Canada steps forward with an climate policy vision. Activists out in front, will the vision become a model for the Canadian government and other countries?
It’s much easier to draft a vision statement than it is to turn vision into reality
Leaping Forward on Climate Change Policy
Not quite a portmanteau. That was a first reaction to the title and motto of this rethinking of energy policy. The Leap Manifesto mixes two words that can recall a bit too much history. Of course, the ‘Great Leap Forward‘ left historical devastation behind it and any use of the word manifesto can bring intimations of a ‘Communist Manifesto‘. The next era of energy will be a different mix, a new version of what we’ve referred to as ‘eco-nomics’.
The debate over the future of energy production is, as we’ve described it “a generational challenge” and as this generation brings many existing sources and solutions to energy production, the future holds much promise for a diversity of strategies and tactics.
One fact stands out within this challenge and that is the reality that renewable energy is potentially transformational. No one owns, or can own, the sun. The wind blows freely, water flows. Solar is a solution that disrupts orthodox approaches that, at their core, require the largest and most powerful corporate ownership and deeply entwined government solutions. National security definitions will shift as oil- and gas-based production from war-torn regions moves homeward and closer at hand. It is no exaggeration to speak of the need for energy independence at the local/community level, or a shift in a country’s policies that push back reliance on military mobilization and spending and instead move to resilience and independent, sustainable eco-nomics.
The next generation of energy solutions promises to offer a diverse mix and much of this mix can be and should be ‘green’: green as in green politics and green as in green investments and evergreen returns. A green future offers a different economics, one that portends an eco-future with a diversity of environmentally ‘clean’, non-destructive technologies in an affordable, less reliant-on-war energy future.
We note recent statements and announcement that accompanied the world Climate Summit in Paris. Our eyes were drawn to many visionary entrepreneurs promising new, green energy solutions. Apollo-like approaches that would marshal national will stood out even as the realization that the old energy solutions with costs and risks that had grown from ‘perpetual war’ budgets and misplaced priorities, to existential threats to the global environment, climate, atmosphere, oceans, food and water…
We watched announcements of new programs around the Paris meeting, such as:
We observe the world’s richest man Bill Gates saying capitalism is incapable of solving the global climate crisis (and then listen to the resulting commotion as a free-range of talking heads like American’s AM radio king Rush Limbaugh jumps in to defend the way he sees it — “Climate Change doesn’t exist” — and Gates capitally wrong when he speaks of the common good approach of socialism needed to deal with the global security threat of climate change and its impacts.
Althought it seems the Canadian team that drafted the Leap Manifesto, given all of this, could have come up with a better banner under which to march. The ideas themselves resonate, but will the campaign motto deliver the strong call it needs as it’s translated for 200+ countries and territories? Then again, the Canadian model is just one of 200+ approaches and the global climate summit’s range of INDC/climate action plans is about to roll-out in greater detail. Next week, on Earth Day, many countries will be taking the occasion of Earth Day, on April 22nd, to hold a joint signing day of their climate plans.
Of course, each country and the political forces at play will be looking inward at first, to their own interests and costs, attempting to balance ‘common good’ with national self-interest. This politic warns of losing ‘economic advantage’ by being a ‘first-mover’ with ‘bleeding-edge’ costs. This is captured in lines like: “Why should we (the US) install technologies to clean-up our coal plants when China and India haven’t? Why should we pay more when others don’t clean-up?” The pattern of not taking actions that could place a country’s economic interests at risk is playing out: “China is cheating and not spending for pollution controls” or, as Donald Trump has claimed seriously then less seriously, “China created climate change to damage the US”.)
So, within this era of challenge and opportunity, it is time to make choices on how we move, how we choose to act, how we choose to lobby and interact with the political forces in each of our respective countries.
In Canada the activists that have stood up with their Leap Manifesto and brought it to their newly installed government and are now proceeding into an Atlantic to Pacific, Arctic to US border debate, we wish them well. We will be watching and learning as they attempt to go greener.
Consider the response to the Leap Manifesto, a declaration released this week by an unprecedented coalition of Canadian authors, artists, national leaders and activists in the midst of a federal election. It lays out a vision – bolder than anything on offer from political parties – to transition the country off fossil fuels while simultaneously improving the lives of most Canadians. Climate change is presented not just as an existential crisis but an opportunity – indeed, imperative – to make the political and economic system more just and fair.
