We need to have a talk about capitalism in our struggle for climate justice

Photo: Brent Patterson

This summer, I had the opportunity to participate in an Extinction Rebellion (XR) march from Hackney Downs to London Fields in east London, as well as to visit the tomb of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery in north London.

A little compare and contrast reflection is bound to happen.

First of all, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens with the disruption XR is planning in London and other cities around the world this coming October 7 to 19.

It reportedly will be larger in scale than the disruption that took place this past April. That’s when about 10,000 people occupied four sites (including Parliament Square and Piccadilly Circus) in London for 11 days resulting in more than 1,150 arrests.

XR Berlin says, “Politics and conventional approaches to political engagement such as voting, lobbying, petitions and demonstrations fail to address this crisis. History shows us a promising, democratic means to bring about social change: nonviolent, civil disobedience.”

That’s a refreshing departure from the traditional NGO approach of campaigns based on symbolic protests and e-petitions targeted at indifferent politicians.

But our struggle needs to go further than that.

Last December, XR activists Cameron Joshi and Boden Franklin wrote, “So far, the [Extinction Rebellion] movement hasn’t focused on neo-colonialism and capitalism as the engines of climate breakdown, and it has actively chosen to disassociate from Leftist thought.”

They highlighted, “Anti-capitalism, decolonization and anti-oppression work cannot be an afterthought — shoved into a five-minute window between speeches or tucked away at the end of an action.”

And then this past May, The Wretched of the Earth wrote in an open letter, “We commend the energy and enthusiasm XR has brought to the environmental movement, and it brings us hope to see so many people willing to take action.”

The grassroots collective continued, “The strategy of XR, with the primary tactic of being arrested, is a valid one — but it needs to be underlined by an ongoing analysis of privilege as well as the reality of police and state violence.”

It adds, “XR participants should be able to use their privilege to risk arrest, whilst at the same time highlighting the racialised nature of policing.”

The amount of friendly chatting between XR organizers and the police that I witnessed in east London suggests that analysis is still lacking.

The Wretched of the Earth letter then notes, “Though some of this analysis has started to happen, until it becomes central to XR’s organising it is not sufficient. To address climate change and its roots in inequity and domination, a diversity and plurality of tactics and communities will be needed to co-create the transformative change necessary.”

Agreed. MORE

Elizabeth May says the Greens could prop up a Conservative government

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. Photo: Laurel L. Russwurm/Flickr

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May seems to have shifted from her earlier stated position and now says she could support a Conservative minority government led by Andrew Scheer, if — and it is a very big if — it got serious about climate change.

A July 21 story by Canadian Press reporter Mia Rabson quotes May as saying:

“People change their minds when they see the dynamic of a way a Parliament is assembled and maybe think, ‘Killing carbon taxes isn’t such a good idea if the only way I get to be prime minister is by keeping them.'”

The chances of Andrew Scheer abandoning his core commitment to scrap the carbon tax might be far-fetched.

Scheer has stood shoulder to shoulder with four powerful Conservative or Conservative-aligned premiers and solemnly sworn fealty to the anti-environmental resistance. The federal Conservative leader would be taking an enormous risk if he were to cavalierly break that promise. It might be a way to invite a massive rebellion within his own ranks.

But, for now at least, it is May who is taking the greater risk.

Those who are considering voting Green in this fall’s election should be asking May exactly what her price might be for propping up a Scheer government.

Would it be sufficient for Scheer to maintain the Trudeau government’s carbon tax as is? Is that all it would take for the Conservatives to win Green support?

Could the Greens still support a Scheer government if, for instance, it rolled back the newly enacted and more stringent rules for approving major projects such as pipelines?

Would May and her party be able to hold their noses if the Conservatives acted on another key pledge: to scrap the current clean fuel standard?

And what about other Conservative policies, such as imposing tougher restrictions on asylum seekers, or killing the Liberals’ fund for local news while radically cutting funding for the CBC? Those are not climate-change related. Would the Greens be comfortable supporting them?

Is Elizabeth May being naive? 

The Green leader told the Canadian Press she hopes for a minority Parliament because it “would be the very best thing;” but she seems a bit naive about how much power a governing party — even one that only has a minority of seats — can exercise, in our system, without seeking approval of Parliament.

When Andrew Scheer’s predecessor as Conservative leader, Stephen Harper, governed with a minority from 2006 to 2011, he proved that point. Harper could not get everything through the House that he would have liked to, but he ruled with an iron fist nonetheless.  MORE

Will Trudeau Rein in the Export Development Bank? Or Disappoint Once Again?

Canadians should be shamed by billions in backing for dubious corporations and projects.

