out?  According to the IEA’s models, we’d see a massive reduction in global fossil fuel.”

This in turn would lead to a huge reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  Isn’t that exactly what we are trying to accomplish?  Yet isn’t that exactly what our government keeps telling us we can’t afford?  Perhaps we could afford to do what so desperately needs to be done if we stopped giving away so much cash to so many enormously profitable multi-national oil and gas corporations. The IEA has estimated that with cuts to oil and gas subsidies we would have sufficient funds to provide about half the funds required to hold global warming to 2°C.

Think how powerful the oil and gas companies are to secure such lavish subsidies when the governments cut “fat” (as they called it) everywhere. So when energy prices at the time hit a record high, in 2008 government subsidies of more than half a trillion dollars were paid to some of the richest companies in the history of the planet! That money was equivalent to the combined gross domestic product of Sweden and Saudi Arabia!

I admit that it would be very expensive to pay for the various solutions to climate change. Yet half the necessary funds could be obtained by doing what we should be doing anyway!

Yet it will be  difficult to persuade our political leaders that they should do what needs to be done to eliminate these harmful subsidies. After all the richest companies in the world won’t go down without a fight. They will spend lavishly to protect their interests and  obtain the influence to get what they want and resist actions they find unpalatable. It is a fact that environmental groups are pipsqueak opponents of the energy sector. As Birol said,

“I don’t know of any global data about the relative size of fossil and renewable lobbies, but where figures are available, the hydrocarbon brigade massively outspends those pushing for clean energy—by a factor of 12 in the U.S. according to one estimate.”

Even Greg Mankiw, a professor at Harvard and energy advisor to Mitt Romney who was one of the Republican Presidential candidates all of whom refused to even consider any tax hikes under any circumstances, has admitted that the current pricing of fossil fuels does not make economic sense. According to him, the price of gas should be higher, as “Economists who have added up all the externalities associated with driving conclude that tax exceeding $2 a gallon makes sense.” So the rest of us are paying for expenses that the oil companies should be paying, to the tune of $2 for every gallon they sell. If that is not insane, what is?

Instead of subsidizing fossil fuels, we should be taxing them more so that their price more accurately reflects the “real cost” to all of us. That is why more and more of us are advocating a carbon tax.

When Stephen Harper was running against Stephane Dion he unfairly, but successfully,  characterized the carbon tax as “a tax grab.” In fact, in Dion’s case it was clearly revenue neutral. He wanted to “shift” tax to bad things from good things. The total tax would not have changed. Yet that was considered too radical for Canada. Now some—not many granted—Americans are advocating the same thing.

Elizabeth Kolbert, one of my favourite writers for the New Yorker,  got it right when she said,

“What the country needs—and has always needed—is an energy policy that, instead of pandering to American’s sense of entitlement, would compel us to finally change our ways. In addition to a phased-in increase in the gas tax, it would include a comprehensive, economy wide tax on carbon, or alternatively a cap-and-trade- system.”

No matter how much we want to find a different solution, we just have to raise the price of carbon so high that we will find alternatives and fund research for new alternatives. Until we do that, we will find no solutions to our declining fossil fuels nor to the ever rising global warming. We can pay now, or we can pay later.  And paying later will be much more painful than paying now.

Subsidizing Pollution

 

Did you notice how the federal government in Canada characterized their carbon tax as a tax on pollution when it introduced the tax. I thought that was smart actually. After all it was true.

Then did you notice how last year (2018) the government quietly, without much fanfare, delivered a $1.6 billion bailout to oil firms in Canada! Some people keep telling me how Indigenous people are always standing with their hands out waiting for money from the government. Well, if that’s true they are not the only ones. You could buy a lot of water treatment plants on Canada’s Indian Reserves for that amount of money.

Here is how Mia Rabson reported on this in the Winnipeg Free Press reported quietly on it in the business pages of the paper:

“Canada’s $1.6 billion bailout package for Alberta’s battered oil industry is well underway, but with little transparency about who is getting the money and for what.

