(Mainly) Political Musings from "Sudbury" Steve May, Officer of the Nickel Belt Greens.
Thursday, November 28, 2013
Justin Trudeau's So-Called "Party of Hope" Telling a Dirty Joke to Young Voters
“Make no mistake, the NDP is no longer the hopeful, optimistic party of Jack Layton. It is the negative, divisive party of Thomas Mulcair. It is the Liberal Party tonight that proved hope is stronger than fear.” –Justin Trudeau, celebrating Liberal Party by-election victory in Montreal riding of Bourassa, November 25, 2013. (1)
“I’m actually supportive of the Keystone pipeline because it’s an extremely important energy infrastructure piece for both of our countries. The challenge is to demonstrate that it can be done in the sense that we’re protecting our environment and making sure that we’re making the right gains towards sustainable energy sources in the long run.” –Justin Trudeau, speaking to the Center for American Progress, October 24, 2013. (2)
“There’s a finite amount of carbon you can burn if you don’t want to go over 2 degrees Celsius. That implies if there is more than that [in fossil fuel reserves], that you leave some of that carbon in the ground.” –Thomas Stocker, Co-Chair of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report Working Group. (3)
Chief Weapons are Hope and Fear
My oldest daughter Veronica, should she live a full and lengthy life, will turn 90 years old in the year 2100, hopefully surrounded by her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I often wonder what the world will be like on her 90th birthday – how and where will my daughter be living, what challenges will she and her family face. 87 years seems like a long way off, but for my daughter, it could represent a lifetime – a single generation.
Justin Trudeau wants to claim the mantle of “hope” for the Liberal Party of Canada. Who can blame him? “Hope” is a powerful message to send to voters. Some suggest that it was President Obama’s message of “Hope” which got him elected to America’s highest office in 2008. Certainly, “hope” has long been the realm of politicians looking to create change.
Of course, “fear” too, has long been a political tool – often used by incumbent politicians (but not exclusively), who point to their political foes and tell voters to fear change. In Canada, “fear” has been widely used by the Conservative Party in an attempt to portray themselves as good stewards, and the opposition parties as radical know-nothings.
Both “hope” and “fear”, as political weapons, are often used to reinforce existing attitudes. If one is already predisposed to be optimistic about the future, or is grasping at the desire that change could restore such optimism, it’s likely that a message of hope will resonate. Alternatively, if one is predisposed to view change fearfully, politicians which embrace change will be perceived negatively.
Change is both something to be feared and embraced. The one constant about change, however, is that it is inevitable – and over the past several centuries at least, the pace of change has certainly increased.
Liberal Pitch to Young Voters
It is clear that Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party of Canada are making a very real play for the hearts and minds of younger voters. Younger voters are more accepting of change, and more use to the pace of change. Younger votes have also grown used to different ways of thinking that voters of my generation and of older generations . Generally speaking, the younger generation is more collaborative and less accepting of authority than older generations, which are used to more hierarchical, top-down thinking. As an example, the notion of having a “job for life” was certainly something to aspire to in my parent’s generation – while for today’s youth, the concept seems to be an archaic joke.
The Liberal Party believes that Trudeau’s youthful presence, charm and good looks will appeal to younger voters. Add a considerable dash of policy related to what are perceived to be youth issues, such as reducing tuition, making home purchases more affordable, and offering better daycare opportunities, and Trudeau could be off to the races with under-40 voters.
It’s a good strategy, as far as it goes. But the Liberal Party knows that they’re not going to win any general elections by simply appealing to youthful voters, in large part because young Canadians just don’t have the voting heft of older Canadians. Not only are there more older Canadians of voting age, but older Canadians also tend to vote at a higher rate than do younger Canadians. So, any Party which wants to court the youth vote by offering “change” needs to walk a fine line.
