Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Future of Democracy in Canada: A Personal Journey. Part VIII: The Erosion of Rights in the Name of Security

The Future of Democracy in Canada: A Personal Journey
Part VIII: The Erosion of Rights in the Name of Security

Here’s brief recap of the scene so far: Our democratic institutions are in trouble. Canada itself, along with every other nation in the world, is facing multiple crises which will impact the lives of each and every one of us. These crises consist of but are not limited to: the crisis in climate change; Peak Oil and the end of inexpensive energy, which will bring with it the inevitable shortage in food. As a result of these crises, our economy will not enter a period of sustained recovery. Our government and media are aware of this, yet they are not engaging you and I in a discussion about what this might mean for our future. I suggest that this is irresponsible in the extreme, but I believe that my own position is compromised by the fact that many Canadians want to remain disengaged from having that sort of conversation as well.

Yes, our governments are aware that we’re in peril. We in North America are going to be particularly at risk in the near future, as we have been the biggest energy gluttons and greenhouse gas emitters around. We have structured the very fabric of our society around the notion of cheap energy and damn the pollution! In North America, the suburban car-culture remains king, even though it is completely unsustainable. Largely, this hasn’t been an issue for several generations now, as our economy has always gone up, Up, UP, and we’ve come to expect that our quality of life will continue to increase as a result. In fact, somewhere along the line, this expectation in "progress" has morphed into an entitlement.

Which is completely in opposition to the reality of the world we live in. Our world consists of a finite set of resources. Expansion can not occur indefinitely. As far as fossil energy resources go, we may now be at the peak of oil production and can expect less oil to be pumped out of the ground every year to fuel our economy, even though demand for that resource will continue to increase. As far as replacement resources go, there are none which are viable, none which are an acceptable substitute for oil.

That means our way of life is not sustainable. That means our lifestyles are going to have to change whether we want them to or not.

Our governments in North America know this, yet we don’t seem to be taking any action to start those changes a-rolling. Instead, we appear to be clinging to the delusion that tomorrow will be like today...only better! And it really is a delusion. Without enough food to go around, I don’t see how we can consider that an improvement over the status quo.

We are globally moving into the Post Expansion Age, whether we here in North America acknowledge this or not.

Let’s do a little mental exercise. You’re the leader of a society which relies on a particular resource, call it oil. Your whole society is structured in such a way that people need to travel significant distances between home, work, and recreation. You’ve not invested in public transit, and instead you’ve done everything in your power to make personal vehicles available to the masses (including the injection of so-called stimulus funding into failing auto companies). You’ve convinced the populace that this is the best way to live, and they largely have bought-in over several generations. The price of oil has remained relatively inexpensive. Your populace has embraced the concept of single-family suburban home ownership, and has invested heavily in property.

Now, there is increased competition for oil from other nations, driving the price of oil upwards. Just as this is happening, no new oil production is coming on-stream to replace depleted fields. You’ve used up the vast majority of oil in your own nation, and are reliant on imports from territories which you do not control. As a result, the ability to price this resource has been taken away from you. If the price ends up going up too high, you know full well that your populace is going to start going bankrupt: jobs which depend on oil will be lost; mortgages will go into default as property values plummet because people are trying to unload their homes on the urban fringes because it’s too costly to travel. Stagflation will occur, and millions may end up homeless. All the while, the price of oil continues to rise. People want to throw you and your Party out of office, and maybe replace you with a group which might have a different idea of how to run things, maybe starting with the capitalist system itself, or taking a different look at land tenure.

What do you do to head this situation off? Well, you can take a couple of approaches. Perhaps you might want to consider investing in the sort of infrastructure that your populace is actually going to need in the future. Forget about highways for personal vehicles which a decreasing number of people will be able to afford to drive on. Maybe public transit is a better option. Certainly you’ve got to figure out what you’re going to use as a substitute for oil. Coal maybe? Renewables such as wind or solar power? How about nuclear? Natural gas isn’t going to last. Hydro might be ok. But nothing seems to be a great fit, especially for the agricultural community. Damn. The whole society is structured in such a way that it’s going to be very difficult to start turning the ship around, even though you will be tempted to try, incrementally. But don’t try too hard, because your citizens, who have come to feel entitled to this way of life, will start to complain very loudly when you tell them that the party is over. Maybe you would have to devise new laws to shut these people up, despite their democratic right to complain, so that you can implement aspects of your program.