Almost $1billion of the package of loans, guarantees and government grants is in the hands of companies, but details are available for a small fraction of the spending.’

So just as Canada has been falling behind its international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as international agencies recently announced, we are paying the oil and gas industry $1.6 billion to pollute more! Makes a lot of sense doesn’t it? Paying to pollute.

A subsidy is a financial benefit that the government gives, to businesses or industries or even consumers. Oil and gas subsidies support oil and gas production (and even coal production). Subsidies can be paid directly in cash or indirectly in tax breaks. Either way its 6 of one or half a dozen of the other. Either way the tax-paying public pays. The fossil fuel companies take. You could call it socialism for the rich.

It is not well known that Canada already subsidizes its oil and gas industry by about $3.3 billion. Canada is the largest subsidizer of financial support to its oil and gas industry in the G7 per unit of GDP.  Countries around the world have criticize us for it too. That money could instead be used to pay for 44,000 hospital beds, or put 260,000 high school students through high school or pay for a lot of transition to cleaner energy. So instead of using that money to pay things like that, we pay industries to pollute and we do it at the cost of our international reputation.

Such subsidies also help to lock in our dependence on fossil fuel in the country and continue to supporter the competitor to clean energy provides by making oil and gas seem cheaper.

European countries are already protesting Canada’s position. As Rabson reported,

“Sweden’s central bank, the Riksbank, said Wednesday it had sold its Alberta-government issued bonds because it will no longer invest in assets held by governments or companies with large climate footprints.

A day later, the European Investment Bank (EIB), the non-profit lending institution of the European Union, announced it will no longer invest in any fossil fuel projects after 2021.”

I know that the Canadian oil and gas sector is already hard hit by the withdrawal of $30 billion in capital in the last 3 years and it is still an important industry in Canada, but isn’t it time that we stop paying people to pollute? Can’t we find better ways to invest our money?

The Madness of Subsidizing Oil and Gas

 

The Oil and Gas sector is heavily subsidized in both Canada and the United States. It has been for years. But many people don’t know how much. This is the case even though their profits are enormous.

I started paying attention to this issue during the Obama administration. At that time, Exxon was the world’s biggest oil company and perhaps the world’s biggest company, and also had the world’s largest profits ever in one year. President Obama, pointed out at the time that Exxon earned $4.7 million profit every hour! He said that the 3 largest oil companies made combined profits in 2011 of $80 billion or $200 million every day.

What was even more astounding was that such large companies, with such huge profits, were subsidized by taxpayers. They were on the public dole! That meant average taxpayers contributed extra subsidies to those  corporate giants. Many of those subsidies were paid through tax breaks. These were tax breaks that ordinary citizens and ordinary small businesses did  not enjoy. According to President Obama, those subsidies amounted to 4 billion annually in the United States. A staggering amount considering who the recipients were, namely huge and already profitable corporations.

In 2012 US President Obama tried to eliminate those subsidies. Shockingly, to me at least, the Senate Republicans blocked the measures to eliminate those tax breaks.  President Obama in arguing for the bill made a simple comment that is hard to deny. “With record profits and rising production, I’m not worried about the big oil companies,” Obama said,  “… I think it’s time they got by without more help from taxpayers, who are having a tough enough time paying their bills and filling up their tanks.”  Yet such simple logic was beyond the ken and understanding of conservative politicians.

When oil companies argue against reducing the subsidies that they have come to cherish their “best” argument is that these subsidies are less than that enjoyed by other huge corporations.  Wow. Some get even more!  This is nuts!

What is really strange—hallucinogenically strange—is that those subsidies continued right through the recession when both the American and Canadian governments claimed to be so lacking in money, they had to make all kinds of cuts. Meanwhile these subsidies seriously exacerbated the most serious environmental problem of our time—climate change. Ordinary people were paying to make things worse!

Ever since the financial crisis of 2008 we have been in and out of recession. Some  think we never really got out of it. A lack of cash made it difficult to consider expensive projects.  Projects like doing something about climate change. Yet we can afford even less to do nothing. Inaction is much more expensive than action.

