Wednesday, November 23, 2016

With Trump, It's Time to Talk Carbon Tariffs

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” – Donald Trump, November 2012.

The election of Republican Party nominee Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States of America means that there will be dark days ahead for those concerned about the climate crisis. Trump, who has called climate change a “hoax”(see:“Yes, Donald Trump did call climate change a Chinese hoax,” Politifact, June 3, 2016). , campaigned on tearing up the 2015 international Paris climate treaty (see:“Donald Trump promises to rip up Paris climate agreement in energy speech,” MSNBC, May 26, 2016) , and expanding U.S. energy production from the very dirtiest form of carbon energy – coal (see: “Donald Trump, in Pittsburgh, pledges to boost coal and gas,” the New York Times, September 22, 2016).

The chances of a Trump administration putting a price on carbon pollution are somewhere between zero and when hell freezes over.

Trump is already in the process of disassembling out-going President Barack Obama’s meagre climate change initiatives.  The Keystone XL pipeline is being resurrected from the dead (see: “Donald Trump Victory Breathes New Life Into Keystone XL Pipeline,” the Huffington Post, November 9, 2016), and cries of “Drill, Baby, Drill!” are emanating from his transition team as they talk of opening more federal lands and oceans to fossil development (see:“Trump advisor promises a return to ‘Drill, Baby, Drill’,” ThinkProgress, November 15, 2016).

If the writing wasn’t already on the wall throughout Trump’s junk-science fueled election campaign, the appointment of well-known climate change denier Myron Ebell to head the Environmental Protection Agency transition team was like erecting a 10-storey high billboard telling the fossil fuel industry to let the good times roll (see: .“Myron Ebell, the Climate Contrarian Now Plotting the EPA’s Precarious Future,”  InsideClimateNews, November 16, 2016). 

Over in Marrakech, Morocco, at the COP22 climate conference, delegates from around the world are shell shocked.  They’re putting on a brave face, pretending that it’s still business as usual (see: “Climate skeptic Trump makes environmentalists at Morocco meeting sweat,” USA Today, November 10, 2016).  Ultimately,  the international community will have to confront the U.S. as a rogue state – and international leaders like Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had best start turning their attention towards that.

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is already thinking ahead.  Earlier this week, Sarkozy said that Europe ought to consider placing carbon tariffs on U.S. imports if Trump refuses to put a domestic price on carbon pollution.  Talk of tariffs is only going to increase as more regions and nations price carbon – while Trump calls for more protectionist trade policies, and for tearing up trade deals like NAFTA (see: “Trump vows to ‘rip up’ all trade agreements,” The Hill, March 3, 2016).

Not that it will likely matter to Donald Trump, but the World Trade Organization has already given a nod towards legitimizing carbon tariffs to protect business exposed industries that are subject to domestic carbon prices (see: “WTO and Border Adjustment Laser Talk,” Citizens Climate Lobby, undated).  While the federal Liberals haven’t yet released the specifics of their climate change plan, the plan will almost certainly have to include carbon tariffs that will level the field for goods crossing the Canadian border nations that refuse to price pollution.  

A national carbon tariff would also benefit provinces like Ontario, which is rolling out a Cap and Trade scheme in 2017. One of the big criticisms of Ontario’s Cap and Trade initiative is that many of the province’s biggest polluters won’t have to pay into it for several years, due to being deemed ‘trade exposed’(see:“The climate plan and you,” Dr. David Robinson, Northern Ontario Business, July 4, 2016).  The freebie allowances they’ll be receiving from the government will depress the market, and may render the whole initiative ineffective. Premier Kathleen Wynne has been intending on using Cap and Trade revenues to fund a myriad of climate initiatives. With a national carbon tariff in place protecting trade exposed industries, it may be that Ontario can quit handing out permits to pollute. That’ll be better for both the environment and the government’s bottom line.

Carbon markets are popping up everywhere.  China, long deemed a climate enemy thanks to its reliance on coal to power economic growth, has committed to opening the world’s largest carbon trading market next year (see: “China Will Start the World’s Largest Trading Market,” Scientific American, May 16, 2016). In a world turned upside down, it was China that emphatically told President-Elect Trump that he would be defying the wishes of the entire planet if the U.S. opted out of the Paris agreement (see:“China warns Trump against abandoning climate change deal,” the Financial Times, November 11, 2016).

