It’s way more than the economy: climate change, unfettered capitalism and Canada’s election

BY Joan Baxter

“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” This hard truth comes from a 183-page document that makes a plea for our species to come to our senses and hear “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”.

It’s a powerful cri de coeur for humankind to stop the plunder of the planet, confront climate change and end unfettered capitalism that is driving the destruction and disparity between rich and poor. It continues: “Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change.”

Strong words, revolutionary even. The kind of language one might expect from the environmental or social justice groups often labelled “radical” or “extremist” by the powerful elites these statements condemn.

But they’re not. They come from the Encyclical written by Pope Francis, arguably the single most influential man on the planet as spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics around the world.

Islamic leaders have also added their voices to the environmental cause, issuing an Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change calling on the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to help combat climate change and find a “new way of relating to God’s Earth”.

And for many years, scientists around the world have been saying more or less the same thing, issuing increasingly dire warnings that time is running out, that we have to stop pillaging the natural world and wean ourselves off fossil fuels to save ourselves from climate change. Some are so disheartened by the enormity of it all, so overwhelmed by the way we are trashing the planet that it makes them weep. Not something that normally dispassionate scientists like to do.

Joining the global call to arms to combat climate change are others not typically found on the frontlines of environmentalism. Among them, the US Department of Defense and also the US National Security Strategy, which recognizes that the “accelerating impacts of climate change” give rise to anxieties about “global security”.

“Really, what is more terrifying than out-of-control climate change?”

Some very, very large multinationals and investors are also committing to reducing their carbon pollution that they recognize “is destroying our climate”. Sometimes the neoliberal market “solutions” these economic powerbrokers propose sound an awful lot like the things that got us into this climate crisis (not to mention financial ones and the gross economic disparities that the Pope decries in his Encyclical). But at least they are speaking out in favour of climate change action. The head of the International Monetary Fund says climate change is putting the planet’s future “in peril”. Another unlikely friend of the environment, Citibank, says it will invest many billions of dollars to reduce the impacts of climate change.

Some see the upcoming 2015 Paris climate meeting as our “last chance” to save ourselves and just about other living creatures from climate calamity.

Meanwhile, in Canada

So what’s with Canada? Why is this not headline news every day in our country? Canada is home to the tar sands, where greenhouse gas emissions are the “fastest growing source of climate change pollution in Canada”? We have a prime minister who claims to be so worried about our security that he’s threatened to restrict Canadians’ rights to travel and brought in police-state legislation with Bill C-51 to combat terrorism. He fails to acknowledge climate change is a huge threat to our security, scorning action to tackle it with a carbon tax as “job-killing”.

Really, what is more terrifying than out-of-control climate change?

America’s space agency NASA confirms that we are already seeing the effects — the loss of sea ice, accelerated sea level rise and longer, more intense heat waves, shrinking glaciers, shifting plant and animal (and disease) ranges. And we can expect much worse to come, with more forest fires, more intense and longer droughts, more extreme weather events and tropical storms. The month of July was the hottest ever recorded.

We’ve had a year of weather extremes in Canada and watched droughts and unseasonal torrential storms and hail ravage crops (and thus food supplies) forests, air, infrastructure, water supplies and human health right across the country. All truly terrifying … but still just the tiny tip of the melting ice cap.

Here we are in Canada in the throes of a long and heated election campaign, and with the exception of the Green Party, the words ‘climate change’ and ‘environmental sustainability’ are hardly mentioned.

Conservatives a lost cause, but what about with the Liberals and NDP?

It almost goes without saying that Harper’s Conservatives are a lost cause when it comes to climate action. They’ve shredded legislation to protect the environment, muzzled scientists, waged a war on science and trashed a century’s worth of federal scientific research, withdrawn Canada from the Kyoto Accord, rewritten the National Energy Board Act to fast-track pipeline approvals and stacked the NEB it with their friends from the oil industry. Climate change is not even mentioned on the Conservative Party’s website. Not only are oil and gas representatives and lobbyists invited to meet secretly with Canada’s spy agencies, Harper has also provided the Canada Revenue Agency with funds to investigate groups concerned about the environment and climate change, which the Conservatives have smeared as foreign-funded radical environmentalists. Under Bill C-51, people opposing pipelines or oil sands expansion could be charged with the newly minted crime of interfering with the “economic or financial stability of Canada”.

So we can forget the Conservatives; they’re just not ready to govern for anyone but their wealthy friends on Bay Street, in the oil patch and other extractive industries.

But what about the two other main parties competing for the majority of Canadian votes? While both the Liberal and New Democratic Parties acknowledge that climate change poses a threat and make polite noises about the environment when called upon to do so, neither seems prepared to really give these issues their due in their campaigns.

The Liberal Party website offers four unconvincing bullet points for climate change action, but nothing to indicate that it intends to make the “real change”, betraying its own election sloganeering. The NDP website devotes a page to climate change and to the environment. But both of these look a lot like footnotes with a lot of wiggle room built in, should either party win the election and have to take real action that might upset the corporate establishment and the media it controls.