Carbon emissions have continued to rise during the recession,  though admittedly not as high as they would have risen had economic conditions been better. As Damian Carrington said on his environmental blog,

“The house is ablaze and we are throwing bucket after bucket at it—buckets of petrol. Worse if that is possible, the world’s politicians are not stepping in to stop us stoking the flames: instead they are helping us to pay for the petrol.”

In other words carbon emissions have risen during tough economic times because governments have dragged their feet on the necessary actions and then have made matters worse—much worse—by subsidizing fossil fuels the primary culprit behind climate change. These are truly weird times.

Despite clear warnings from the scientific community for a number of years, our political leaders have done nothing to halt the emission of greenhouse gases so those emissions have been rising by record amounts. This is beginning to look more and more like the people of Easter Island who kept cutting their trees down on their island until they were all gone. I always wondered who was the person on Easter Island who cut down the last tree and how did he think that made sense?  Sometimes we are just plain stupid. And as I have said often about myself, making it a fundamental principle of mine, ‘life is hard when you’re stupid.’

Scientists have for a long time pointed out that any average temperature rise beyond 2° C would not be safe.  “Safe” perhaps is not the best word.  Average temperature rises of 2° C would be serious.  Some say disastrous. The International Energy Agency (IEA) has predicted a temperature rise of 3.5 °C based on current policies. Some agencies have predicted even greater rises. That means we will soon enter a world of mass migrations and severe water shortages. In such a world, England would have the temperature of Morocco today. Manitoba would be about like Kansas.

Another possibility though is that average temperatures will rise even more to 6 °C.  According to Carrington, “That’s Armageddon: large parts of the planet uninhabitable and the risk of runaway warming threatening the rest.”

I am not minimizing what all of us individuals have to do. We too have to get serious about climate change. We have to change the way we live. But the role of governments is also of critical importance. The current inaction by our political leaders is a disgrace.

The IEA has said the role of government is “critical.”  Yet governments like our own stand still. During the Harper regime in Canada he said, he would not inflict the costs of action on our country.  Yet according to the IEA “delaying action is a false economy.” According to the IEA if we save $1 now by doing nothing we will pay $4.30 later to make up for it.”  That certainly would be a misleading “saving.”

Big Ideas

I agree with Greta Thunberg. We are in a climate emergency but no one is acting like it. At best, our political leaders are treating it like a problem, not an emergency.  We really need to transform our thinking. It is much too late for little ideas. We need big ones.

Norman Brandson, the former deputy minister of Manitoba Department of Environments wrote well on the subject in the Winnipeg Free Press. He said,

 

Big ideas are transformative, visionary. U.S. president John F. Kennedy did not check with the General Accountability Office before presenting the American people with the vision of reaching the moon.

Although having a big idea ought to be part and parcel of political party agendas, it’s also necessary to have a good big idea, one that captures the imagination, enthusiasm and support of the voters, and is achievable. If either test fails, the big idea fails.

 

If we had dealt with the climate change issue 50, or even 30 years ago, when we were first alerted to the danger, we might have got by on modest ideas. Frankly, I have a deep preference for modest ideas over radical ideas. I guess that makes me fundamentally conservative (in the true sense of the word, not in the modern perverted sense of the word.) We squandered those decades, now it is too late for anything other radical new transformative ideas. Now we need ideas as radical as the Green New Deal in the United States. I will comment on that later.

Brandson put it this way:

“The big idea we ought to be talking about — not just at election time, but all the time — is the transformations necessary to enable the transition to a world economy that runs on renewable energy and is carbon-neutral (zero net emission of greenhouse gases); the essential precursor to the Green party’s big idea.”