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Originally published in the Sudbury Star as, "With Trump in, it's time to talk carbon tariffs," in print and online as, "Sudbury Column: Time to talk carbon tariffs vs. U.S.," November 19, 2016, without hyperlinks.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Alt-Reality and the Coming Realignment

It's been a difficult time for me, since November the 8th.  I, like so many others, had bought into the mainstream media story that Democratic Party nominee Hilary Clinton had the U.S. Presidential election in the bag.  Sure, I was aware of a late-election surge for Republican Party nominee Donald Trump, thanks in part to FBI Director James Comey's leaked letter about possibly needing to revise his statement to some Congressional Committee or other about Clinton's emails, based on what the media was reporting to be new information obtained from the Federal Bureau's investigation of Anthony Weiner.  I knew it was going to be close – but my faith in Americans to do the right thing remained strong, and although I made plans to stay up late to watch the election results roll in (and to see whether or not Trump was going to concede in the face of those results), I really secretly thought I'd be turning in before midnight.

At least I got that last part right.  I turned the television off and shut the cover to my laptop at a little after 11pm.  At that time, the analysts and pundits were talking about battleground Michigan, but Flordia and Ohio had already fallen to Trump.  And although Pennsylvania hadn't been called for either candidate, Trump's lead seemed pretty strong there.  In Pennsylvania.  I knew it was all over, and not worrying about whether Clinton would concede, I decided to get a good night's sleep – knowing that I was going to need it, just thinking about the next four years.

But I didn't have a good night's sleep.  I tossed and turned and dreamed in fits and starts that Clinton had managed to pull off some sort of bottom of the ninth rally – maybe taking New Hampshire and Nevada, and thanks to the good people of Detroit, Flint and Philadelphia, maybe she had managed to eke out a victory in Michigan and Pennsylvania.  The American people know best, surely. President Trump?  It can't be a reality.

Unfortunately, President Trump was the reality I woke up to.  On my way to work I tweeted that I had just seen Mr. Spock with a beard, because I was certain that I had started this day in another dimension.  The real world was still carrying on as it should somewhere else – with President-Elect Hilary Clinton doing media interviews on breakfast television.  It was just me that somehow got stuck in another universe.

No Skin in the Game

Let me back up a moment, because I think that those reading this blogpost might be under the illusion that I wanted Clinton to win the election.  This is where things get complicated for me, but luckily on the level of actually being able to affect any outcomes, I didn't have any skin in the game.  As a Canadian, I did not cast a ballot in the election.  And as a Green, I think it's fair to say that had I been able to vote, it would not have been for Hilary Clinton.  Therefore, it's difficult for me to even project myself into the U.S. election, beyond acknowledging that had I been a participant, I would have been wasting my time and would have had zero impact on its outcome anyway.

Of course, that's really no different than many of the millions of Americans who voted for Clinton.  More Americans actually voted for Clinton than for Trump (see: "Final Vote Count 2016,", November 13, 2016. The Snopes article also provides insight into claims made by Trump supporters that it was Trump, not Clinton, who ended up with more votes - more on fake news in another blog!), but because of the U.S.'s antiquated and unfair electoral system, the States gets President Trump with a smaller number of votes.  Sure, it's all perfectly legal.  Just for those voters in states like California and Washington where they're still counting ballots – well, I think they know clearly that their votes mattered as much as the imaginary vote that I would have cast for U.S. Green Party nominee Jill Stein.

Climate Change on my Mind

You see, my issue is climate change.  It's not the only issue that I care about, but it's one that I care about deeply.  I think I have a pretty good grasp of the implications of climate change, and I'm extremely concerned about the lack of action we've taken to address what we know will be the impacts of a warming planet.  With that in mind, for me, what happens in the U.S. matters significantly.  The U.S. sidelined itself by not ratifying Kyoto.   Under President Obama, who promised that his presidency would see the rise of the oceans begin to recede, the U.S.  actually regained its status as one of the world's largest oil and gas producers (see: "Despite Protests, Oil Industry Thrives Under Obama Agenda,", January 5, 2015).

With climate change in mind, it's clear to me that the Democratic Party has been a disaster for the planet.  Years of saying one thing and doing another under Obama have clearly (to me) been lost years in the global fight against climate change.  Sure, there have been a number of small victories and tentative steps forward (cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline was mostly symbolic, but it was the right symbol; the Paris Climate Change treaty is a little more substantive, as is the recent Canada-U.S. Agreement to limit fugitive methane emissions). So the Democrats have been a disaster – but perhaps not a complete disaster.

