The climate crisis and the failure of economics

Why our economic model fails to explain how we got here on climate.

Climate change protesters block a street in Washington, DC, with the Capitol building in the background. One protest sign reads, “End oil subsidies now.”
Climate change protesters block traffic during a protest to shut down DC on September 23, 2019, in Washington, DC.  Mark Wilson/Getty Images

The first intro-to-economics class often starts with the question: why are diamonds expensive and water cheap? After all, we need the latter to survive.

The answer, of course, is scarcity, a concept at the core of economics. Diamonds are rare and water literally falls from the sky. Were there no scarcity, we wouldn’t need economics. But given that scarcity exists, we have a price system to signal the economic value of stuff — how much of it there is and how badly we want it.

And yet, there’s a key area where prices fail us every day. They fail us every time you fill up your gas tank: Fossil fuels are severely underpriced.

What do I mean by that? I mean that fossil fuels are imposing costs on our environment, our economy, and our future that are not being captured by their price.

That underpricing has consequences. Energy costs are so low and so unresponsive to the environmental challenge we face that they send us a signal to literally keep cruising along, ignoring the pressing reality of climate change.

How is it that a discipline fundamentally based on scarcity has failed to accurately price in the damage we’re doing to our most important, scarce resource: the environment? Naomi Klein writes that the climate crisis is “born of the central fiction on which our economic model is based: that nature is limitless.”

But I don’t think the economic model fails because it denies scarcity and embraces limitless nature. It fails because of its interaction with two things in particular: 1) our tendency to focus on the present at the expense of the future; and 2) the toxic cycle of profit and influence that distorts policy making and blocks the accurate pricing of carbon.

This diagnosis matters because we need to either unjam the model and attach a sustainable price on carbon or recognize that politics as currently practiced won’t allow us to do that, in which case we’ll need to figure out other, bolder ways to fight climate change. The Green New Deal may well play a role in that alternative vision.

When price sends the wrong signal

One can’t overestimate the centrality of price signaling in market economics. The work of two of the most towering figures in the field — Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman — was largely premised on respecting the information in market-formed price signals and critiquing government actions that allegedly distorted such signals. In this framework, minimum wages, for example, are a huge problem as they distort/inflate the price of low-wage labor. Taxes on wages or capital similarly distort behaviors to work and invest.

But the real world shows the theory has often been found wanting. There are literally hundreds of places, both here and abroad, where minimum wages appear to have little distortionary effects on labor markets. Most recently, Trump’s big tax cut for the rich hasn’t led to anything close to the investment boom its proponents promised. To be sure, most card-carrying economists, myself included, still believe prices convey useful information. It’s just that a ton of empirical research reveals that life is a lot more complicated than the simple theory suggests.

When it comes to the environment in general and fossil fuels in particular, the price system isn’t merely failing to work. It’s sending wrong signals, and fatefully so. This is not because fossil fuels themselves are scarce. It’s because their price fails to reflect their contribution to global warming. One recent study put the gap between what fossil fuels (not just gas, of course) do cost and what they should cost, given the environmental damage they inflict, at over $5 trillion, or more than 6 percent of global GDP, per year.

Over the last decade, energy costs grew on an annual basis at a mere 1.4 percent, a touch slower than overall prices, which were up 1.5 percent per year. Last month, the average price of a gallon of gas was $2.59; 10 years prior, in September 2009, that price — in nominal terms — was an almost identical $2.55.

How can that be? Given the increasing awareness of the urgency of climate change over the past 10 years, fossil fuel costs should be higher and they should be growing faster than overall prices, signaling their contribution to global warming.

Why is the price system failing so miserably in such an important facet of our lives and our children’s lives?

Discounting the future

One hint to the answer is embedded in that phrase: “our children.” Whenever you hear a plea made on behalf of a future concern — or, in the case of climate, a present concern that is expected to worsen as time proceeds — recognize that you’re bumping up hard against our unfortunate bias toward the present.

In some ways, discounting the future makes sense. A dollar a year from now will have less buying power than a dollar today because of inflation.

That’s how too many of us appear to think about the future of the environment. And by so doing, we’re unmotivated to spend more now to stave off destruction later, a preference expressed in the resistance of policy makers and elected officials to enact policies to fight climate change.

Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg put not too fine a point on this shortcoming in her speech to the United Nations last month: “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!”