Actually we need to discuss an even bigger idea—the need to change from a consumptive society to a much more modest society, but I will leave that as well for a future occasion. I am thinking about the election that we just had in Canada. Brandson mentioned that Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party in Canada is much too savvy to be talking about transformative ideas like that during an election. This reminds me of what Kim Campbell said in her one and only election while she was leader of the Conservative Party of Canada: “An election is no time to discuss serious issues.” Sadly, she might be right.

.        I have called the idea of constant growth the original sin of economics and the capitalist system. David Suzuki called this the creed of cancer. The idea that it would be possible and even desirable to have constant growth is what is killing us. This idea is poisonous. It does not have legs. It is the current big idea, but it is dead. We need a new big idea. This new idea was described by Norman Branson this way:

“It would be seen as an attack on the universally accepted measure of economic success — at least in the financial sector — growth. It would be a challenge to the reigning economic philosophy so successfully promoted by the Chicago School of Economics and its acolytes — deregulated free-market capitalism.

The Green party has called for a war on climate change, but of course you don’t wage war against a phenomenon; you wage it against the causes or, in this case, the economic and social paradigms that are the cause of climate change and the interests vested in those paradigms. Such talk is not likely to win too many seats in Parliament, at least not yet.

What we require is an adjustment to, not an abandonment of, our current economic thinking. We need a Chicago School-style philosophical revolution that articulates an economic philosophy appropriate for our time, a time in which we are facing the existential threat of climate change. We need to decouple economic health and growth, leading to a system that generates profit without growth.”

Many people are not sure this is possible. Pundits keep saying if we don’t have growth we have stagnation or worse, decline. If they are right, capitalism is dead in the water.

Naomi Klein is right about one thing: the climate emergency “changes everything.”  This was what America conservatives feared for decades and they proved to be right. Climate change is a fundamental challenge to capitalism. Their worst nightmare is coming to fruition and frankly they have no one to blame but themselves. American conservatives for years have been spending vast sums of money to convince people that the climate crisis is not a crisis and as a result they caused people in the US and Canada to delay action for decades, during which time they reaped enormous profits, but during which time the fuel for a revolution, like fuel in national forests, was increasing every year, until we are all now about to experience a conflagration of epic proportions. This is the hell that America conservatives have purchased. They bought it with vast sums of money that was used to manufacture lies that have now been exposed. They have sown the wind, now they have to reap the storm. I can’t believe these conservatives will ever be believed again, but particularly in America, though in Canada too, one should never under estimate what people can be persuaded to believe no matter how unbelievable.

I don’t know if this big idea is the right idea; I just know that no small idea is the right idea.

We need Conservatives

Where are the conservatives when we need them? Around here all they want to conserve is the right to earn money without barriers, and the right to continue their destruction of the natural world. None of them want to conserve what is critically important—the natural world.

The science is clear—unless we change course we are headed towards a disaster and it is a disaster that we cannot really calculate.  We are conducting an experiment with our planet unlike any done before. The dangers are extreme.  One would think that conservatives would want to avoid such foolish risks.  Yet the Conservatives I see want to ignore the risks and continue with business as usual. They are not prepared to make even modest changes to our behaviors. In the face of an emergency, that is not conservative, that is batshit crazy.

Greta Thunberg is mocked by most of the conservatives I know. But she has a very simple message: ‘Listen to the scientists.” To me that seem simple and rational. The conservatives around here seem content to ignore the warnings from scientists. To me that seems radical.

Most of us see going on strike, as Thunberg’s young climate change resisters did recently, is usually understood as an extreme act done only when all else fails. Is that not what has happened? All Thunberg and other young climate strikers are saying is that they want a future for their generation. This is not really radical is it?  All they are asking for, as Simon Dalby explained in a recent Winnipeg Free Press article, it is this:

“A future in which one can live well, have children and obtain a decent job, maintaining a world of predictable social order, is what conservatives usually wish for. Instead, so-called conservatives across much of the English speaking world are telling us we have to burn more stuff—oil, gas, and coal—and ship it around the world so others can join in on burning things as well…There is nothing remotely conservative about assuming we can destabilize the climate system and somehow society will be fine because at least some people have amassed major wealth with money made by burning things.”