The Republicans, on the other hand, have been a complete disaster for the planet.  There are still actually a significant number of elected Republicans who don't believe in the reality of climate change, and instead subscribe to conspiracy theories which they've mainstreamed for the U.S. (and partially for Canada's) right wing.  If the Republicans ever seized power with a climate change denying President and both houses of Congress under their control, well, it probably would be game over for the planet.

Uhm, ya, so about that....

Looking for Hope Amidst Planetary 'Game Over'

Anyway, all of that's to say that I'm coming at this election from a bit of a different place than most.  I couldn't vote, and even if I had voted, I would have done so knowing that my vote wasn't going to matter.  I've believed that both candidates would fail to take meaningful action on an issue of importance to me.

Strangely, though, the idea of President-Elect Donald Trump gives me hope.  Don't misunderstand me:  my hope doesn't reside in the person of Donald Trump or any of his “policies” whatever it is that they might eventually amount to.  My hope is that the very presence of Trump at the pinnacle of world power might finally lead to real progressive, democratic reforms.  And real action on climate change.

Now, I don't expect the U.S. to march off and change its unfair electoral system.  But Trump's presence in the White House might give Trudeau and Canada's lawmakers pause, and stiffen the Liberal's resolve towards making 2015's federal election the last unfair election in this nation.  The prospect of a frowning, flag-wrapped Trump wannabe in the form of Conservative Party leadership candidate Kellie Leitch might just be enough to convince the Liberals that it's time to try out proportional representation (because it's become increasingly clear that actually listening to Canadians wasn't going to be enough for Trudeau).

No Avoiding Seismic Political Shifts

I think we're going to see some pretty interesting things over the next four years, many of which are likely to be uncompromisingly negative.  Trump, who thinks climate change is a Chinese conspiracy (see: "Yes, Donald Trump did call climate change a Chinese hoax," Politifact, June 3, 2016) isn't likely to go along with the Paris agreement.  He is likely to do a great deal of damage to the environment and the atmosphere.  That's a huge problem.  Who are Americans going to look to for leadership on climate change (and on what's likely to be a number of other pretty big issues)?  A failed and flailing Democratic Party that's in the hands of business elites?  Maybe initially.  Bernie Sanders tried it that way. 

Ultimately, I think it's going to become increasingly clear to Americans that the Democratic Party isn't their friend, and has consistently failed to look out for the interests of Americans.  Either the Democratic Party is going to undergo some sort of internal transformation, or the animosity is going to boil over and we'll see something else emerge as one or two political entities. 

21st Century Fascism - American-Style

Republicans might love the idea that the Democratic Party is about to dissolve, but they shouldn't feel too comfortable.  Trump is no conservative, even if there is some overlap of his issues and what's important to conservatives.  Which side of the issues will moderate and conservative Republicans find themselves on?  Trump's agenda is nationalistic in its outlook – I would call it more Mussolini-style fascist than Ronald Reagan-conservative.  Republicans might quickly find themselves having to choose between their values (economic and social) – and continuing to go along on the populist Nantucket slay ride that Trump took them on.  Without an election for a couple of years, it's not clear to me that Trump is going to get the (relatively) free ride from his own Party that he enjoyed throughout the campaign (and no, I didn't miss the whole Republican 'Dump Trump' brouhaha – but it really did seem to fizzle in the end, didn't it?).

Republicans are ultimately going to have to search their own souls and decide whether they want to be conservatives or fascists.  Yes, fascists (I'll be doing a follow-up blogpost at some point in the near future about why I think it's important to call Donald Trump and his ilk what they really are – and about why I clearly believe they are 21st Century fascists).   And I suspect the Trump bandwagon isn't going to be as crowded with Reagan Republicans going forward.

The Failure of Liberalsim

What's happening in the U.S. is all a part of a global realignment of political interests, due to a rising understanding that liberals and conservatives have both been implicit in the promotion economic and political systems that disenfranchise and impoverish the majority of citizens.  I realize this may sound unbelievable to many, but liberals like Hilary and Bill Clinton, Justin Trudeau and - yes - Alberta NDP Premier Rachel Notley - have been a part of the growing problem, rather than offering much in the way of solutions.  Sure, maybe liberals haven't been as nasty as conservatives, but in some respects, they've actually been more successful than the right-wing at moving neoliberal economic interests forward.  Don't believe me?