Those “fairy tales” to which Thunberg refers are often told by long-term economic projections that typically leave out the costs of climate change. MORE

Candidates say little on Indigenous issues as race grabs headlines

Elizabeth May
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May. | Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP

Canada’s Indigenous communities had high hopes that their priority issues such as public safety and drinking water quality would be in the headlines during this year’s national election, on the heels of a damning report that found the country hasn’t protected Indigenous women and girls.

But despite race issues being thrust to the forefront in the election amid Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s blackface scandal, party leaders are saying little on the campaign trail about Indigenous inequalities.

The lack of discussion is especially noticeable after a government-appointed commission in June released the results of the three-year Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, highlighting Canada’s complicity in “deliberate race, identity and gender-based genocide.” Some Indigenous leaders were hoping the confluence of the probe and the election would propel the issues they care most about into the spotlight.

“There’s nothing earth-shattering about what the parties are promising right now,” said Veldon Coburn, a professor of Indigenous studies at the University of Ottawa, saying Indigenous priority issues aren’t getting top billing in the parliamentary campaigns. “It’s just a matter of degrees of difference between one or the other.”

Urging all leaders to speak out

In September, the Assembly of First Nations, which represents nearly a million Indigenous people in Canada, released a policy document urging all political parties to recognize top issues for Indigenous people.

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May endorsed the First Nations’ agenda at a press conference last week, adding that if her party took control of government, she would introduce legislation to implement calls to action of both the National Inquiry and the previous Truth and Reconciliation Commission on residential schools.

“It’s time to end the era of colonial oppression and genuinely support Indigenous Peoples’ work and efforts towards self-determination so no one is left behind or excluded from their rightful heritage,” May said in a statement.

Among the top issues presented by the Assembly is clean drinking water. Throughout his 2015 election campaign, Trudeau promised to eliminate all long-term water advisories on First Nations by March 2021. A new report shows 56 long-term water advisories still await removal.

Trudeau is again promising action following the disturbing findings about Indigenous women and girls, but has said little on the campaign trail unprompted.

“The work of the commissioners, the stories they have collected and the calls they have put forward will not be placed on a shelf,” Trudeau said in June when the National inquiry was initially made public.

Since the report came out, Trudeau has said little about how he plans to prevent more murders. In his first speech after calling the election, Trudeau said he wanted to “move forward with everyone” but did not include Indigenous people among the Canadian communities he called out.

The National Inquiry, which split the nation with its use of the word “genocide,” detailed inequities and violence toward Indigenous women and girls and members of the LGBTQ+ community over the country’s colonial history.

“The calls for justice [provided in the report] are legal obligations and not just recommendations,” Native Women’s Association of Canada President Lucy Lorraine Whitman said at an Inter-American Commission on Human Rights panel in September.

Liberals losing support

Trudeau sailed through his 2015 election with the help of Indigenous people turning out to vote, in large part to expel then-Conservative leader Stephen Harper from office. A new poll conducted by Environics Research shows 51 percent of Indigenous people voted Liberal in the last election. This election, the poll found only 21 percent of Indigenous people plan to vote Liberal.

In 2015, Indigenous voters had a 15 percent rise in voter turnout compared with the 2011 election. The result was a record 10 Indigenous Members of Parliament elected to the House of Commons — or 3 percent of the 338 seats, which is proportional to the number of Indigenous adults who live in Canada.

This year, 40 indigenous candidates are running for Parliament, according to CBC News.

Rudy Turtle, chief of the Grassy Narrows First Nation, who is running for Parliament with the New Democratic Party in his hometown of Kenora, Ontario, said at a press conference where he announced his decision to run in July that he chose the party because it has “done more for [Grassy Narrows] than the other two parties.” Kenora has been plagued with mercury contamination since the 1960s.

Turtle’s campaign themes mirror those of the NDP, which is attacking Trudeau for ignoring Indigenous people and other minorities.

“What bothers me the most about this is Prime Minister Trudeau raised the hopes of the most impoverished people of this country, but he forgot to say, ‘I’m just kidding,'” Bob Chamberlin, the NDP candidate for Parliament from Nanaimo-Ladysmith said in September at his campaign office in British Columbia. “The actions certainly did not live up to the commitments.”

Indigenous rights have come up in the party leader debates, although Trudeau skipped the first one in September to hold a rally in Edmonton, Alberta.