With the consequences of climate change now clear, and the science able to much more accurately predict what is coming if we stay on our existing course of using ever more fossil fuels, it is the fossil fuel industry, its propagandists and supporters who are the radicals, and very dangerous ones at that.

I wish conservatives had not abandoned conservativism. But at least we have the young conservatives.

All our puny scandals.

Andrew Scheer: Thinking Small keeps him small

         Well the election is over and the Conservative Party who ran on a lackluster platform of ‘same old, same old’ gained the most popular votes. They had the weakest policies about climate change, which I thought was the critical issue in the campaign.  Is this a defeat for climate change advocates like me?

Not in my opinion. The Liberals spent a lot of time during the election campaign shooting themselves in the foot. First, many, like me, were disgusted at their performance in the SNC-Lavalin scandal. Though it was a puny scandal by American standards, it was real by ours. Many of us felt that our Prime Minister interfered with our rule of law by trying to unduly influence his Attorney-General Jody Wilson-Raybould to step in a resolve, to his satisfaction, the corruption and fraud case against a Quebec corporation that hires a lot of Quebecers. The independent Ethics Commissioner Mario Dion rapped Trudeaus’s knuckles for the second time. But Trudeau got away with it.

Next, the black face/brown face demeaned Trudeau’s image even though most people I think were willing to cut him some slack because “back then” we were all less aware of how hurtful our actions could be. He was no worse than most of us.

Finally, many people, like me were very disappointed that after bringing in a carbon tax despite the opposition of most Canadian Premiers, Trudeau spent threw away the political capital he had earned, by purchasing a pipeline for $4.5 billion. Few wanted that, outside of Alberta.

As a result of these 3 issues I really think the Conservatives threw away a golden opportunity to take advantage of Liberal missteps. The Liberals were ripe for the plucking, but the Conservatives failed to do that because they thought too small. Instead of saying they were ready to tackle the greatest issue of our times, climate change, they asked us to vote for them to put more cash in our pocket. It was puny. They could have done so much more. Can  you imagine if the Conservatives, after decades of opposing all rational measures to combat climate change, they announced a big turn around? I think people have been stunned and thrown their support to these newcomers. Instead, the Conservatives gave us, more of the ‘same old, same gold.’

I really think Canadians were ready to make a big commitment to tackle climate change. If the Conservatives had realized that instead of wasting their time with chump change, they would now be forming a government with a large majority. Instead they let the Liberals slip in. They could have done better. So much better.

Thinking small begets small.

Drunk on Fossil Fuel

Stephen Lewis at the University of Manitoba

At the recent Climate First tour talk in Winnipeg recently, the last  speaker of the evening was the well known Stephen Lewis. Even though I have heard him speak a number of times, I felt sorry for him because he had to follow the earlier brilliant speakers. I need not have feared. Lewis, is a passionate speaker.

He pointed out that when David Suzuki had asked him to speak with him on this tour, Suzuki pointed out that both of them had reached an elderly age.  They were the “silverbacks” that could speak the unbridled truth. Neither of them has to suck up to anyone anymore. Neither is seeking grants or power. So they can speak truth to power.

Lewis started out by talking about Greta Thunberg who had inspired him. Recently, at the UN she had spoken passionately, with obvious great emotion, in a shaking voice and said to the people of power that were gathered there:

“How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I am one of the lucky ones. People are suffering and people are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you? For more than 30 years the science has been crystal clear. How dare you to continue to look away and say that you are doing enough when the politics and solution needed are nowhere in sight? You say you hear us and that you understand the urgency but no matter how sad and angry I am I do not want to believe that because if you really understood the situation and still kept on failing to act, you would be evil and that I refuse to believe…If you chose to fail us we will never forgive you.”

Thunberg said she should be back at school rather than at the UN, but she had to come, because “old people were stealing her future”. How would you like to face your grandchild 30 years from now with such a charge? These old men are what Lewis referred to as “political ideologues lurking around drunk on fossil fuel.” Who wants to be one of those guys?