Back to Obama and the growth of U.S. Oil and gas.  What about Prime Minister Trudeau, who seems poised to permit massive carbon bombs in the form of B.C. Pacific North West LNG and an anticipated Kinder Morgan Trans-Mountain approval?  Or Bill Clinton's deregulation of the banking industry.  Or the growth of generational national debts?  And none of that even touches on issues of systemic corruption which successive "liberal" governments in both nations (and let's not forget Tony Blair in the U.K. while I'm ranting) which we've come to accept as "business as usual".

No, for too long, conservatives and liberals have put their own interests at the forefront – interests that revolve around the profitability of multinational corporations at the expense of the rest of us. They have not been champions for the average person. Their pursuit of neoliberal economic policies has been reactionary, rather than progressive, when one considers the growing wealth gap between the rich and the rest of us.  What both liberals and conservatives have chosen to champion is the opposite of sustainability.

Renewing Progressive Political Choices

In Canada, it's my hope that the NDP finally gets its act together and figures out that it really does, after all, want to be a champion of the common person.  And for the Green Party, it's my hope that it comes to realize that it has a partner in an NDP which has (ultimately and finally) rejected liberalism.  Greens and New Democrats both need to acknowledge that the only way forward is through the rejection of our neoliberal economic system and poll-driven populism.   The coming realignment may see Greens and New Democrats working together to defeat liberals like Justin Trudeau and Rachel Notley (yes, I said Rachel Notley again – that was not a mistake).

Our problem, going forward, is that fascists like Trump would be even worse when it comes to sustainability – and I'm not just talking about the environment or resource extraction or climate change here.  Trump might want to tear up international trade agreements (although I don't really think he actually will), but he's certainly not going to do away with the the elite-enriching neoliberal economic system and move towards co-operativist capitalism.  More likely, America will end up with a true kleptocracy, where national wealth is laid out like a buffet at a wake, with rich industrialists helping themselves to all the goodies while the body of the 99% lies in state.

It's a brand new world now.  When the mainstream media in the States are routinely interviewing David Duke and the leader of the U.S. Nazi Party for their reaction to Trump's transition team appointments (see: "White nationalists see advocate in Steve Bannon who will hold Trump to his campaign promises," CNN, November 15, 2016) – there can be no doubt that we all woke up on the morning of November 9th in an alternate universe.  But perhaps it's a universe in where the stars will realign – and maybe, just maybe, we might ultimately end up better off for it. 

Admit it: Leonard Nimoy looked alarmingly sexy with a beard.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own, and should not be considered consistent with the policies and positions of the Green Parties of Ontario and Canada)

Monday, November 14, 2016

The Future is Clean & Electric - No Need to Expand Ontario's Natural Gas Delivery System

The following was submitted as a Letter to the Editor of the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal.  It was published on Sunday, November 20th, online as: "Don't expand reach of natural gas."


Re: “Natural gas: most important investment in rural Ontario,” letter to the Editor of the Thunder Bay Chronicle-Journal, from Neil Currie, General Manager, Ontario Federation of Agriculture; November 12, 2016.

For Canada to meet international commitments made in Paris in 2015 - to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and hold global warming at between 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius – there must be a concerted effort to curb the use of all fossil energy.  In this new reality, there is no case that can be made for expanding the use of fossil fuels in preference to relatively clean electrical energy.  Ontario has invested heavily in expensive but clean nuclear power.  Recently, Ontario inked a deal with the Province of Quebec to import clean hydro-electricity.  With Ontario’s on-going investments in the renewable energy sector, and with the closure of coal-fired electrical generation plants, our province has been a leader in clean electricity.  However, more work needs to be done if Ontario is going to continue to do its part to help reduce emissions from dirty fossil fuels.

Real climate champions don’t build fossil fuel pipelines.  That’s the message being received by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Premier Kathleen Wynne.  While fossil energy will continue to have a role to play in Ontario’s energy mix in coming decades, it must be one of decreasing importance over time.  Building new pipeline capacity for an expanded natural gas delivery system – one which is intended not just to compete with clean electrical energy, but in some cases to replace it – is just not in the cards. Those concerned about the climate crisis as I am sincerely hope that our leaders understand the new reality which Canadians find ourselves in.