During Monday night’s debate the candidates were asked how they will handle concerns from Indigenous communities regarding the expansion of the Trans Mountain oil pipeline. The conversation quickly shifted toward a corruption scandal involving Trudeau’s government.

“I have nothing to learn from Mr. Trudeau who fired the first Indigenous attorney general for doing her job,” Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said. “She said she would do politics differently, and you fired her when she did.”

Scheer was referring to allegations made in January that Trudeau pressured former Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould to cut a deal with SNC-Lavalin, an engineering firm facing corruption charges.

“Trudeau wanted to fight hard to keep SNC-Lavalin out of the courts, but he’s going to drag Indigenous kids to court,“ NDP leader Jagmeet Singh said. “That is wrong.”

In an earlier debate, Scheer did not directly respond to questioning about whether a Conservative government would appeal the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal’s September ruling that requires Canada to reimburse First Nations children who were made wards of the state under the on-reserve child welfare system.

But during a press conference last week at the Upper Kingsclear Fire Department, Scheer said, “It would be appropriate to have a judicial review” of the ruling.

When asked last Thursday during a press conference addressing supporters in Montreal if he would appeal the ruling, Trudeau side-stepped his answer saying, “We have always moved forward in a responsible way, and we will always make sure to do that as we move forward.”

The following day, the attorney general of Canada filed an appeal just days before the Oct. 7 deadline. In a statement released by his office, Indigenous Services Minister Seamus O’Regan said the government wants time to “address important questions and considerations such as who is to be compensated and the role of the Tribunal.”

Not one of the candidates brought up the National Inquiry during the debates.

But with the election in full swing, the government as well as federal public services are required to “act with restraint,” according to Canada’s Caretaker Convention. This means the calls for justice from the National Inquiry will stay in limbo until the new government can reassemble.

Critics argue there is no time to wait. Indigenous women and girls make up about 4 percent of the female population of Canada but 16 percent of all female homicides, according to government statistics.

“If there was a terrorist attack, there would be an emergency action,” said Pamela Palmater, a professor at Ryerson University. “There’s always a reason to not accept genocide.“ SOURCE

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Reconciliation, Indigenous engagement in question ahead of election

Logic supports renewables, not nuclear

The latest edition of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report reiterates that clean power is taking the lead in the world’s energy system and nuclear is not only too costly a remedy for carbon emissions but too slow to deploy.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District operates this 2-MW PV power plant at Rancho Seco, California. Image: SMUD

Nuclear power has continued to decline and is becoming increasingly unable to compete on cost and deployment volume with clean energy sources such as solar and wind.

Those are the main conclusions of the 2019 edition of the World Nuclear Industry Status Report (WNISR), published each year by French nuclear consultant Mycle Schneider. In a gloomy outlook for the industry, the report adds the time needed to deploy new nuclear is further handicapping its ability to reduce carbon emissions.

The report’s authors are convinced the age of centralized, inflexible coal and nuclear power generation is coming to an end, hastening the demise of both energy sources.

Today’s study does point out, however, the 417 nuclear reactors in 31 countries still in operation have a record generation capacity of 370 GW, surpassing the 368 GW registered in 2006.

According to the latest survey, 272 reactors – two-thirds of the global fleet – have been operating for more than 30 years and in a decade or less most will have to be replaced by new generation capacity. “In the following decade to 2030, 188 units (165.5 GW) would have to be replaced – 3.2 times the number of start-ups achieved over the past decade, including 80 (19%) that have reached 41 years or more,” the report stated.

Uncompetitive

In the middle of this year, 28 reactors – 24 of them in Japan – are in long-term outage, indicating they have not generated power in the previous calendar year and first half of the current year. At least 27 of the 46 units under construction are behind schedule, mostly by several years, and only nine of the 17 units scheduled for start-up last year were connected to the grid.

Many reactors are uncompetitive against renewables in day-to-day electricity markets, in particular in the United States, and will shut down a decade or more before their licenses expire unless bailed out by new subsidies. The report explains that of “the prohibitive capital cost of [latest type] Gen-III+ reactors – on the order of $5,000-8,000-plus per kilowatt – 78-87% is for non-nuclear costs”. The authors add: “Thus, if the other 13-22% – the ‘nuclear island’ (nuclear steam supply system) – were free, the rest of the plant would still be grossly uncompetitive with renewables or efficiency. That is, even free steam from any kind of fuel, fission or fusion is not good enough because the rest of the plant costs too much.”