First, Lewis mocked the political leaders of the world that showed up at the Paris conference on Climate change in 2017 for their mouthing of self-serving homilies. He said that this led him to “incandescent up.” Lewis concluded, “These world leaders are criminally suicidal.”

Lewis contrasted those leaders with James Hansen from NASA who spoke at an international conference in Toronto in 1988 when he told people that he was 99% sure that climate change was caused by human activities.” And as Lewis concluded, “Had we taken him seriously in 1988 we would not now be speaking of self-immolation as we are doing.”

And that really is a pity. Had the world listened and acted 30 years ago, the problem would have been manageable. For 30 years corporate interests have obfuscated the issues and poisoned us with lies by deliberately selling us doubt. That this was done deliberately really is despicable. I really wonder how we allow this happen. Should this not be a chimer? Does this not show capitalism at its predatory worst? Partly as a result, for 30 years our political leaders have not helped us to act, and now we all have to pay the price. As Lewis said, “for 3 decades the governments of the world have betrayed human kind.” Now we have to transform completely the political world. Nothing else will be good enough. It is too late for easier measures.

The 2018 UN report has made things clear:  we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45% before 2030 and 100% by 2050. And that won’t be easy. That is why we need radical action, such as the Green New Deal! At the Paris accord in 2017 the world’s leaders said they wanted to hold average temperature rise to 1.5ºC but could absolutely not accept more than a 2ºC rise. They recognized that such a rise would be intolerable. Yet little is being done.

Lewis also pointed out, like the other two speakers, that the destruction of the planet and climate change are intimately connected.

Lewis joined Thunberg in saying “given we are in an emergency as Parliament has acknowledged, all parties should put aside party in favor of the country, as they would do if we are at war.”

Lewis made a rousing finish by saying, “I am with Greta Thunberg against the club of old politicians against all the odds and defiantly filled with hope.” Again the crowd gave him a standing ovation. It was a great way to end the 3 talks and the crowd rose with thunderous applause.

A New Treaty

 

I heard Pamela Palmater speak at the recent Climate First Tour. Like Anthony Hall, one of my favorite writers on Indigenous issues, Palmater has connected ecocide with genocide. In my view, they both have the same source—in European settlers’ original sin of disrespecting non-whites, non-men, and non-humans. As Palmater said, “We can no longer deny the ecocide of life on the planet than we can deny the genocide of Indigenous people. Ecocide and genocide go hand in hand.” They are both the poison fruit of the same contaminated source.

Palmater also pointed out, “Chemical valley is always on Indigenous Land.” This happens for the same reason that in the US toxic chemical plants are usually found near or on land belonging to African-Americans, Indians, or poor people. Poor people everywhere have little power, so frequently get shafted. The connection between injustice and pollution is perversely intimate. According to Palmater, “Indigenous people are the first to feel the dysfunctionality of the land.” Indigenous People are the canary in the mine. And to paraphrase that great but unheeded Canadian philosopher, Al Boily from Labroquerie Manitoba, my former boss when I had a summer job at Manitoba Hydro during my first two summers of University: “What’s bad for Indigenous People is bad for the rest of us too.”

Many of us now realize that Indigenous people the world over, are at the forefront of the fight against environmental contamination and destruction. You can see this at Standing Rock, you can see this in B.C. in the fight against the Trans-mountain pipeline, you can see this in the South American Rainforest, you can see it at the UN, and you can see it in many other places. We have to learn the truth of what Palmater said, “the planet cannot survive without Indigenous People.”

I thought Palmater said many very interesting things, but none more interesting than her statement “What we need is a new Treaty relationship. We need a treaty relationship for our mutual protection. We must revitalize it by including all living beings, not just humans.  We have to ban ecocide along with genocide. This would be a true modern treaty—a real coming together. This treaty should combine social justice with earth justice. This will require a revolution—that would change everything! It would require a massive transfer of wealth, power, and decision making.” It sounds radical, but frankly, we need radical. Our climate crisis has progressed too far for modest solutions. We have wasted too much time.