Voters and the Climate Crisis
The biggest challenge facing Canadian voters (and, frankly, everybody) today is the climate crisis. Anthropogenic (human-made) climate change is a global systems-wide crisis which will affect everything: the economy, human rights, health care, international migration, geopolitics and war, and the global biosphere. The deeper we go into the 21st Century, the larger the systems-wide impacts of climate change will have on our lives. Which is why it’s fair to say that climate change is going to impact younger voters, who have longer life expectancies, disproportionately more than older voters.
Now, that’s not to suggest that older voters shouldn’t be concerned about climate change, because they won’t live to feel the very worst impacts. Indeed, many older voters like myself have children and grandchildren which may very well be alive at the dawn of the 22nd Century, and we sincerely hope that they will lead good and happy lives.
2 Degrees C and Runaway Climate Change
The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report (the 5th) indicates that the world is on track to experience between 1.5 and 5 degrees by 2100. The range is broad because it is climate models need to take into consideration a number of scenarios, some of which are based on the rate and timing of emissions reductions. The low end of the range is generally representative of a scenario in which the world is able to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, which has long been an international goal. However, with emissions reductions pledges made by the international community in Copenhagen, we’re likely on target for warming of somewhere between 3.5 to 4.5 degrees by the end of the Century – and that’s if action is taken to achieve those targets.
Make no mistake: a world which is 5 degrees Celsius warmer will be a completely different world than today’s world. Not only will
geophysical features be different (loss of mountain glaciers, arctic sea-ice, higher seal level, increased desertification), but so will the world’s economy (impacted by flooded coastal cities, drought, food shortages, resource wars, mass migrations, failed states).
To avert the high-end of expected warming, the international community has agreed to hold the line at 2 degrees Celsius, beyond which the best science suggests we dare not venture, for fear of triggering positive climate feedbacks which threaten even more warming, faster (such as the melting of permafrost, or the loss of the Greenland or Antarctic ice sheets). The IPCC recently calculated a global carbon budget, which identifies the amount of carbon which we have left to burn between now and 2100 without significantly risking blowing through the 2 degrees C threshold. This carbon budget requires that leave about 2/3 of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground as “unburnable carbon”.
A Dirty Story: A Fossil Future
Current rates of fossil fuel use indicate, however, that we are likely to use up our total carbon budget sometime in the mid 2030’s, thus guaranteeing that we’ll blow through the 2 degrees C threshold.
With this knowledge, there is only one thing we can do to mitigate against the disastrous risks of runaway climate change: we need to get our industrial society off of fossil fuels quickly and make severe inroads into reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. The costs of acting now are less significant than the costs of deferring action to the future. The costs of doing nothing are incomprehensibly large and will doom the future inhabitants of the Earth (our children and grandchildren) to a profoundly poor existence.
We’ve known about the climate crisis for decades, and we’ve generally failed to act on that knowledge. Every passing year has simply brought more knowledge – and more global inaction. Indeed, we’ve been investing in the wrong sorts of infrastructure with impunity – infrastructure which simply speeds up the pace of warming. Building coal plants, mining dirty tar sands and natural gas fracking are all hastening the warming process – yet we continue to invest in props to these industries, because they make money, employ people and service our existing built-form and lifestyles. Change isn’t easy, so we’ve put it off.
Trudeau Wants Youngest Generation to Vote Liberal Against Its Own Interests
Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party wants votes to continue putting off change – at least the sorts of changes we need to start making to deal with the climate crisis (really, we needed to start making those changes when another Liberal, former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, signed the Kyoto Accord). The longer we put off making these changes, the worst the world is going to be for younger people – the very same people whom Trudeau is courting for votes.
In essence, Justin Trudeau wants young voters to vote against their own interests. Trudeau wants youth to vote against their own healthy and happy future.
That may sound overly critical, but I don’t believe it is. I believe that it’s warranted. The Liberal Party has made it clear that they are the party of economic growth – and by that they mean growth of Canada’s resource extraction industries. Oh, they claim that it would be “sustainable” with an eye towards environmental protections. But ultimately, such claims are a dirty joke. Sure, I believe Justin Trudeau when he talks about making sure that pipelines won’t poison our rivers and lakes. But clean water is only one part of environmental sustainability. Indeed, the key part to sustainability comes in mitigating development’s effects on global warming – and that means reducing emissions. It's a joke to think that we can ramp up fossil fuel extraction while reducing emissions - a very dirty joke.
