Who owns it? The democratic socialist debate Canada should be having this election

We live in an era of extreme inequality of wealth and power across much of the developed world, and Canada is no exception. Public confidence in political institutions and “political classes” in the West is in long-running decline. The failure of established institutions to grapple adequately with the crises we face is giving way to an environment of growing instability and unease, providing fertile ground for the rise of the far right and delivering the likes of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson into the highest offices.

Yet there is also reason for optimism. The left, too, is in many places also reinvigorated—and quite suddenly bursting with big, bold new policy agendas. This includes, perhaps most visibly, a push for a Green New Deal, crucial in the face of the ticking clock of the climate crisis. But another set of developing policy proposals, relating to the ownership and control of our economy, also deserve our attention.

In the UK and US, transformative policy ideas for economic justice are emerging and starting to move quietly into the political mainstream. These include policies to promote worker ownership and control of companies, breaking up large monopolistic corporations, and an annual wealth tax on the super-rich.

These ideas are being advanced not only by activists and think-tanks, but now also by major political parties and candidates, including the UK’s Labour Party and US Democratic presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

These policies are not exclusive to any single ideology, but they could reasonably be called “socialist,” since they centre matters of who owns and controls core economic institutions and wealth. And they could be described as “democratic” because they take a bottom-up approach that would reshape and significantly equalize economic ownership and control. These policies are also, in many cases, extremely popular among voters across the political spectrum.

In short, the policy debate is rapidly being populated with innovative and far-reaching economic proposals of a kind that we should be considering much more seriously in Canada. To that end, let’s take a look at a selection of big policy ideas now on the table south of the border and across the Atlantic, which represent potential starting points for important debates here at home.

[Read the complete article! The headings below are flushed out in the complete article to give you a taste of actions that could lead to a sustainable future.]

  • Putting power and ownership in workers’ hands
  • Inclusive ownership funds
  • Worker representation on corporate boards
  • “Right to own” and worker-owned enterprises
  • Taking on big banks and powerful tech monopolies
  • Financial transactions tax
  • Publicly owned banks
  • Breaking up powerful tech monopolies
  • Getting serious about taxing the rich and corporations
  • Wealth taxes on the super-rich
  • Ending special tax breaks on capital income
  • Taxing corporations like we mean it

Canada needs to think big. Let the debate begin.

This round-up of burgeoning economic policy ideas is far from comprehensive, and these particular proposals are not the final word. What they do represent is a window on an impressive proliferation of bold, left-wing economic thinking that should inform our discourse and debate in Canada. This debate should include other emerging big ideas like a Green New Deal, four-day work week, universal basic income, universal basic services, land value capture and maximum wages, among many others. SOURCE

Shale’s Dark Side: Methane Emissions Are Soaring

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A new study finds that shale oil and gas is behind the global rise in methane pollution over the past decade, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.

The study, published in Biogeosciences, was able to separate methane emissions from conventional versus unconventional drilling, as well as methane from other “biogenic” sources, such as agriculture or wetlands. “This recent increase in methane is massive,” Robert W. Howarth of Cornell University, the author of the study, said in a statement. “It’s globally significant. It’s contributed to some of the increase in global warming we’ve seen and shale gas is a major player.”

Methane emissions rose in the late 20th century, and then leveled off in the early 2000s. “Since 2008, however, methane concentrations have again been rising rapidly,” Howarth wrote.

Howarth said that “chemical fingerprints” in the atmosphere point to shale oil and gas, as the methane from unconventional drilling has less carbon-13 relative to carbon-12, which distinguishes it from methane coming from conventional sources, including from gas and coal. Because two-thirds of all new natural gas production over the last decade has come from shale, and because the chemical composition of methane in the atmosphere has changed, Howarth concluded that shale gas is a key driver in the increase of methane.

Prior research did not explicitly focus on the fossil fuel industry, and instead put blame on other sources of methane emissions, such as agriculture and wetlands.

“Previous studies erroneously concluded that biological sources are the cause of the rising methane,” Howarth said. He was able to separate out the source of the increase. The conclusion was clear: “The commercialization of shale gas and oil in the 21st century has dramatically increased global methane emissions.”