The smear-jobs started resounding immediately through the echo-chamber of the corporate press. The manifesto was advocating the “overthrow of capitalism,” a “utopia” that could be brought about only through “immediate social revolution.” It would “crash our economy,” throwing millions into poverty. No pragmatic politician could entertain the “manifesto’s madness,” thundered Canada’s national paper of record.
Except all the manifesto’s proposed policies – respecting Indigenous rights, debating a guaranteed annual income, taking back public control of energy systems, funding clean transit and public investment in low-carbon sectors like education, health and childcare, promoting sustainable farming or raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy, and scrapping trade deals that prevent governments from banning extreme energy extraction – are more or less within the bounds of classic social democracy. And scientific studies – cited in the manifesto – have shown that a complete and economically-beneficial transition toward renewable energy is feasible within the next two to three decades.
So what in fact is the madness? A science-based political agenda, or our current course toward 6 degrees of catastrophic warming? Collapsing a corporation’s right to override environmental laws, or a collapsing global food supply? Rising wages, or rising seas? The Leap Manifesto isn’t radical. It’s a way out of Canada’s head-in-the-sand politics.
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The Leap Manifesto
Acting on Climate Change
We start from the premise that Canada is facing the deepest crisis in recent memory.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has acknowledged shocking details about the violence of Canada’s near past. Deepening poverty and inequality are a scar on the country’s present. And Canada’s record on climate change is a crime against humanity’s future.
These facts are all the more jarring because they depart so dramatically from our stated values: respect for Indigenous rights, internationalism, human rights, diversity, and environmental stewardship.
Canada is not this place today— but it could be.
We could live in a country powered entirely by renewable energy, woven together by accessible public transit, in which the jobs and opportunities of this transition are designed to systematically eliminate racial and gender inequality. Caring for one another and caring for the planet could be the economy’s fastest growing sectors. Many more people could have higher wage jobs with fewer work hours, leaving us ample time to enjoy our loved ones and flourish in our communities.
We know that the time for this great transition is short. Climate scientists have told us that this is the decade to take decisive action to prevent catastrophic global warming. That means small steps will no longer get us where we need to go.
So we need to leap.
This leap must begin by respecting the inherent rights and title of the original caretakers of this land. Indigenous communities have been at the forefront of protecting rivers, coasts, forests and lands from out-of-control industrial activity. We can bolster this role, and reset our relationship, by fully implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Moved by the treaties that form the legal basis of this country and bind us to share the land “for as long as the sun shines, the grass grows and the rivers flow,” we want energy sources that will last for time immemorial and never run out or poison the land. Technological breakthroughs have brought this dream within reach. The latest research shows it is feasible for Canada to get 100% of its electricity from renewable resources within two decades ; by 2050 we could have a 100% clean economy .
We demand that this shift begin now.
There is no longer an excuse for building new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future. The new iron law of energy development must be: if you wouldn’t want it in your backyard, then it doesn’t belong in anyone’s backyard. That applies equally to oil and gas pipelines; fracking in New Brunswick, Quebec and British Columbia; increased tanker traffic off our coasts; and to Canadian-owned mining projects the world over.
The time for energy democracy has come: we believe not just in changes to our energy sources, but that wherever possible communities should collectively control these new energy systems.
As an alternative to the profit-gouging of private companies and the remote bureaucracy of some centralized state ones, we can create innovative ownership structures: democratically run, paying living wages and keeping much-needed revenue in communities. And Indigenous Peoples should be first to receive public support for their own clean energy projects. So should communities currently dealing with heavy health impacts of polluting industrial activity.
Power generated this way will not merely light our homes but redistribute wealth, deepen our democracy, strengthen our economy and start to heal the wounds that date back to this country’s founding.
A leap to a non-polluting economy creates countless openings for similar multiple “wins.” We want a universal program to build energy efficient homes, and retrofit existing housing, ensuring that the lowest income communities and neighbourhoods will benefit first and receive job training and opportunities that reduce poverty over the long term. We want training and other resources for workers in carbon-intensive jobs, ensuring they are fully able to take part in the clean energy economy. This transition should involve the democratic participation of workers themselves. High-speed rail powered by renewables and affordable public transit can unite every community in this country – in place of more cars, pipelines and exploding trains that endanger and divide us.
