Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Future of Democracy in Canada: A Personal Journey. Part I: Green Choices

The Future of Democracy in Canada: A Personal Journey.
Part I: Green Choices

In the very little spare time that I seem to have lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the long-term impacts of the crisis in climate which we now find ourselves in the midst of. By the way I phrase my thoughts here, I hope to express to you my own personal bias, which I want to be upfront about.

I joined the Green Party only in 2007, after reading about the Green Party in mainstream media editorials which couldn’t quite agree on whether the Greens were a bunch of loony leftists or neo-con fiscal conservatives slash environmental fascists. I figured with a public personality disorder of this magnitude, I really should check things out for myself, so I downloaded “Vision Green” from the website, and the rest is history.

I self-identify as a capital “G” Green today, and feel very comfortable at home in this Party, even for all of its apparent (and not-so apparent) shortcomings. I believe in the Party and am excited about working with the Party in the future to build upon past successes, with the goal of creating a better Canada for my family and the generations of Canadians not yet born.

Seriously. That’s truly my motivation for being here. I believe that the government of a nation has an incredibly strong influence on the shape and direction of a nation’s future. And I don’t believe that “politics as usual” as practised by the “mainstream” parties is going to achieve the outcomes that I believe are necessary for this country. The Greens, though, have always been out in front of the issues which I care dearly about, and we offer the best array of solutions to achieve the outcomes which I continue to believe are necessary.

By way of an example, the Green Party of Canada has been a leader...on the cutting edge...out in front of public opinion on climate change, and way, way, way out in front of the other political parties with policy recommendations to actually start doing something about it. We continue to lead.

Those of you who read my blog every now and then are probably aware that I am extremely concerned about the impacts which climate change will have on our lifestyles and communities. I continue to believe that urgent action to address the climate change crisis is necessary, or else we will find ourselves at risk of dealing with the consequences of inaction. Green politics, in my opinion, present the most credible choices for Canadians to start doing something about the climate change crisis.

Yet, Canadians continue to reject Green politics. And “business as usual” continues to prevail in our governmental institutions, and within the majority of the business community. Canadians, by and large, continue to express a desire towards “inaction” when it comes to climate change; or at best a desire to look to others to lead, and perhaps to follow with incremental steps.

Hasn’t it been the Canadian way, after all, to debate the issues and attempt to reach a compromise, and then to gently implement change through incremental approaches, eventually arriving at an outcome somewhat in keeping with the public’s perception of where we need to be? Largely, that’s been the way we implement public policy in Canada. One can look at the changes made, over time, to social issues such as smoking, drinking and driving, women in the workforce, etc. Laws evolve and public perceptions change. Sometimes it takes decades, and even today, with regards to those above examples, our perceptions, laws and public policy continue to evolve.

Our democracy is not like living in China, where a central government rules by fiat, issuing decrees which must be followed by its citizens, such as “You shall only have one child” or “You may not access certain internet sites”. Of course, I understand that for those living in China, their experiences might not be the same as what our perceptions are about those living in China, as rule by fiat just begs for citizens to look for ways around the fiat when there is opposition to a decree. I mean, what other choice would you have but to defy the government (and break the law) if you found yourself in opposition to a governmental decree? Just ask a practicing Christian living in China what their experience has been like.

But by and large, the government of China is not bound to use the same incremental approaches for change favoured by those with, shall we say with all due respect to the People’s Republic, a bit more of a “democratic tradition”.

Now, I feel the need to provide some further self-clarification here, lest those reading begin to wonder whether I am advocating Government Rule by Fiat in the name of addressing the climate change crisis. While my blog could head in that direction, it won’t. Through and through, I am a democrat. I believe in democracy, and I cringe when I see the erosion of public power at the hands of whatever elite wishes to wash away the will of the people. The struggle for democracy has been, and continues to be, the noblest pursuit of humanity. In my perhaps not-so humble opinion.

Democracies have faced incredible crises in the past. Not wanting to over-use the example of World War II, but hey, look at what we as a democracy accomplished during World War II. Canada whole-heartedly committed its resources to the successful completion of the war. In that circumstance, the threat was imminent and generally well-understood by a majority of Canadians. Success could be measured in black and white outcomes. And Canadians rallied around the goal of Victory.

And this happened in other democracies as well, for the same reasons. So clearly, democracies are able to get their acts together and address very real threats to their well-being. We can do it. We’ve done it in the past.

Now, some will argue that the World War II analogy is not the best when it comes to discussing an appropriate democratic response to the climate change crisis. I’m one of them. I feel that the circumstances of World War II are far too divorced from the reality on the ground throughout the world today, even though there are parallels, such as facing an imminent threat.

But the outcomes aren’t black and white. How will “Victory” be measured? In the war, the German Army marching down the Champs Elysee was easily viewed as a negative outcome; in our climate crisis, rising carbon emissions from tar sands industries just doesn’t pack the same level of outrage with most Canadians. While both the German occupation of France and tar sands industrial pollution are impediments to “Victory” (the desired outcome), they’re not even close to being on the same level in the minds of the public. And they really shouldn’t be.