Methane is a dramatically more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, although it is much more short-lived. That makes it a dangerous greenhouse gas pollutant – but also low-hanging fruit for climate action. “If we can stop pouring methane into the atmosphere, it will dissipate,” he said. “It goes away pretty quickly, compared to carbon dioxide. It’s the low-hanging fruit to slow global warming.” MORE

Resistance to Trans Mountain pipeline is growing on all fronts

A 2011 oil tank fire in Gibraltar. The Trans Mountain pipeline extension would increase the risk of such fires at the pipeline's terminus in Burnaby, B.C. Image: Moshi Anahory/Wikimedia Commons
Image: Moshi Anahory/Wikimedia Commons

The Trudeau government and the petrobloc — the fossil fuel industries and their political, financial and media allies — would like you to believe that the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline (TMX), intended to triple the flow of diluted bitumen from the Athabasca sands to the Port of Vancouver, is a done deal.

But the latest approval of TMX by the Trudeau government and the industry-captured regulatory agency, the National Energy Board, does not settle the issue. There are significant legal challenges from six major First Nations whose territories include much of the proposed pipeline route through B.C. Ecojustice is litigating in the Federal Court of Appeal to defend the critically endangered southern resident orcas. The B.C. government is taking its case for jurisdiction over the transport of toxic diluted bitumen within the province to the Supreme Court.

The Indigenous-led, grassroots place-based resistance that encouraged the Texas-based multinational Kinder Morgan to walk away from the project is re-emerging, after the construction delay imposed by the Federal Court of Appeal in August 2018.

Kinder Morgan, remember, never intended to benefit Canada. It was founded by two former executives of Enron, the company that later collapsed amidst accounting scandals. The company’s profits were reportedly linked to tax minimization and skimping on maintenance and safety.

A range of environmental NGOs and citizens’ groups are gearing up to resume the struggle. The federal election in October could give the balance of power to two parties (the Greens and the NDP) opposed to the pipeline. And now, new fronts have opened up — national campaigns to halt fossil fuel subsidies on which projects like TMX depend, and to deny insurance coverage for TMX specifically.

B.C. residents in the sacrifice zones of the pipeline project know of its very real escalation of local, regional and global environmental risks — oil tanker spills, extinction of the iconic local orca pod, pipeline ruptures in salmon-bearing streams and in neighbourhoods (which the city of Burnaby already experienced in 2007), and a potentially catastrophic toxic fire in the expanded “tank farm.”

And of course, the intensified planetary heating which the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure locks us into.

Unfortunately, these concerns haven’t always resonated with Canadians elsewhere facing economic insecurity and public service cutbacks.

But the federal government’s 2018 purchase of the pipeline has added an enormous new risk — to all Canadian taxpayers.

While the petrobloc touts TMX as a route to economic prosperity, taxpayers may see more pain than gain. Buying the pipeline alone cost taxpayers $4.4 billion, far more than analysts said it was worth, with a further $9 to 12 billion for expanding its capacity, locking Canada further into planet-heating infrastructure while creating far fewer permanent jobs than investment in renewable energy.

Independent analysts like Andrew Nikiforuk, Gordon Laxer and J. David Hughes argue that optimistic pro-pipeline estimates of Asian demand for Canadian bitumen downplay such factors as escalating construction costs, the completion of two other pipelines by 2022, high transportation costs, alternative supply sources and lower quality product.

“Trans Mountain has been losing money since Ottawa over-paid for it, leaving taxpayers on the hook,” economist Robyn Allan wrote in an email. “Revenues from tolls on the existing line are insufficient to cover all the interest expense or any of the principal amount the government borrowed to finance the acquisition of the 66 year-old pipeline. Billions more in taxpayer funded subsidies will be required to finance the expansion since shipper tolls will not cover the cost of building it.

“This is why Kinder Morgan walked away; capital costs were too high and Trans Mountain’s expansion ceased to be commercially viable. Any reasonable cost benefit analysis reveals that there are no net economic benefits from the expansion either, and the obvious environmental costs are staggering.”

So why did the federal government bail out such a toxic investment?