And since we know this leap is beginning late, we need to invest in our decaying public infrastructure so that it can withstand increasingly frequent extreme weather events.
Moving to a far more localized and ecologically-based agricultural system would reduce reliance on fossil fuels, capture carbon in the soil, and absorb sudden shocks in the global supply – as well as produce healthier and more affordable food for everyone.
We call for an end to all trade deals that interfere with our attempts to rebuild local economies, regulate corporations and stop damaging extractive projects. Rebalancing the scales of justice, we should ensure immigration status and full protection for all workers. Recognizing Canada’s contributions to military conflicts and climate change — primary drivers of the global refugee crisis — we must welcome refugees and migrants seeking safety and a better life.
Shifting to an economy in balance with the earth’s limits also means expanding the sectors of our economy that are already low carbon: caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts and public-interest media. Following on Quebec’s lead, a national childcare program is long past due. All this work, much of it performed by women, is the glue that builds humane, resilient communities – and we will need our communities to be as strong as possible in the face of the rocky future we have already locked in.
Since so much of the labour of caretaking – whether of people or the planet – is currently unpaid, we call for a vigorous debate about the introduction of a universal basic annual income. Pioneered in Manitoba in the 1970’s, this sturdy safety net could help ensure that no one is forced to take work that threatens their children’s tomorrow, just to feed those children today.
We declare that “austerity” – which has systematically attacked low-carbon sectors like education and healthcare, while starving public transit and forcing reckless energy privatizations – is a fossilized form of thinking that has become a threat to life on earth.
The money we need to pay for this great transformation is available — we just need the right policies to release it. Like an end to fossil fuel subsidies. Financial transaction taxes. Increased resource royalties. Higher income taxes on corporations and wealthy people. A progressive carbon tax. Cuts to military spending. All of these are based on a simple “polluter pays” principle and hold enormous promise.
One thing is clear: public scarcity in times of unprecedented private wealth is a manufactured crisis, designed to extinguish our dreams before they have a chance to be born.
Those dreams go well beyond this document. “We call on all those seeking political office to seize this opportunity and embrace the urgent need for transformation”. We call for town hall meetings across the country where residents can gather to democratically define what a genuine leap to the next economy means in their communities.
Inevitably, this bottom-up revival will lead to a renewal of democracy at every level of government, working swiftly towards a system in which every vote counts and corporate money is removed from political campaigns.
This is a great deal to take on all at once, but such are the times in which we live.
The drop in oil prices has temporarily relieved the pressure to dig up fossil fuels as rapidly as high-risk technologies will allow. This pause in frenetic expansion should not be viewed as a crisis, but as a gift. It has given us a rare moment to look at what we have become – and decide to change.
And so we call on all those seeking political office to seize this opportunity and embrace the urgent need for transformation. This is our sacred duty to those this country harmed in the past, to those suffering needlessly in the present, and to all who have a right to a bright and safe future.
Now is the time for boldness.
Now is the time to leap.
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1. Acting On Climate Change — http://biology.mcgill.ca/unesco/EN_Fullreport.pdf
2. Providing all global energy with wind, water, and solar power — http://web.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/JDEnPolicyPt1.pdf
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How Can We Afford The Leap?
There are many who will read The Leap manifesto and find the goals worthy and exciting, but who will legitimately wonder, “These ideas sound great, but how can we pay for all the green and social infrastructure envisioned? Is such a plan really affordable and realizable?”
But the answer, in short, is yes. We can afford to make this Leap. All that is lacking is the political will and determination.
The manifesto itself offers a short summary of the options at hand to finance this grand shift in our economy:
The money we need to pay for this great transformation is available – we just need the right policies to release it. Like an end to fossil fuel subsidies. Financial transaction taxes. Increased resource royalties. Higher income taxes on corporations and wealthy people. A progressive carbon tax. Cuts to military spending. All of these are based on a simple “polluter pays” principle and hold enormous promise.
One thing is clear: public scarcity in times of unprecedented private wealth is a manufactured crisis, designed to extinguish our dreams before they have a chance to be born.