Although the NDP strongly criticizes Harper’s inaction on climate change, Thomas Mulcair is already waffling on his commitment to take on the oil industry. During a recent television debate, NDP candidate Linda McQuaig, who has written powerful critiques of the role oil plays in global conflict and also neoliberalism (The Trouble with Billionaires) said “a lot of the oil sands oil may have to stay in the ground”. Even though this is something that peer-reviewed scientific research has made clear, Stephen Harper leapt on the comment as proof that the NDP would “wreck our economy”, a talking point parroted ad nauseum by the Conservatives. But the NDP didn’t come to McQuaig’s defence. Instead, it said that it supports oil sands extraction. NDP leader Thomas Mulcair has said, “You’ll never hear me speaking against the development of the oil sands.”

“So we can forget the Conservatives; they’re just not ready to govern for anyone but their wealthy friends on Bay Street, in the oil patch and other extractive industries.”

So if it’s not the critical issues of climate change, the environment and a sustainable, diversified economy that ensures the well-being and security of our food supply, forests, farms, communities, infrastructure and indeed a future for our offspring (and perhaps even our species), what is hogging the attention of Liberal and NDP leaders on the campaign trail, and of the media covering it?

It’s only the economy (stupid as that may be)

According to the media, it seems it’s only the economy, stupid as that may be. In the dying days of August, on his new SiriusXM show, Everything Is Political, Evan Solomon informed listeners that the campaign had now moved from “Duffy to dollars” and that with the trial of Mike Duffy on hiatus until after the federal election, the campaign was finally focused on the real issue that matters to Canadians, namely the economy.

A CBC analysis of the campaign to date echoes the apparent consensus among media pundits that Canada’s 2015 federal election is supposed to be “about the economy”? And possibly because of the media tunnel vision, Canadians seem to agree – a poll shows the environment fifth on the list of election issues, after, yes, the economy – as if the two can be viewed separately.

Only the Green Party under Elizabeth May makes climate change and an environmentally sustainable economy the mainstay of its platform and vision, offering a very detailed and workable plan. But without electoral reform to rid Canada of its first-past-the-post electoral system, a vote for a losing candidate remains a wasted vote. So many, many Canadians that might choose to vote Green and climate action will not because of the imperative to vote for whichever of the candidates they believe can defeat the Conservative one 19 October 2015– often NDP or Liberal.

“Stephen Harper’s absence from the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic sends a clear message to Canadians that the Conservative government continues to ignore the single largest security threat to Canada.  If foreign powers threatened to take as much territory from our Arctic as does the climate crisis, Harper would be mobilizing troops.” Elizabeth May, 31 August 2015

And so the Canada’s election campaign grinds on like a race to the bottom. Stephen Harper continues to pander to his carefully chosen and well-stroked base, and neither of the other two leaders seems willing to say or do anything that might risk the wrath of the country’s 1%, the corporate and banking elites, which have staged the “silent coup” that has allowed big business to take control of Canada’s democracy. None of the three challenges the neoliberal economic dogma that pretends so-called “free trade” agreements negotiated in great secrecy are good for us, even though they give corporations the right to make and break laws and sue the governments that we elect, not in our courts but before secret tribunals ruled upon by lawyers.

Maybe the Liberals and NDP are afraid of the kinds of rabidly nasty Conservative attack ads that were unleashed in 2008 to decimate Liberal leader Stéphane Dion and his proposed Green Shift, which could have done so much for Canada’s environment and economy. But if it’s fear of Harper’s extremist ideology and vicious ads that is cowing them to silence, that means they’ve surrendered before the real battle – to protect the world that supports us – has even begun.

The Liberal and NDP leaders should be forthright with the electorate and courageous enough to speak the difficult truth about the plight we are in and stop bickering over whose deficit is bigger or smaller. A small deficit or surplus won’t matter much when we’re trying to cope with “weather whiplash” (a euphemism for the ravages of climate change from Environment Canada’s senior meteorologist) that bakes, drowns, submerges, freezes or blows us away, spawns conflict and unleashes tidal waves of suffering and untold numbers of refugees fleeing for their lives.

A recent study that shows not one of the world’s biggest industries would be profitable if they had to account for the natural capital they use, such as water, natural resources) or the damage they cause, such as greenhouse gases, pollution, waste. Businesses call these “externalities”, which means they get to privatize profits and the public picks up the heavy tab.

The media could, if they would recognize these inconvenient truths, focus on climate change and the environment as the priority issues they are, and drown out the nasty attacks coming from the nefarious climate-change denial machine funded by the Koch brothers, their Heartland Institute, oil and gas lobby groups, and the ubiquitous presence of climate-change denying trolls online.

If the politicians and the media in Canada were talking climate change and environment the way so many of the world’s thinkers and leaders are, then perhaps the public would get on board, and recognize that these are life-and-death issues for this and future generations of Canadians.

On 1 September 2015, Pope Fracis has called for a World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation to give us all the opportunity to reflection upon “the adoption of appropriate lifestyles” that do not drive climate change and environmental havoc. Here’s hoping some of the prayers will be heard by those campaigning to govern our country.

As Naomi Klein says, this changes everything…or it should do.


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