While other funds are divesting fossil fuel shares, and the Trudeau government talks of a climate emergency, Export Development Canada has loaned billions to oil sands corporations. Photo by jasonwoodhead23, Creative Commons licensed.

Canadians have a big decision to make this fall. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in deep trouble and desperately trying to court progressive voters, who are understandably not in an amorous mood.

Displays of high hypocrisy such as approving a bitumen export pipeline the day after declaring a climate emergency, or glibly throwing electoral reformunder the bus are not easily forgotten by those who care about such things.

Beyond these obvious blights on the Liberal brand, there is another boat anchor that could help drag Trudeau into the depths of electoral oblivion: Export Development Canada.

EDC is a Crown corporation tasked with promoting international trade by supporting Canadian and foreign companies through loans and insurance.

One of the largest such government credit agencies in the world, EDC currently has about $55 billion in outstanding loans to Canadian and foreign corporations. While EDC loans out its own funds, those loans are backstopped by Canadian taxpayers, and hopefully are therefore being used to project Canadian values around the world.

EDC claims to be a good corporate citizen. However, reality and political rhetoric are like salad dressing — spontaneous separation may occur without constant agitation. The Crown corporation has a record of supporting some dubious people and projects.

Political enthusiasts will recall that just as the toxic SNC-Lavalin scandal was beginning to subside, a whistleblower alleged that EDC had provided loans to the Quebec company that may have been used to bribe officials in Angola and elsewhere. The whistleblower told the CBC that it was an “open secret” within the company that funds earmarked for bribes were listed as “technical fees” of up to 10 per cent of total budget in proposals to EDC. MORE

‘You can’t drink money’: Kootenay communities fight logging to protect their drinking water

In Glade, where clear-cutting could begin any day, determined residents are pulling out all the stops in an effort to protect their local creek — even though a judge ruled they have no right to clean water

Glade Watershed Kootenay logging Heather McIntyre Louis Bockner
Heather McIntyre and her grandson Carmi Restrick collect water samples and record the temperature of Glade Creek. This daily community monitoring program began two years ago and is an effort to provide hard evidence should the proposed logging go ahead and the community’s water is negatively affected. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

Four years ago, on a morning hike with her husband, Heather McIntyre spotted red and white flagging tape near a creek that supplies much of the drinking and irrigation water for her village of Glade in a pastoral Kootenay valley.

The tape marked logging boundaries and roads and was stamped with “KLC,” the initials of a local timber company, Kalesnikoff Lumber Co., which planned to log in the community’s watershed on the slopes of a low-lying Selkirk Mountain in the interior rainforest.

“We kind of panicked,” said McIntyre, who lives in a yellow strawbale house amidst a patchwork of fruit and vegetable gardens, in a community named Dolina Plodorodnaya by its Doukhobor founders, meaning “fertile valley.”

Glade Watershed Kootenay River Louis Bockner

The community of Glade sits on the banks of the Kootenay River near Nelson, B.C. The Glade Creek watershed has been at the centre of an ongoing dispute between community members and two logging companies — ATCO and Kalesnikoff Lumber Co — who have been given cut permits in the drainage. Photo: Louis Bockner / The Narwhal

“Everybody in the lower part of Glade gets their water from the creek and the logging flagging was right above the creek,” McIntyre told The Narwhal. “We’re using a lot of water in summer for irrigating and then there’s our drinking water.”

Since then, McIntyre and other Glade residents have been using their green thumbs to tap on the space bar of computer keyboards, writing long letters to politicians and organizing petitions and legal actions.

They have sought every possible recourse to stop logging by Kalesnikoff and a second local company, Atco Wood Products, on the grounds that Glade’s drinking water quality and flow could be affected by conventional logging, primarily clear-cutting, that is slated to begin as early as this summer.

B.C. Supreme Court judge finds no legal right to clean water

In April, after Glade residents sought a temporary injunction against the two companies, B.C. Supreme Court Justice Michael Tammen stated that any potential change to water quality caused by logging would not be “irreparable” because it could be remedied by additional water treatment.

If the injunction were granted, on the other hand, Tammen said the two timber companies would suffer “irreparable” injury due to “obvious economic harm.”

“Do you have a right to clean water?” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Mark McEwan said in court. “I’d suggest you don’t …  there just is nowhere in the law where you can look and say, ‘there it is — there’s my right. I have a right to clean water.’ ”

McIntyre said the ruling was “a kick in the gut,” hurting all the more because costs were awarded to the logging companies, compelling Glade residents to raise more than $10,000.

“You can’t drink money,” said Heather McSwan, a weaver and spinner who owns the Bee Glade nursery in the village of 300, reachable only by a 10-car cable ferry across the Kootenay River.