Below we elaborate on these ideas, and offer links to further resources. First, much of what The Leap calls for is infrastructure (transit infrastructure, high speed rail, renewable energy infrastructure, carbon zero buildings, etc.), and traditionally we finance such capital expenditures through debt spending (the selling of government bonds). Infrastructure is rightly understood as an investment, and thus it makes sense to amortize the cost over many years.
Much of what is envisioned consists of shifting new infrastructure spending away from traditional projects (roads, bridges, and port and energy infrastructure designed to facilitate the extraction and export of fossil fuels) and towards the green infrastructure we now need.
It also means investing in our social infrastructure—health care, education, social housing, and child-care—with their associated low-carbon jobs.
Resource royalties across Canada are in urgent need of review, and many should be raised considerably. What our provincial governments currently charge in forestry stumpage fees, natural gas and oil royalties, and for industrial water usage is often deplorably low. Setting appropriate royalty rates could raise much needed new revenues for provincial governments and First Nations (on whose territories much of this extraction occurs), helping to finance the transition envisioned by The Leap. In particular, higher resource royalties can and should be allocated to provincial and federal sovereign wealth funds for the benefit of current and future generations, as Norway has done with great success (for more on that topic, see Bruce Campbell’s CCPA report).
As for many of the other revenue options proposed above, the Alternative Federal Budget (AFB), produced each year by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, outlines how many of these taxes (and others) can raise much needed new revenues.
It should be emphasized that budgets are about choices.
Successive federal governments, over the last 15 years have imposed tax cuts (disproportionately benefiting the wealthy), which have depleted the federal treasury’s capacity to spend and invest by $50 billion in 2014 alone (and provincial tax cuts over 20 years have had a similar effect.) Thus the “imperative” for austerity measures in recent years should be understood as manufactured.
The AFB can be found here.
”But to highlight a few options:”
*Ending subsidies to the fossil fuel industry would recoup about $350 million a year for the federal government (and more if provincial governments do likewise).
*A national financial transaction tax could raise $5 billion a year.
*Ending special tax treatment for capital gains income would recoup $7.5 billion a year (and more for provincial governments).
*Returning the corporate tax rate to where it was in 2006 would raise $6 billion a year.
*Tackling tax havens would recoup $2 billion a year.
*A new federal upper-income tax bracket on incomes over $250,000 could raise about $3.5 billion a year.
*Scaling military spending back to pre-911 levels would save $1-$1.5 billion a year.
*Eliminating the recent income splitting and other family-with-children tax cuts would recoup $7 billion a year.
*And a national carbon tax of a mere $30/tonne (the same level as BC’s current carbon tax) would raise $16 billion a year.
The carbon tax option deserves special attention, given its unique potential in facilitating The Leap by driving new green investment by both public and private sectors. We would argue that, over time, the tax should in fact be higher than $30 per tonne. Marc Lee, in his CCPA Climate Justice Project report “Fair and Effective Carbon Pricing)”, has modeled a BC carbon tax that rises incrementally to $200 a tonne (see: https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/fair-and-effective-carbon-pricing). At this level, the tax would truly impact the consumption and investment choices of households and business, helping to significantly reduce GHG emissions. But it would also raise about $8 billion a year (in BC alone). Lee proposes that half this income be used to fund climate action and green infrastructure (public transit, building retrofits, etc. as well as just transition programs for workers currently employed in the fossil fuel sector), and half be used for a carbon tax credit for low- and middle-income households. Such a credit would mean the bottom half of households would be net better offer (meaning, they would receive more in the credit than they pay in the higher carbon tax), thus improving the progressivity and fairness of the overall tax system. A national carbon tax at $200/tonne would raise approximately $80 billion a year.
For a full list of Climate Justice Project reports, many of which offer ideas and plans for how to implement the goals outlined in The Leap, go to: https://www.policyalternatives.ca/publications/reports/climate-justice-project
Our society has managed a dramatic re-structuring of the economy before. When Canada entered the First and Second World Wars, our economy had to be entirely re-tooled for a new common purpose: scarce resources were deployed for the task at hand, Victory Bonds were sold, new taxes were levied, household consumption shifted, core industries were directed to produce the good and services needed, and in the process employment grew dramatically. Is the climate crisis we face today really all that different?
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