The advance of renewables, on the other hand, appears unstoppable, with solar and wind adding 96 GW and 49.2 GW of generation capacity, respectively, last year. Nuclear claimed an 8.8 GW share. Power output from solar and wind grew 13% and 29%, respectively, as nuclear saw meager growth of 2.4%. And while the estimated levelized cost of energy for utility scale solar has fallen by 88% in a decade – and wind 69% – the nuclear power price has surged 23%.

Even if a realistic carbon price were levied across the world, nuclear would trail renewables, according to today’s report.

“Remarkably, over the past two years the largest historic nuclear builder – Westinghouse – and its French counterpart AREVA went bankrupt,” the report states. Reactors that have extended their lifetimes and made safety-upgrade investments, and whose original construction costs were already amortized, still face rising operating costs as their age increases the frequency and expense of repairs. “Their operating-cost data are often commercial secrets, but aggregated data reveal fundamental uncompetitiveness against most electric-efficiency investments and many modern renewables,” adds the study.

Too slow to fight climate change

One of the biggest hurdles facing new nuclear is the time it takes to deploy the technology, according to the report. New plants take 5-17 years, much longer than the timescale for deploying utility scale solar or onshore wind. That means fossil-fuel plants continue to emit far more CO2 while awaiting nuclear replacements.

“Nuclear new-build thus costs many times more per kilowatt-hour so it buys many times less climate solution per dollar, than these major low-carbon competitors,” states this year’s WNISR. Renewables have a lower carbon cost per dollar and per year, the report concludes.

Fighting climate change and global warming requires scalable, mass produced and quickly deployed solutions such as solar and wind to be installed by diverse actors with little institutional preparation. Nuclear power, according to the study, is unable to meet any technical or operational need its low-carbon competitors cannot meet better, cheaper and faster.

“Whatever the rationales for continuing and expanding nuclear power, for climate protection it has become counterproductive and the new subsidies and decision rules its owners demand would dramatically slow this decade’s encouraging progress toward cheaper, faster options – more climate-effective solutions,” the report states.

Schneider and his team also stressed vested interests in the nuclear industry remain a major hurdle to renewables deployment and seek to strangle competing, cheaper energy sources in order to attract demand and capital. The study asks: “Why should a particular low-carbon solution, unable to compete after half a century, be awarded walled-garden markets and new subsidies unavailable to other low-carbon solutions?” SOURCE

Roadmap to a Green Economy – 10 Guiding Principles

Image result for dianne saxeDianne Saxe: Former Ontario Environmental Commissioner 

Oct 7, 2019:

The call of youth for more ambitious climate action by world leaders cannot be ignored. And politicians who ignore their protests do so at their own peril. One in 37 Canadians showed up for the recent #climatestrike on September 27—around 1 million, or 3% of us. Change is coming! This piece by Dianne Saxe describes a roadmap—10 guiding principles— for the changes that are required to transition to a green economy. It was first published in OpenCanada.Org.

Roadmap to a Green Economy - 10 Guiding Principles, Below2C

Roadmap to a Green Economy

As an environmental lawyer and the former environmental commissioner of Ontario, I have spent 45 years at Canada’s battlefront between the economy, the environment, and law and government. These decades of difficult work produced hard-won, important victories that many people now take for granted. Because of civil society protests, government regulation and business innovation: urban and indoor air is cleaner; the ozone layer is recovering; acid rain, lead and mercury pollution are way down; the pesticides in food are less toxic to people.

But the task Canadians have now is enormously more urgent and more difficult. The climate emergency and the devastation of ecosystems put the very future of human civilization at stake, largely because the lavish use of fossil fuels is destroying the natural systems on which all human lives depend.

“We have reached a point where the best-case outcome is widespread death and suffering by the end of this century, and the worst-case puts humanity on the brink of extinction,” says a 2019 report from the UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

Canada is a major user, producer and exporter of fossil fuels. These fuels have helped make us prosperous, with a high quality of life that no one wants to give up, although they have done so only by ignoring the mounting cost to the natural world. The economic and technological tools that could effectively move Canada toward a low carbon economy would do so largely by increasing the cost of fossil fuels, but raising the cost of fossil fuels has often led to political backlash. This fall’s election is again polarized over a very modest step in the right direction, putting a small price on fuel, even though 90 percent of the money goes directly back to households.