“This is our water that we’re talking about … We don’t get a second chance at this. When the timber’s gone the environment is impacted in a way that will result, somewhere down the road, in the degradation of the water, especially with climate change coming.”

 “That’s the wild card.”  MORE


New Old Growth Protections More Symbolic than Symbiotic, Environmentalists Say

Six places where carbon pricing is working

Southbound Douglas Street in the greater Victoria, B.C., area. B.C.’s carbon tax reduced the use of gasoline and natural gas by seven per cent per person and there’s evidence that it spurred people to buy more fuel-efficient cars. Photo from B.C. Gov.

Climate change will be an important part of the national conversation this fall. One part of Canada’s strategy to deal with climate change has been to put a price on carbon.

What’s a price on carbon? Glad you asked. It’s a charge on fossil fuels, the main drivers of climate change.

The charge is based on how much carbon pollution (a.k.a. greenhouse gas emissions) the fuel produces when it is burned. For example, a litre of diesel produces more carbon pollution than a litre of gasoline, so the carbon price is higher on a litre of diesel. This creates an incentive to conserve energy, or look for alternative sources.

If we want our climate to remain as stable as possible, economists overwhelmingly recommend we start by putting a price on carbon. The evidence shows that it helps the environment in a way that’s best for the economy.

More to the point: carbon pricing works. It has for a long time.

Here are six places where carbon pricing has worked:

British Columbia

We don’t have to go far for our first example. British Columbia adopted a carbon tax in 2008 and hasn’t looked back. Its economy has grown at one of the fastest rates in Canada (the carbon tax didn’t cause this, but it sure doesn’t seem to have hurt the economy).

  • How it worked: B.C.’s carbon tax reduced the use of gasolineand natural gas by seven per cent per person. There’s even evidence that it spurred people to buy more fuel-efficient cars.
  • Key fact: B.C. used the revenues to cut income taxes and, more recently, to cut health premiums and invest in green technologies. It has some of the lowest income tax rates in Canada.
Northeastern United States

In 2009, 10 states, including New York and Massachusetts, worked together to put a price on carbon. They used the other type of carbon pricing: cap-and-trade. Their system is known as RGGI (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative), or “Reggie.”

  • How it worked: Electricity producers started burning way less coal and started using more natural gas and renewable energy, which reduced greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Key fact: “Reggie” improved public health. Less coal meant less soot, and these states avoided more than US$5 billion worth of asthma attacks, hospital visits, chronic illnesses and premature deaths.

Sweden has had a carbon tax since 1991. It started at €25 per tonne of greenhouse gases and is now €120 per tonne, the highest carbon tax in the world. Since implementing carbon pricing, Sweden’s economy has grown well above the European average.

  • How it worked: Businesses and homes started using less coal, gas and oil for heating, and started using biofuels instead. Sweden has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent since 1995. Its carbon tax was a key contributor.
  • Key fact: Sweden wants to be carbon neutral by 2045 and will use pricing to help get there.


How to misrepresent good climate policy

Photo of windmills by Pricilla du Perez (Pexels.com)

If facts are the colourful pools of paint on an artist’s palette, then perhaps the truth is the whole painting.

Paint, in other words, does not make art without the artist. And a single fact does not make the truth without someone putting it in its proper context.

Unfortunately, politics and artistry don’t always mix, as we witnessed a couple weeks ago around one of the federal government’s most significant climate change policies. No, not the one you’re thinking of. This time, it was the clean fuel standard, a flexible regulation focused on making fuels cleaner.

First, some background: in July, the Conservative Party of Canada announced that, just like the price on pollution, Canada’s clean fuel standard would be met with a falling axe if the party were to form government in October. The policy, one of the two biggest in the federal government’s Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change alongside carbon pricing, plays a huge role in Canada’s efforts to combat climate change.

In short, scrapping it would mean an even bigger emissions gap relative to our climate target — nearly 40 per cent bigger, in fact.

The argument put forward to scrap it? In Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer’s words, because it’s “a secret fuel tax” that would increase the cost of gasoline by four cents. That number, according to the party, was informed by Clean Energy Canada’s 2017 report on the clean fuel standard, along with stakeholder interviews.

Clean Energy Canada is a think tank at Simon Fraser University focusing on the clean-energy transition and the right measures to accelerate it. Let’s delve into our report, which was created in partnership with Navius Research.

Here are the facts as they pertain to gasoline prices: the clean fuel standard (which was never secret and is literally not a tax) will not become a regulatory requirement for liquid fuels like gasoline and diesel until 2022. It will add a cent or two to the cost of a litre of gasoline in 2025. And it is not until 2030 that the policy could add about five cents to the price at the pump — the range Scheer is referring to. MORE