Saturday, May 04, 2019

What If?

Remember the heady days of 2015 when Harper was swept out of power and Justin Trudeau along with his chosen cabinet arrived at Rideau Hall to be sworn in? It was a time of such promise, a Liberal restoration hearkening back to that party's progressive past. All that talk of "sunny ways" even if almost no one understood the reference.

Our not-ready-for-prime-time prime minister boasted of the mandate letters he had issued to each of his cabinet appointees. Mr. Trudeau proclaimed that, in his government, each minister would have a dual mandate - to boost the economy and whatever in hell their designated ministry was supposed to handle.

When the entire cabinet is charged with expanding the national economy the government's priority is plain. The economy trumps all else. It, and it alone, holds every vote at the cabinet table. When you think about that, it's pretty sophomoric.

The inherent conflict in a dual mandate cabinet was as obvious as it was ignored. Nowhere was this more blatant than in the environment portfolio doled out to and still held by Dame Cathy McKenna. With time she would use her dual mandate to excuse not properly defending the environment. There's a great clip, I believe from the Council of Canadians, where McKenna hauls that one out to fend off well-deserved criticism at a townhall in her Ottawa riding. Her advocacy for the environment would be soft, soft, soft, soft particularly if it might be seen as unhelpful to economic expansion. Economy -1, Environment - no score.

This, perhaps, goes a long way to explain the cognitive dissonance that cripples the Trudeau government. Who can forget when Trudeau and McKenna strode onto the floor of the 2015 Paris Climate Summit and announced "Canada's back" heralding an end to the darkness of the Harper regime when Canada was regularly denounced as a "climate pariah."

Before long the new Liberal government reached the six month mark and the rockstar prime minister, darling of the Western world, was asked about his priorities. He said that, above all else, he wanted to be seen as a global free-trader which simply corroborated the unbalanced focus on the economy in those ministerial mandate letters.

I wonder where we would be today if the prime minister had issued a different mandate letter to his cabinet, one in which the environment and safety of Canadians replaced the economic-boosterism co-equal mandate in those letters?

Like it or not - and there's nothing to like about it - we're approaching crunch time on the climate, on the environment, on the very survival of humankind and most other life on the planet. In the 12,000 year history of human civilization this is the gravest threat humanity has ever faced and it's multi-pronged. We are in a battle for survival and we're not fighting back.

The British Parliament this week declared a state of national emergency over the threat of climate change. I suppose they must be far more endangered than we are on this side of the pond. What's that? They're not? It's a global threat of existential dimension? We're all under threat? Then why aren't we declaring a national emergency? Oh, I see, it's the economy. We must continue the pursuit of perpetual exponential growth and Canadians, especially the young and future generations, can just lump it.  Only they won't say that, will they? That's because their focus is perverse, grossly destructive, and morally as well as economically indefensible. That may not sound like the government you thought you elected in 2015 but it is.

This is a bad movie and it's about to get far worse. So far we've been dicking around with climate change, greenhouse gas emissions and laughable initiatives to create the appearance of doing something about it. As if. So far they've gotten away with it because the Canadian people have a complacency, a dullness about all this. It seems sort of abstract, something that we can pretend is twenty or thirty years off and who knows what they'll think of by then.

That delusion is going to be shattered next week with the release of an 1,800 page UN report on something a bit different - the ecology, biodiversity and our rampaging extinction of life on Earth.  This is one you can't slough off on the grandkids. It's coming for you - in your lifetime.

Now if that's a jolt ask yourself "who knew?" I don't know how to tell you this but a lot of people knew and they've known for years, a couple of decades anyway. Science types have researched the hell out of it, written up their findings in plenty of papers, even published reports for public consumption such as the Living Planet Reports of 2014, 2015 and others.

These people told us, clearly, even bluntly, that, in the 40-year span of the neoliberal order ushered in by Thatcher, Reagan and Mulroney, and embraced by every political leader since, we had cut the populations of terrestrial creatures by fully half. The next report found that we had driven the population of marine creatures to half their former numbers.

Hint: you can't wipe out half the life on Earth in 40 years unless you're doing something very, very wrong. And, when you have wiped out half the life on Earth in 40 years, it's time to do something very, very different. Only that didn't happen. All those reports, like every other bit of worrisome revelation, was simply flushed down the Memory Hole within a couple of days, erased from public consciousness. BTW - it used to be just half. We're down by nearly two-thirds today.

You don't have experts at your beck and call to advise you on these things. Your government, however, does. It has PhDs up the yin-yang. This stuff didn't go down the Memory Hole for them. The long and short of it is that your government either knew or ought to have known that this catastrophe was almost upon us.

"Knew or ought to have known." That's a phrase with significance to attaching criminal liability. It's no defence to say you didn't know if you ought to have known and every government is obliged to know about every grave threat facing its people. That probably doesn't weigh heavily on you right now but, give it another decade or so, and it definitely will by then.

That trucker who wound up killing 16 players of the Humboldt Broncos is in jail because he failed to heed warning signs that should have averted that tragedy. Your government has failed to heed warning signs but they're on a civilizational scale,  not a team bus.

The 1,800-page study will show people living today, as well as wildlife and future generations, are at risk unless urgent action is taken to reverse the loss of plants, insects and other creatures on which humanity depends for food, pollination, clean water and a stable climate.
What's the bottom line? We have to change, really change, if we want to survive. At a minimum that is going to mean abandoning the neoliberal order and its insatiable drive for perpetual exponential growth. We can't survive the world the Liberals and Conservatives promote yet they're too deep in their embrace of neoliberalism to change. We have to get free of them.


Owen Gray said...

Unfortunately, Mound, that's a tall order.

The Mound of Sound said...

Moments were survival is uncertain are rarely pleasant, Owen.

Anonymous said...

As far as Canada is concerned, Trudeau blew it for us when he passed on electoral reform. Scheer will now grind Canada into oblivion. I will never vote Liberal again and to be at ease with my conscience, I will vote Green.

the salamander said...

.. this may be the most scathing and accurate - and readable - Canadian or internationally & environmentally aimed political observation essay I have ever read.. Why MainMedia & political parties are not picking up on this level of vision and perspective, astonishes me.. they should be erupting off the ferry and beating on your door for permission to link to your writing .. There are others like you.. different, diverse & perhaps more focussed topically - provincially, locally or international.. Climinhaga for one.. Ms Garassino another, Babel on the Bay down thisaway among others.. Michael Harris another. This is not Simon D'Montreal punting creatively or plaintively from the bleachers or the beach.. but down in the trenches with the defensive & offensive linemen in the trenches and the mud. Fine fine work.. it will get a 3rd read and/or more.. It hurts to read - because it says it as it really is.. no flat no fluff.. no shades of grey, or lartisan, short on humour.. uh .. zero humour.. blunt - I wish I had your heart, talent .. horsepower and drive.. the 'pulling together of fact & reason' .. the eloquent expression thereof..