Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Green Party wil be in the next federal debates.

Sure, you could look at polling numbers, broad media coverage, the fact that the Greens are now mentioned in almost every news piece that mentions the other 4 or so federal parties....put I'll pick one quote from Maclean's- its referring to the torture report of Afghan prisoners:

"The report has led to calls from the Liberal party, the NDP and the Green party for Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor to resign."

Yep-thats right- no seat in parliament, but it seems the national news media is finally at the point were they're willing to listen to the millions of Canadians who want to hear the Green perspective. I think the Green response to international relations, which is a global response shared by global Greens, of focussing on non-violent solutions may finally be starting to get some play. My own personal views on the Afghanistan mission aren't really in line with any political party, but the idea of applying non-violence (physical or psychological) in prisoner interrogation shouldn't be up for debate.

p.s. I'm still getting to the Dion/May thing, but gotta move home/work on the weekend.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Wolf's cries, economists, climate models, national vision, rhetoric & miracles-all in one!

Cry Wolf?

So I checked Andrew Coyne's latest column, and was pleased to see that he took a nuanced, intelligent view on our near-term emissions scenarios. I think that the economic analysis does stand for the short term (4 or 5 years), and the idea of cutting about 40% in five years is a little ridiculous. Those who know my politics know that I'd never, ever, agree with John Baird if I had significant doubts- but sometimes our political enemies are right. Then again, if we really think outside the box, the standard economic analysis is useless anyway (more on this later on in the post)

Economics & hard science
As someone who has taken Economics of Climate Change, I think that our actual hard emissions targets of ~40% should be on at least a ten-year time basis, not 5 years. Quite honestly, the European leaders (who took much longer than 5 years to make their cuts) would probably say that its a better idea to make deeper cuts, but on longer time-scales. Anyone who has knows the difference between an atmosphere model and a coupled Global Climate Model (aka General Circulation Model) knows that screwing around with Canadian targets over the next two years isn't our most important priorities- it is making sure we spend our next couple of years developing a strategy for Global emissions stabilization before I'm dead.
Quite frankly, if we end up missing our average by say 500 or 1000 Mt (total over five years to 2012), its not a big deal. What is a big deal is if we don't spend the next five years making sure we're ready to cuts tens of thousands on a ten/twenty year timescale. If we push in the wrong places for deep cuts in the next three years and use up political/human/monetary capital in such a way that it jeopardizes our ability to make deep cuts in the future, we'll be screwing our children's future for the sake of feeling good in the next few years.
This doesn't come from some complex climate model- just the knowledge that climate works on timescales of centuries, so we need to be thinking on that time-scale too.

Of course, there might be a way to pull off some pretty deep cuts in a sustainable way in the next couple of years too- but for that we'd need a specific national zeitgeist, so I'll deal with the national politics part first.

So we've been spending rather a lot time being high and mighty about the ridiculous record of non-action by the Liberals (unless, of course, you are a liberal, in which case you're a) hiding in shame or b) spinning like mad)---but if we had been that high and mighty in the early, mid, late 90s, or even five years ago, with anything like the moral outrage we claim to have now, I doubt the liberal record would be the same. Again, those of you who know my politics know that I don't spin on behalf of the Liberal party here, and I am certainly spitting mad that the Liberals didn't use the political capital they could have (there was certainly some!) to do something. However, at the end of the day, Canadians didn't demand with strong united voices for drastic action- and we have only ourselves to blame. Political parties certainly didn't help, but scapegoating won't either.
Now, it sucks that we weren't smart and actually did it on the original time-table- but its time to stop crying over spilt milk.
When Churchill came to power in '39 he didn't spend much time blaming his predecessors for not building the planes/boats/training troops- there wasn't time to do so, and he had to get all of parliament, and more importantly, every single Brit, on board. Perhaps even more importantly, he didn't claim it would be 'easy' needing only 'political will.' Some environmentalists erroneously claim these things- they don't realize that the optimistic scenarios often do silly things like count the reduction wedges 'twice' (once in the BAU scenario, and again in the optimistic scenario). Too many so-called leaders are saying that it'll be just a little tweak there or here- but the environmentalists, ecologists, ecological economists and energy analysts know we have BIG change in front of us, not little tweaks.
This doesn't mean the BIG changes are impossible, or even bad, or that the 'economic' interests will somehow prevent action. I'm gonna pull a long excerpt from an essay I wrote recently:


When we go through history and examine how humanity has overcome enormous challenges, we find that the only way to fight problems that seem insurmountable to any ‘reasonable’ individual or group is to inspire them. It should be noted that inspiring people does not mean covering up, ignoring, or belittling the scope of such problems- Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy never pretended that the Battle of Britain, racism, or getting to the moon were problems that were easy to solve.