In World War II, the “enemy” was also fairly clearly defined. In the climate change crisis, the enemy is by and large Us. And it’s a “qualified” us, because it may be “us” as in 0all of human-kind, given that we all contribute to global warming; or maybe it’s just the “us” that contributes the most, or has benefited the most from the burning of ancient carbon to fuel our economies and provide us with a quality of life unparalleled in the history of humanity.

We all know that we can do better, and I think that the majority of “us” are trying to do better, albeit incrementally. But every little bit helps, right? It sure does. I’d even go so far as to suggest that I believe Stephen Harper wants us to do better when it comes to conserving energy, and hence reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I sincerely believe that, because clearly conserving resources and using them efficiently and wisely is one of the clear fundamental principles of conservative ideology. And it just makes sense.

One can say that we’ve largely been using our resources wisely already. Look at all of the benefits which resource use has given our society. We have far more freedom to decide our own futures for ourselves than our ancestral feudal society did, as those feudal folk were bound to use resources generated in their here and now. The burning of coal and oil and fissuring of uranium has brought us a level of freedom that we, as members of society, will not give up.

We Greens know, though, that we’ve been living on borrowed time for much too long now. The deficit we’ve created has been a generational deficit. The resources which we’ve used up to create this society of ours which we hold so dearly have not been renewed. Coal, oil, uranium once transformed to energy disappears and is not replaced. One-time use only. And we’re running out.

As we Greens know, the trick is to now transform our society into one which is no longer beholden to the single-use non-renewable resources we need to maintain and improve the society we have created and will not surrender. And we need to do so within a particular time-frame, and without destabilizing our society into something unrecognizable in the process. Global warming is potentially that destabilizing presence.

And so is the kind of governmental rule by fiat which runs counter to our democratic principles. We can not transform our society into China (which I’ll use as a stand-in here as an opposition to the concept of “western” democracy) and expect to emerge on the other side with our freedoms and liberties intact. By way of another analogy, Rome crowned Caesar as Emperor and ceased to be a Republic, killing the dreams of its democrats. Sure, Caesar was a popular guy, and maybe he even had the right policies. But when little you and little me hand our power over to the State, even for the noblest of intentions, little you and little me and our little children will always lose, because the State will act according to its own interests, and they don’t always coincide with yours and mine, and very rarely at all with those of the unborn generations who had no say in the decision to abandon democracy. What hubris on the part of the Roman Senate to give away such power, and what hubris exhibited by the good people of Rome to demand that they do it in the first place.

It’s the same with the climate crisis. The way that I see it, we’ve got some choices to make as a society.

A) We dither and do nothing (or so very little that it amounts to the same thing) and suffer the consequences of breaching that tipping point beyond the 2 degrees celsius threshold we hear the scientists talk about as the absolute limit for warming. Likely the “consequences” are going to suck big-time for the majority of the Earth’s population; and it won’t be a one-time thing, either. It will be an on-going tragedy for the vast majority of “us”.

B) We get our act together and wean ourselves off of non-renewable energy to fuel our society, and suffer the consequences which are always brought about by transformative change. Here, consequences are less understood. Could be some good. Could be some bad. Jobs might be gained, but many jobs will be lost. Business as usual is out the door, though, that’s for sure.

That’s it. A or B. Those are the choices.

I think that since you’re reading this blog and maybe are a member of the Green Party, you’ve probably already made this choice for yourself, and you desire that your government also make the same choice you have made. You support B, and likely want to believe that a vast majority of Canadians also support B.

Yet our government does not support B, largely because of those “consequences”. No elected official, though, is going to suggest that they support A either, although by not supporting B, you must be supportive of A. It’s a black and white situation. There is no middle ground. Either we act seriously (B) or act half-heartedly (A).

There are dangers in both A and B. We Greens tend to focus on the dangers inherent in choosing A: the do-nothing option. And that’s because those dangers are well understood. We can relate to climate refugees, islands in the ocean immersed beneath rising tides, the innundation of cities, drought, disease, stalled cars on the highways, violence, death and destruction, war. We’ve seen those things before and are able to extrapolate what the future might be like if we take them all and and contemplate their interactions on a massive, global scale. It’s going to suck really badly.

But the dangers inherent in B are less well understood, and indeed are understated by greens. We talk about Green Jobs, and living within our ecological footprint and feeling good about ourselves, preserving our world for our children. In this scenario, we provide social justice, education, and personal fulfilment. Future generations will live in a society where they are fully engaged in the decision making process, and no longer have to worry about their careless actions negatively impacting climate on a global scale.

That’s where Green politics will lead us, right? Certainly, that’s the future Canada that I read about in Vision Green, and that’s where the Global Green Charter takes us all.

That’s where I certainly hope we end up.

But it’s not a foregone conclusion that we’ll end up there at all if we choose B.

Remember China.

(Continued in Part 2...)

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