What other approach might you take? Well, if the world’s supply of oil has peaked, and supply is continuing to increase, and given that it’s just going to be too hard to turn that ship around, then you’d better be able to assure your public that they are going to get as much oil as possible to continue down the path you’ve been travelling. Of course, this can only be a stop-gap measure, but perhaps it will buy you just enough time to turn that ship, despite the naysayers.
Let me translate this little mental exercise into real-world terms: As Leader of this nation, you start telling your people that they need to think about the future; maybe greater fuel efficiency in personal vehicles or investing a little bit in wind energy. Just so that you can say you’re doing something, even though you know it’s not enough. Meanwhile, you corner the market on oil in one of two ways, both of which amount to conquest. You do what you did with Canada, home of the tar sands, and secure a significant supply of the remaining resource through an agreement which compels that nation to provide you with the resource, even if it can’t provide it to themselves (which is what NAFTA does for oil and natural gas). Or you secure the resource by occupying the oil and controlling the oil fields, such as the U.S. has done in Iraq. Either way, you want to make sure that your society is going to continue on the path it has been on, because you have effectively cornered the market.

Knowing that this situation isn’t going to last forever, though, you’ve got to start thinking about a future beyond oil. Even with cornering the market, you know that the economy is going to be all over the place, that people are still going to be thrown out of work, out of their homes, and suffer from a lack of food. You anticipate civil unrest. What do you do about that?

Well, perhaps you make sure that the foundations for rapid reaction are put into place: you create the mechanisms for a police state in waiting, so that when the time comes, you deploy your security forces to protect the installations and citizens which are vital to the continued economic health of the nation. If that means that you have to write off a decent chunk of your population, and possibly territory, in the process, well so be it, because they’re not contributing anyway. In fact, they’re a hindrance.

Wouldn’t this trample on people’s democratic rights? How can we live in a police state and still call ourselves a democracy? The fact is, we can’t. But when the time comes, people are going to be far more concerned about their own personal security than their democratic rights. Security will trump democracy.

In the United States, some are having a debate about what this scenario means for their Constitution. They’re coming to the conclusion that the Constitution appears to be in the process of being trampled, particularly after Homeland Security laws passed by George Bush changed on paper some of the very legal practices held sacrosanct by Americans since their founding fathers put pen to paper. Many believe that the U.S. Constitution has largely become a historical document.

The groundwork for this future is clearly being laid here in North America, led by our neighbour to the south, with the approval of Canada. Where the U.S. goes, Canada will follow. Hell, our government really has abandoned many of the pretenses of sovereignty already. We’re certainly not going to make our own policy on the environment, for example. And with NAFTA, we surrendered our energy sovereignty. The future will continue to see increasing integration between our two nations.

To prepare us for these dark days ahead, our governments will have to find away to continue to influence the will of the people, so that we will continue to buy into whatever security measures are proposed for our own good. Where buy-in with certain groups of stakeholders can not be achieved (the food rioters, maybe, or simply those opposed to the erosion of democracy), the security measures themselves will ensure that dissent is not on-going. Being critical of one’s government might be considered treasonous in the future. Heck, if you watch Fox News or CNN, in the United States, the mainstream media seems to have decided that it already is.

And when you watch Baird and Harper and Clement call a non-confidence vote by the Opposition parties akin to a coup, you know that Canada can’t be far behind.

What we can do to potentially avert this situation will be the subject of the next Part. That next post may be some time in coming, because right now, I really don’t have a clue what it is we can do to avoid what I see to be an inevitable future. Whatever it is, though, we’re going to have to start doing it pretty darn soon, that’s for sure.

(Continued in Part 9...)


Vancouver realtor said...

Very nicely said, just excellent writing. I see the future in a similar way as you do and yet I see so many option how this mess could be solved. Sadly nothing is happening. Every day I hear people who live in rural areas how they would love to use public transport to get to the city and back and yet they can't. It's a vital part of a state to have a good public transit network. We see it all over Europe. Families with no cars can easily survive and rely on buses and trains. Not in North America, which is just wrong. That would be the first step I would take if I was that nation leader you talk about in your exercise :) Thanks for a great read,

take care, Jay

Canada life insurance said...

Jay: Interesting theory. But I think people who are used to buying and using their own cars for transportation won't give them up until they're forced to. And what could force them to do this? Oil resources depletion, for example. By the time, it will be too late to invest into public transportation. At the moment we should focus on research and we should look for some new alternatives to oil.