They did however, master the language in which they spoke to the people and motivate them to make incredible personal sacrifices.

Winston Churchill, facing a war which to many seemed just as insurmountable as environmental problems seem today, certainly didn’t downplay the degree of sacrifice, instead, he had “ nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." Yet he wanted his beleaguered nation to not “speak of darker days: let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days,” showing the optimistic attitude needed to continue. As many environmentalist alarmists speak of dark days, even claiming that only breeding pairs of humans may survive , it must be remembered that the retooling of entire economies and huge personal sacrifices is not an unprecedented task. Churchill reminded us that in a “supreme emergency we shall not hesitate to take every step, even the most drastic, to call forth from our people the last ounce and the last inch of effort of which they are capable. The interests of property, the hours of labour, are nothing compared with the struggle of life and honour, for right and freedom,” . Britain engineered its entire economy on a scale so drastic that fully 50% of its economy was absorbed for the military, showing what is truly possible with inspiration. This figure truly puts into perspective the small amount of investments of a few percent of GDP called for by today’s economists to mitigate dangers of climate change . It should be remembered that Britons were not scolded by some small unrepresentative NGO harping on morality (as we see in too many environmentalists’ groups today) , instead every single Briton was inspired by a national leader.
Churchill made a clarion-call for participation from all levels of society in the world war: “everyone, man and woman, old and young, hale and halt; service in a thousand forms is open. (…) The mine, the factory, (…), the chair of the scientist, the pulpit of the preacher - from the highest to the humblest tasks, all are of equal honour; all have their part to play,” . In World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity the authors also ask for participation from all actors in society: scientists, industry leaders, religious leaders and ‘the world’s peoples’. Given that climate change will affect every person, and every person will be called upon to do their part, the language use of ‘honour’ and ‘highest to humblest tasks’ must start to permeate the environmental movement.
The sweltering heat caused by greenhouse gases must be addressed with the same fervour Martin Luther King addressed “ a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression,”. It is no mistake that every sentence in that part of Martin Luther King’s speech begins with “I have a dream”—in the situation he was facing, the idea that the deeply entrenched racism of the southern states could be transformed into “oases of freedom and justice” could only be described in terms of dreams. Hard-headed economic analysis reveals that those who think we have the technology to fix the problem are dreaming and “core values” of material wealth must be changed in order to fix the problem . Martin Luther King faced, essentially, the same problem - there was no solution ready to go to fix the problem and core values of all of society had to be changed – but in the present world where the grave injustices of racism have been improved dramatically, his legacy is that dreams often have more power than any hard-headed economic analysis ever will.
Just as in war, we must retool our entire economies in order to survive- the French president recently called for a new industrial ‘revolution’ to fight “guilty selfishness” but in order for such vast projects to succeed on a global level “ the most strenuous exertions must be made by all. As to the form which those exertions take, that is for each partner in the grand alliance to judge for himself in consultation with others and in harmony with the general scheme,” (Churchill, Speech to the Canadian Parliament, December 1941). Again, it must be noted that in order to accomplish grand objectives, every single person must judge for themselves-only then can ‘the most strenuous exertions’ be made. Environmental rhetoric has always focused on the power of the individual, but all to often forgets that each individual must be so inspired that after they come to their own personal conclusions they are willing to fit into a ‘grand scheme.’


Now, I'm a 'dyed deep green in the wool,' 'hard-core,' 'chicken-little,' 'sky is falling' fanatic who thinks we have a major problem with our entire biosphere. I feel like I've been channeling James Lovelock's "Revenge of Gaia" all this year, and that all my profs have too. I'm scared shitless. I'm gonna point later on this, but I'd like to make one point here- despite how I feel, I'm absolutely convinced we're gonna make it through this shit. In moments of stress, tribal organisms display incredible examples of personal self-sacrifice and altruism. This isn't some airy-faery political theory- it is how species survive. I still think that if we buckle down, we'll be able to propagate most of our genetic heritage (not our overall population size) to our grandchildren, and pass them a self-regulating biosphere so that they can do the same for their grandchildren. The silliness of present Canadian political discourse is nothing compared to the rise all around the world as our species faces its first real threat.

A Martin Luther King's maxim: “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.”

We all hope we'll have a flourishing human world that has made its just peace with Gaia by the time the children of 2100 are born. Hope is all we really have- but with the greatest adapters that evolution has ever produced- its all we need.

P.S. For any McGill political hacks reading this- I am working on a reply re: Dion/May deal, but it'll be another couple of days.

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