A senior researcher at Alberta’s Parkland Institute told me that TMX has become a political symbol. Serious climate action means ending fossil fuel subsidies (as Trudeau promised in 2015) and investing directly in sustainable energy and infrastructure. Yet Canadian governments continue to pour about $3.3 billion annually (according to the International Institute of Sustainable Development) into direct support for an industry whose business model entails knowingly jeopardizing the habitability of the planet. That amount would fund job retraining for 330,000 workers, including in greener industries with potential for exporting technology and energy.  MORE

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Dark Money in Conservative Politics: The Shadowy American Nonprofit Bankrolling Canada’s Conservative Movement

Image result for north99:  Dark Money in Conservative Politics,

In our series Dark Money in Conservative Politics, we take a deep look at where Canada’s Conservative movement gets its funding and support from international sources.

Our first story looked at the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF) and the web of funding and incestuous connections between other right-wing causes.

Our second story analyzed the deep connections between the JCCF and the alt-right media outlet Rebel Media, and how The Rebel helps fundraise for the JCCF.

In our newest article, we investigate the Atlas Network, a shadowy righting American nonprofit that bankrolls some of Canada’s leading Conservative organizations, advocacy groups, and think tanks.

What is the Atlas Network?

The Atlas Network is a rightwing nonprofit that funds and creates conservative think tanks and advocacy organizations throughout the world. They claim their mission is to:

strengthen the worldwide freedom movement by cultivating a highly effective and expansive network that inspires and incentivizes all committed individuals and organizations to achieve lasting impact.

They don’t think small – their goal is to “win long-term policy battles that will shape history”. They do this by “accelerat(ing) those achievements by providing competitive opportunities for training, support, and international recognition.”

And they are very successful at what they do. A study by the University of Pennsylvania’s 2016 Global Go To Think Index Report ranks the Atlas Institute amongst the top 1 percent of organizations in the world in Best Managed Think Tank, Best Think Tank Network, Best Think Tank Conference and Think Tanks with the Best Use of the Internet.

Atlas Network Funding

In 2016, they plowed $5,253,220 into partner networks to help shape and influence policy decisions, media coverage and opinion throughout the world. But where does the Atlas Network getits funds?

Desmog Canada has done an excellent job summarizing the organizations that donate to the Atlas Network. They include some of the most influential and dangerous far-right individuals and organizations in America, including:

  • Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, and the Charles Koch Institute, founded by Charles Koch
  • Earhart Foundation, which funds right-wing think tanks
  • Sarah Scaife Foundation, whose family helped jumpstartmuch of the conservative movement in the United States
  • The John Templeton Foundation, which advocates for “the integration of religious beliefs and free-market principles into the classroom.”

The sum of donations throughout the year are staggering, including $8.6 million from the John Templeton Foundation, $3.4 million from the Earhart Foundation and $1.8 million from the Sarah Scaife Foundation

You can read the entire list here.

Vast International Right-Wing Network

While the Atlas Network receives most of its funding from U.S. based organizations, their focus is global. The Atlas Network provides funding and training for organizations throughout the world. These are the regions they operate it in, with the number of partner organizations in each region:

  • United States – 166
  • Latin America – 77
  • Europe and Central Asia – 136
  • Middle East and North Africa – 9
  • Africa – 18
  • East Asia and Pacific – 27
  • South Asia 13
  • Australia and New Zealand – 8
  • Canada – 11

A review of their partner organizations reveals some troubling connections:

  • The Cato Institute – A libertarian think tank funded by the Koch brothers that advocates for far-right pro-corporate policies like eliminating the minimum wage
  • Citizen Council for Health Freedom – A right-wing organization that advocates against  health care
  • Freedom Foundation – An anti-public sector union organization
  • Freedom Works Foundation – A leading voice of the libertarian Tea Party movement

Besides contributing financial support, the Atlas Leadership Academy provides Conservatives with training, coaching and leadership courses. They connect likeminded Conservatives with mentors, best practices, strategies and tools to build right-wing think tanks throughout the world. MORE

 

The “Toxic 100” Worst Polluters

Michael Ash of PERI discusses the “Toxic 100” index, which ranks the top 100 corporations in the US, including the U.S. government, according to the degree to which they pollute the air, the water, and contribute to greenhouse gases. The index assists in divestment campaigns and in identifying opportunities for green growth MORE

The practical ways to reduce your carbon footprint (that actually work)

Want to know how to reduce your carbon footprint? It’s more complicated than you may imagine

In the fight for climate preservation, a growing number of people are planning to relieve the earth of more carbon-chugging entities by abstaining from reproduction – saving the planet a tidy 58.6 tonnes of carbon a year in the process. But we hear comparatively less extreme recommendations all the time: go vegan (or at the very least, flexitarian), take trains instead of planes, browse the rails of secondhand shops instead of Primark.