Palmater is a student and teacher of the treaty making between Canada and its First Nations people. She knows a lot about it. But she wants to go farther than that. As she said, “the original treaty vision was that we would work together. Such an attitude can protect the ecosystems on Turtle Island too, as long as the sun shines and the rivers flow.”

Palmater urged us to consider “The Indigenous People survived genocide: Take that strength and resilience and allow it to transform you. We can come together to rise up and change the world so that this generation can lead us back to balance. We can unite under a New Treaty.” These were powerful words and the group gave her a standing ovation. I stood up too.

Before Pamela Palmater talked I did not know her at all. Now I think I Now a little about her.

Hard Truths: Climate Change and Indigenous People

 

The second speaker at the Climate First Tour rally in Winnipeg was new to me. Apparently she is a frequent commentator on TV. I guess I either don’t watch enough or watch the wrong programs. She was Dr. Dr. Pamela D. Palmater a Mi’kmaw citizen and member of the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick.

Today I learned that she was a passionate speaker and ardent advocate for those urging us to do something significant about climate change. She said that she was pleased to be sharing the stage today with 2 of Canada’s Warrior Grandfathers,” as she called David Suzuki and Stephen Lewis  Well, that might be true, but she fit right except that she is obviously much younger than her partners today. Later when I did a little research about her, I saw a picture of her with a shirt that read, “She Warrior.”

Today she told us, “I need to talk about hard truth.” The truth she wanted to convey was this: “Canada is killing its own people and the planet and we must do something to stop it.” I think she meant to refer to the conclusions of the recent Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. That report concluded that there were reasonable grounds for concluding that Canada was guilty of genocide against Indigenous women and girls (it did not actually say Canada was guilty because such a statement is legally significant and ought only to be made, it is thought, by a court of law). That is a hard truth. Many Canadians, including many of my friends resist that conclusion. It is hard for me to accept. Secondly, her comment refers to the fact that Canada is participating in the active destruction of human life and many other species on the planet by permitting greenhouse gas emissions to rise unchecked. This is another hard truth though not as difficult for many of us to accept. It is still a harsh indictment of Canadians, though we are far from the only ones facing such indictments.

Palmater also said that these are “the only two issues we should be talking about in this election are ecocide and genocide!” Everything else pales into insignificance. I accept that too.

Palmater also argued, “the pain of climate change is felt first in the north and first there, to indigenous people.” I think that is difficult to dispute as well. Even though indigenous people are the first and perhaps worst affected, this is rarely discussed when climate change is discussed. Just like the unfortunate fact that the people first affected by climate change, around the world, are often the ones who have done the least to cause climate change, it is true this climate injustice is seldom faced with any rigour or sincerity. Our attitude really can be summed up by the expression, ‘It sucks to be you.’ Hardly the most rational response.

According to Palmater, it is time we also faced the ugly truth that “We can’t live without the planet, but the planet can easily live without us.” As a consequence of this uncomfortable truth, we must face the fact that if we are facing a climate emergency, we must change our ways to save not just our descendants, but our species. If we think our species is worth saving.

To really face up to this challenge we have change our system of exploitation of the natural resources of the planet, and convert to working with nature, rather than against it. The colonizing system of which we are an integral part shapes transforms all human systems, and all human interactions with others. That system is so totalitarian it cannot be escaped.

We have to realize, Palmater said, “the planet is crying too.” I always think that if the planet could talk it would speak like the broadcaster in the film Network, “I am mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” This really should be the motto for the earth rather than the populists.

According to Palmater, we also have to realize that the issues of genocide and ecocide are closely. This is the same position taken by others such as Anthony Hall in his magisterial  2 volume history of the relationship between European invaders, Native Americans (in the broad sense) and the natural world in the western hemisphere. I will return to this subject later. As Palmater succinctly put it, “Damage to Indigenous Women and Girls is damage to the planet too.”