10 Guiding Principles

Given that Canada’s largest emitting provinces have recently elected parties that reject almost all effective actions to reduce climate pollution, it is hard to be optimistic about Canadians rising to this challenge. But the consequences of failure are so dreadful that I feel obliged to keep speaking up. Perhaps it will help to break the challenge down into 10 key building blocks, which together address most of the questions people ask me and will help guide a speedier transition to a green economy:

1. Physics does not compromise.

The climate crisis is not a normal political negotiation between different interests, where solutions come from compromise. The climate crisis is a collision between human beings and physics. Physics, like gravity, doesn’t compromise.

Governments that treat the climate crisis as a “balance” between the economy and the environment are doomed to fail. Instead, our prosperity depends on respecting the limits of the natural systems on which our lives depend. They cannot keep absorbing our greenhouse gases (and other wastes). We’re already so close to the edge of disaster that every extra tonne worsens our chances against an overwhelming health, economic and environmental threat.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has shown us how close that edge is. For a world that is “only” 1.5° hotter, i.e. tough but mostly manageable, rich countries like Canada must cut emissions at least 45 percent by 2030, and emit zero net greenhouse gases by 2050. For a world that is “only” 2° hotter, i.e. less stable and safe than today with significant food and economic damage, rich countries must cut emissions at least 25 percent by 2030, and reach net zero by 2070.

This scale of reductions can only come from slashing the fossil fuels we burn, starting right now. We won’t get there if we burn all the fossil fuels that we have already found, much less keep exploring for more. We won’t get there if we keep investing in new ways to supply, or burn, fossil fuels. We won’t get there by improving carbon intensity while allowing totals to grow. We will only get there if we burn less fossil fuel every year than the year before.

2. We cannot count on magic.

It would be lovely if technology (and planting trees) would magically allow us to continue our current lifestyles without much effort or expense. I think we’d all vote for that; in fact, we’ve been betting the planet on it. But it is not a real option.

But we’ve left it too late to just wait for someone, somewhere, to invent something to make it all easy. Inventions like that are rare, take time, and always have costs of their own. We have to slash our emissions now with what we already know how to do.

Technology and innovation do play a huge role. Solar and wind power, batteries, electric vehicles, LEDs, all make the transition to a greener economy easier, faster, and better for public health. There is enormous scope and financial opportunity for improvements in all areas of human activity, from agriculture to water to conservation and clean energy, and perhaps carbon capture and storage. Once we launch an all-out effort, innovators will likely find greener ways to meet human needs. And planting trees can take some carbon back out of the atmosphere over time, if the resulting forests can survive heat, drought, pests and fire.

3. No one will do it for us.

“States, politicians, and corporations have consistently used bad economic arguments to stall climate action… that it would alter markets, threaten economic growth, harm citizens’ way of life, and kill jobs. This is … cynical and short-sighted.” — 2019 UN report

These arguments amount to either a refusal to believe the physics (“we don’t have to reduce;” “there is no rush”) or a claim that someone else will do it for us. No one else can, and no one else will.

It’s comforting to tell ourselves that our emissions are too small to matter, but Canada is one of the world’s 10 top climate polluters, and a highly visible one at that. The more fossil fuels that we burn today, the more expensive, disruptive and unmanageable climate damage will become. It is cynical, short-sighted and selfish to leave these mounting costs until “later”, i.e. to our kids. If we do, we will have earned their contempt.

Nor will poor countries, who have done much less than we have to create the climate crisis, do the heavy lifting for us. Instead, they will be looking to us for compensation, as they struggle with massive climate damage. And hundreds of millions may try to escape fire, flood, thirst and famine by migrating here. Wouldn’t you?

4. We have lots to gain.

Yes, cutting climate pollution now is an enormous challenge for democratic politicians. Many people may not “want” to do what the climate crisis demands: to pay much more for energy, to use much less of it, to put longer-term, communal benefit first. But physics doesn’t care what we want.

Putting the economy first got us into the current mess, and putting the economy first won’t get us out of it. But Canadians have a lot to gain from reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, on top of the climate imperative.

“Climate action should not be viewed as an impediment to economic growth but as an impetus for decoupling economic growth from emissions and resource extraction, and a catalyst for a green economic transition, labour rights improvements, and poverty elimination.” — UN report

For example, the health benefits from reducing fossil fuel use are worth twice what they would cost. Air pollution from fossil-fuelled vehicles increases dementia and crime, and endangers the health of children, seniors and those who live or work close to heavy traffic.