Tweaks at the individual level can only go so far, and the onus should be on vast, powerful industries to curb pollution, as well as governments to take urgent and radical action on cutting our reliance on fossil fuels. This means joining an activist group or petitioning your local politician are a couple of the best ways you can take action on climate.

Ecocide Law places Canadian politicians in jeopardy

“I began to realise that rights in isolation are not enough. If you have rights, there are corresponding duties and obligations – it’s like two sides of the coin. And what gives enforcement to your rights are the responsibilities that are put in place in criminal law.”— Polly Higgins

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Polly Higgins, Earth’s lawyer, focused on making Ecocide the fifth crime against peace under the jurisdiction of  the International Criminal Court by 2020. Her untimely death has energized her followers to realize this goal.

Polly’s Ecocide act gives primacy of jurisdiction over national governments’ law. It also removes the defence of intent. Whether the intent of an action is to avoid ecocide is irrelevant.  The test is whether the principal actor knew or should have known that their actions would result in Ecocide.

The Ecocide Act focuses on bringing those with principal responsibility for acts of Ecocide, be they corporate directors, politicians, financiers, insurers or individuals, to justice for the destruction of our Earth. 

Several Canadian politicians could find themselves charged under this law.

Here are some possible future headlines: 

The International Criminal Court  charges Justin Trudeau with Ecocide

Image result for justin trudeau The Alberta tar sands and Ecocide are virtually synonymous. Using public money, Justin Trudeau has heavily subsidized  tar sands producers, ignoring the IPCC’s call to reduce climate-destroying emissions; he has encouraged the rapid  exploitation and expansion of Canada’s largest sacrifice zone; he has allowed the development of vast, toxic tailings ponds, ignoring their environmental legacy and threat to humanity and future generations; he has used public resources to buy a pipeline to triple tar sands bitumen transportation to offshore markets.

Trudeau’s defense,  that he was always protecting Canadian jobs, would be dismissed as irrelevant.

The International Criminal Court  charges Andrew Scheer with Ecocide

Image result for andrew scheer

Andrew Scheer is vulnerable to charges because he argues that Trudeau’s efforts to develop and exploit the tar sands are not happening fast enough. As a cheerleader for tar sands development as the lynchpin of the Canadian economy, Scheer would find himself vulnerable.

The International Criminal Court  charges Jason Kenney  with Ecocide

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Jason Kenney’s boosterism of the Alberta tar sands puts him in legal jeopardy. His oil and gas subsidies, his removal of environmental safeguards, and the support for fracked natural gas with its huge environmental footprint and  its serious contamination of water, all can be cited as evidence of his willingness to prioritize Alberta’s economy over his duty to protect the public’s right to a healthy environment. 

The International Criminal Court  charges John Horgan with Ecocide

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Allowing construction to continue on the Site C Dam and the flooding of rich farmland to provide cheap electricity to carbon intensive natural gas fracking operations cannot reconciled with Horgan’s duty to protect the environment.  John Horgan has offered subsidies and tax breaks to B.C.’s single largest carbon polluter, LNG Canada.  LNG development is notoriously carbon intensive. The LNG Canada project would emit 8.6 megatonnes of carbon per year in 2030, rising to 9.6 megatonnes in 2050. Fracking is associated with massive water use (the average frack uses between five million and 100 million litres of water), radioactive waste, earthquakes, dangerous air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Health impacts were removed from the purview of the scientific panel tasked with reviewing fracking.  His support for the Coastal Gaslink pipeline development on Wet’suwet’en territory continues to ignore First Nations’ rights and their opposition.


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