All of the three speakers tonight agreed that we are much past the time when we need to debate policies.” It is too late for that. We have to act and we have to act with speed. We can’t allow debate to slow us down though we have to think critically about what we are doing. We can’t plunge ahead blindly. I wish we had more time to debate policies, but we have been dithering around for two many decades. Partly those delays were caused by the energy sector’s very successful decades long policy of spreading doubt about the science. Now we have to live with the consequences of that delay. It sucks to be us!

The problem with emergencies is that they often require a quick action. They leave little time for reflection. You can’t mull your way through an emergency. Or as Palmater said, “Best intentions don’t matter anymore—only action.” At this stage I was beginning to feel uncomfortable with her hard truths. But she wasn’t finished delivering them. She was just starting. This is precisely what Greta Thunberg has been saying. We need action. We have to treat an emergency like it is an emergency. Canada has said this is an emergency but it has not acted like it. If it did it wouldn’t spend $4.5 billion on a pipeline. It would spend $4.5 billion or even more, on transitioning away from fossil fuels. As Palmater bluntly put it, “In the end we either do or we die.”

The Creed of Cancer

 

At the Climate First Tour in Winnipeg, David Suzuki, who  is always critical of economists and economics said our current economic system is  based on the idea of endless growth. “The philosophy of infinite growth means that progress is measured by growth, constant growth, and this is the creed of cancer. This can end in only way, with death.

Another pet peeve of Suzuki is that economics, the dim science, is out of whack. According to economics, all of the things that nature does to keep the world intact are externalities. They are all irrelevant from the perspective of economics. Everything nature does is irrelevant; it does not count.  From my perspective, this  is the original  sin of economics. If we are serious about tackling climate change, this is the attitude that must be rejected.

David Suzuki thinks that Stephen Harper epitomized this attitude. Harper elevated the economy over everything else. The atmosphere, for example, according to Harper, was an externality that did not matter. As a result of such attitudes, damage to nature is not counted as a cost. The people who caused the damage, whether to the air, the atmosphere or the ocean did not have to pay for that damage, because such costs were externalities. Externalities do not fit into the equations of economics. That attitude leads directly to our current collapsing natural world and our existential climate crisis. Suzuki categorically rejects this attitude: “Holding up human constructs over nature is crazy.”

Suzuki said the essential characteristic of humans is that we can foresee dangers. Foresight was critically relevant for our survival during our long evolutionary history. Now science and computer technology have amplified foresight. Scientists have warned us that we are headed for danger, but we don’t pay attention. As a result we are ignoring one of our most important characteristics and it will be our peril.

In 1992 in a famous public statement  a large group of scientists of the world warned us. They said that human actions and the natural world are on a collision course. This is already affecting our atmosphere, oceans, soil, forests, corals, and species extinction. It is the cause of over population. This statement was signed by ½ the Nobel scientists who were alive at the time. Yet we did nothing about it. We did not heed the warnings. We ignored our foresight that had saved us so often in the past. Had we heeded the warning, we likely would not have this existential crisis now.

In 2017 scientists gave us a new warning. They warned us that unless we changed our ways within 12 years and drastically reduced our emission of greenhouse gas emissions, we would be destroying the life as we know it. Again little has been done. Again  we are lacking foresight. Greta Thunberg’s big theme is that all she is telling us is to listen to the scientists. Listen to the warnings. Use our foresight.

There is one more thing we need besides foresight. We need to work together. This problem we face, this emergency, demands that everyone work together. All parties have to be set aside.

Suzuki said that when he was a student in the United States in the late 1950s after Russia launched the first space ship into space to orbit the world, America was horrified. How could the Russian do it first? What did this mean? The America reaction was clear and simple: we have to deal with this. No one asked ‘how can we afford this?’ They got together and poured money into the NASA space program. Anyone in science who wanted a grant got one.

With an urgent goal, we can perform what appears impossible. When it comes to climate change, we need that sense of urgency now. It doesn’t look like we can do it.