The worldwide market for green, low-carbon goods and services is already exploding and Canada has many strengths to build on. Energy conservation creates green jobs, and allows families, businesses and public institutions to spend less on heat and more on what matters most. Building complete communities instead of sprawling suburbs slashes commutes and saves taxes.

And the federal carbon price “fee and dividend” approach helps to reduce inequality, by returning 90 percent of the money to all households.

MORE

IMF climate report calls for massive carbon tax in just 10 years to limit global warming

Image result for global climate tax

A global agreement to implement a substantial carbon tax would be the most efficient way of tackling climate change, according to a new study by the International Monetary Fund, the Washington Post reports. An international tax of $75 per ton by the year 2030 could limit warming to 2C, the IMF concludes, although its deputy director of fiscal affairs Paolo Mauro describes this as a “quantum leap” from today’s average of $2 per ton. Bloomberg describes the IMF’s reference to a climate “crisis” as its “most emphatic statement on climate change yet”. It says that according to the fund’s analysis, the Paris pledges that have been made so far by nations “fall well short” of their goal of limiting temperature rise. While Time reports comments from Mauro that the organisation is “not religious about any particular type of measure”, it also notes their conclusion that a carbon tax is the “single, most powerful and efficient tool” to drive a reduction in emissions. The magazine also mentions some of the critiques levelled at carbon taxes as well as the solutions suggested by the IMF, such as tax breaks so that poor people are not hit hardest.

A piece in the Guardian reports comments by Australian treasurer and deputy Liberal leader Josh Frydenberg in which he rejects the IMF’s warning that Australia will fail to meet its Paris target even with a carbon price of US$75 a ton. According to the Australian Financial Review, the IMF says the nation’s economy is still too heavily reliant on coal power for even such a dramatic tax to have the desired effect. MORE

What is Canada doing to protect the environment? Read RCI’s reports

Extinction rebellion action in Canada: measured success


Protesters with Extinction Rebellion occupied a bridge in and out of downtown Vancouver on October 7, 2019. Several bridges were closed across Canada. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

On October 7, 2019, Extinction Rebellion activists blocked several bridges in Canada and succeeded in drawing attention to their message that climate change is an emergency already underway. The movement’s name refers to the belief that the world has entered the sixth global mass extinction event. It’s symbol is an hourglass that represents the view that time is running out.

The group’s first protest in 2018 rallied 1,500 activists in London, England, and has since spread to more than 60 countries.

When compared with the large student marches led by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, actions by Extinction Rebellion tactics are more intense.

Three protesters scaled a Montreal bridge on Oct. 8, 2019, forcing police to shut it down during rush hour. (Simon Marc Charron Radio-Canada)

Dramatic acts sometimes break the law

“Extinction Rebellion engages in non-violent, direct action, where they do dramatic acts. Sometimes they even break the law,” says Patricia Wood, a geography professor at York University and author of Citizenship, Activism and the City.

“They are trying to really draw attention and interrupt our daily lives.”  They occupy urban space in a way that disrupts commutes, they have glued themselves to government buildings and they sometimes wear colourful costumes and use creative signage.”

Some activists, like the one in the background on an Edmonton street, wear colourful costumes to draw attention to their demands. (Amber Bracken/The Canadian Press)

Negative reaction can help, says author

There has been some negative reaction to the tactics, notably from commuters who argue that sitting in their cars on blocked bridges emits more greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. But Wood says that can further the activists’ goals.

“It certainly is annoying and that’s kind of the point, right, is to interrupt and annoy people as a way of really getting their attention around the urgency of this question because, while a lot of people may acknowledge the reality of climate change and the need to do something, there’s…an accurate sense that we’re not doing enough and we’re not doing it quickly enough.”

More action coming next week

Wood thinks the action has succeeded in drawing more attention to the urgency of climate change in that there has been extensive media coverage and efforts by journalists to delve more deeply into the subject, and politicians have been talking more about it, particularly in Canada’s current election campaign.

There will be another week of intense actions by Extinction Rebellion and Wood says she will be interested to see if they grow in size and drama, and whether governments respond. “If governments do not respond to them, I think it’s likely that we could expect to see an escalation in tactics because certainly, the science is on their side. They’re right

Prof. Patricia Wood discusses the tactics of climate activists with Extinction Rebellion.  Watch the video

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