And Justin Trudeau has no plan to reduce emissions. He has no plan to have Canada lead the international community forward towards a real and necessary emissions reduction strategy. By embracing tar sands expansion, it’s clear that Trudeau simply doesn’t see the need to hold warming at 2 degrees Celsius. Oh, he may say otherwise – politicians say a lot of things – but based on some of the other things which Trudeau has said, he clearly wants Canadians to believe that we can both expand the tar sands and reduce emissions.
And that’s pretty much an impossibility, unless we tank the economies of every province other than Alberta. Is that really Trudeau’s vision for Canadian prosperity? That’s hardly a “hopeful” scenario for the future. So it must be then that Trudeau isn’t being honest with voters about something. Are we really willing to gamble with what he’s being dishonest about? Are Canadian youth really willing to vote for somebody because they believe that Trudeau is lying about the tarsands development and economic growth being important to him? More would be likely to think that, based on the Liberal Party’s past track record, the lie is about taking action to reduce emissions.
A Better Story: A Green Future
A real message of hope and change would be one which has at its heart a recognition of holding warming to 2 degrees Celsius through energy conservation, investing in low carbon transport, and a revolutionary shift to renewable energy sources. There is one political party in Canada which is promoting that hopeful, optimistic (and necessary) vision: the Green Party. The NDP, on one of its better days, might at least acknowledge the necessity of the vision, but under the leadership of Tom Mulcair, the NDP has drifted away embracing it. In that respect, at least, I have to agree with Trudeau: the NDP isn’t the party of “hope”. But then again, I never thought that it was, even under Jack Layton – and I certainly don’t think that Trudeau can lay claim to the “hope” mantra either.
Of course, the Green Party is selling hope – but it’s also selling fear. If you’re not scared about the future that I’ve described throughout this post, well, I don’t know what to say. The future we’re headed for – the future which my children will have to endure thanks to our reckless polluting ways – is one which should be feared. It should be avoided at all costs, but instead of dousing the flames, we’re adding more and more fuel to the fire. So it may be fair to say that the Green Party engages in the politics of fear to get its message out to voters – I think that’s the truth. Sharing a vision of a 5 degree C world with voters is a compelling reason to vote Green, in my opinion.
But it’s not nearly as compelling as sharing a vision of a 2 degree warmer world – one where we’ve managed to achieve the 80% reduction to emissions at mid-century by embracing the green economy. Sharing both stories is important – but the most compelling is clearly the storyline about living a healthy, happier life in which distributive renewable energy plays a major role.
The Green Party is actually uniquely situated to tell both stories to voters: about the future that we could have if we get our act together, and about the future we will have if we don’t. We’re uniquely situated because we do the one thing that the other parties, for the most part, won’t: we are consistent with our application of the truth. Even when it’s not what voters want to hear.
I’d like to ask Justin Trudeau how he sees the world in the year 2050 or in 2100 – and how the policies of his party would have led to such a future. I’ve no doubt that Trudeau will paint a bright picture of the future, but by embracing the expansion of the tar sands, his picture of the future will be a lie.
The Liberals' Dirty Joke
Justin Trudeau and the Liberals want the votes of young people. Young people, and frankly everybody, should be concerned about whose interests the Liberal Party of Canada is really acting on behalf of. It’s an absolute certainty that if Trudeau continues to expound tar sands expansion and pipeline development, he and the Liberals are not acting in the best interests of young voters. The Liberals are not offering a vision of hope, and are not offering anything in the way of change. They're just telling a dirty joke to voters.
(opinions expressed in this blog are my own and should not be interpreted as being consistent with the views and/or policies of the Green Party of Canada)