Monday, January 28, 2019

A New Political and Economic Paradigm is Necessary to Confront the Climate Crisis

History teaches us that even the sturdiest economic and political paradigms eventually crumble, often quite suddenly.  My generation remembers the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War.  I grew up at a time when a stand-off between rival nuclear-armed national blocs was the norm. When we dared to think about it, we cringed in fear that someone might ‘press the button’ and initiate the end of civilization.  We prayed  that American and Soviet leaders would have the wisdom not to destroy the world – or if not wisdom, at least the self-interest that lay behind the concept Mutually Assured Destruction.  For almost 50 years, the Cold War was our reality. And then it wasn’t.

Just as the hard-nosed members of the Soviet Politburo and their apparatchiks clung to their increasingly outdated socio-economic system, so too are today’s global leaders hanging on to 20th Century political and economic models that are no longer serving the interests of their societies.  Specifically, it has become obvious that the global climate crisis is one that cannot be resolved by our neoliberal hyper-capitalist global paradigm.

Since the climate crisis isn’t going to go away, there are only two choices: we either accept the end of global civilization within the next few generations, or we get our act together and do something about it.  Up until now, we’ve opted for the first approach, but largely because we haven’t realized what’s at stake.  

It’s not all doom and gloom.  A just transition from fossil energy to renewables will help limit the severity of impacts from the on-going climate crisis.  A new green deal, as many are now calling it, will also create good, local jobs and set us on a path towards sustainability and collective prosperity.  But we won’t get there as long as we continue to prioritize the good of corporate bottom-lines over the health and well-being of people and our natural environment.

The case for a just transition is based on sound economic principles and on a desire to do what’s right.  Some call that desire ‘morality’ or making decisions that consider seven generations.  Or just sustainability.  

This isn’t to suggest that past generations were motivated by a desire to do wrong or cause harm.  This fossil-fuelled world was created with noble intentions – including the desire to lift humanity out of the cycle of poverty and generally make things better.  And to an extent, that outcome was achieved through the creation of our global civilization – albeit with a somewhat spotty record of success.

But today we know that some of the fruits of our past labours include a growing level of inequality between the rich and the rest of us.  It’s also led to the pollution of our atmosphere to such an extent that the physical world is changing in ways that threaten plant and animal life – along with the existence of the very the global civilization that we created.

Armed with the knowledge that climate crisis changes everything, the choice we need to make is whether we continue to muddle along in an incremental fashion, pretending that small reforms to our political and economic systems are going to see us through. No doubt this was what the Kommissars of the old Soviet Union did, right up until everything fell apart.

Today, many are arguing that a better approach is one where we collectively take control of our future and create a new paradigm based on the principles of a just transition and a new green deal.  As Spain’s new Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez this week told the political and economic elites gathered together in Davos, Switzerland -  this idea isn’t revolutionary.  It’s necessary (see:“Green New Deal should not be feared, says Spanish prime minister,” Climate Home News, January 24, 2019). 

(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 Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Originally published as "May: Climate change crisis will need a radical new approach," in print and online in the Sudbury Star, January 26, 2019.

1 comment:

The Mound of Sound said...

After years of puzzling this through, I'm convinced that the impediment we face in decarbonizing our society and economy is the 28 trillion dollars of proven fossil fuel reserves subscribed on the stock markets and bourses of the world. Bursting the Carbon Bubble would wipe out most of that wealth overnight. Pension funds, banks and institutional lenders would be left reeling.

As for the Green New Deal advocated by AOC where would the US find the funds for "a huge economic stimulus targeted at the environmental and climate crisis and social inequality."Trump's treasury secretary, Mnuchin, revealed today that he's going to the foreign markets to borrow another trillion dollars to cover this year's deficit and tax cuts. That's the second trillion dollar deficit in a row only this time it's while the US is enjoying a boom economy. Sometime over the next year the United States is supposed to fall into a major recession.

This time the pantry will be bare. There'll be no money to bail out banks and stimulate the economy. So, how do you come up with the money to fund a Green New Deal? What options are there other than outright wealth confiscation?