While the price of natural gas may be low in comparison to electricity at the moment, keep in mind that it is artificially so thanks to the real costs of carbon pollution never having been included in the price tag.  In part, Ontario’s Cap & Trade program, which will put a price on carbon pollution, will begin to incorporate a small part of these costs – costs which are currently being paid for by taxpayers rather than by polluters.  When the price of carbon pollution rises to $50 a tonne, natural gas will look a lot less attractive as an inexpensive energy source.

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture is right to be concerned regarding rising energy prices experienced by all Ontarians – and especially by those living in rural areas.  However, in light of Canada’s climate change commitments – and indeed because of the very real crisis which climate change poses to our health and the well-being of our economy – the solution can’t be to travel back in time to the previous century and build more extensive fossil energy infrastructure which will only ultimately exacerbate the problem of climate change.  Clean, renewable, local electrical energy is the choice for the future – and it’s the only choice that our governments should be considering investing our hard-earned tax money in.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)

Friday, November 4, 2016

Misrepresentation of Greens’ Position on Trade Smacks of Desperation

The following has been submitted to the Sudbury Star in response to a column by Michael Den Tandt published in the print version of the Star (referenced below) and online elsewhere as, "CETA critics have distorted vision of Canadian economy," the National Post, October 27, 2016.  This submission was published on Saturday, November 5th as, "Column: Columnist misrepresents Greens' trade position"


Recently, Postmedia columnist Michael Den Tandt took exception to Elizabeth May and the Green Party of Canada’s unrelenting opposition to CETA - the Canada-European Union Trade Agreement (“Canada-EU deal alive, to Greens’ dismay,” the Sudbury Star, Thursday, October 28, 2016). In his drive-by smear of May and the Green Party, Den Tandt left readers with the impression that Greens want to establish an agrarian society that looks like the Shire from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”, if the Shire were run by Soviet Commissars.  Den Tandt appears to have used little of actual substance in support of this notion, citing only the Green Party’s continued opposition to pipelines and trade agreements.

Had Den Tandt bothered to read “Vision Green”, the Green Party’s in-depth policy and priority handbook (available online for over a decade), he might have been surprised to discover that Greens don’t actually oppose trade deals.  What the Green Party, and a growing number of other individuals and organizations take issue with are the corporate rights provisions that have been inserted into agreements, even though they have little to do with “free trade”.

The Green Party of Canada has always embraced the concept of “Fair Trade” – trade that emphasises national and regional sovereignty, human rights, and the environment.  Fair Trade doesn’t prioritise the rights of multi-national corporations over those of democratically elected governments and the people who produce the goods and services that fuel our globalized world.  Greens have long championed sustainable economic development that enhances our local quality of life as a priority over shifting local wealth into the hands of rich multinationals.

Fair trade is obviously a threat to the successive Liberal and Conservative governments that have bound and continue to bind Canada to trade agreements that are not fair or equitable.  Liberals and Conservatives both have embraced agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the recently signed CETA, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The Green Party’s fundamental issue with these “free trade” agreements is the inclusion of investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions, like NAFTA’s Chapter 11.  ISDS provisions take decision-making control out of the hands of democratically elected governments.  Secret corporate-appointed star chambers rule on how labour laws and environmental initiatives might infringe on corporate profits. Thanks to Chapter 11, Canada has the dubious distinction of being the world’s most-sued country through trade tribunals, with most actions initiated by corporations impacted by federal and provincial environmental regulations (see: "NAFTA's Chapter 11 Makes Canada Most-Sued Country Under Free Trade Tribunals," the Huffington Post, January 14, 2015.

Free trade obviously isn’t working out the way that many had hoped.  While there have been some undeniable successes, these have been offset by the growth of inequality through a widening of the gap between the wealthy and the rest of us. Public opposition to these agreements is growing.   In an effort to confuse and mischaracterize, neo-liberal apologists use terms like “creeping protectionism” and “backlash against international trade” to suggest that their opponents want to shut down trade between nations. Denigration of their opponents’ arguments through fact-free commentary seeks to marginalize a sustainable economic narrative that runs counter to the flagging neo-liberal agenda.

Elizabeth May and the Green Party have always had a strong vision for a truly sustainable Canada.  It is a vision that obviously causes discomfort to those in power, wedded as they are to an economic system that poisons our environment and disenfranchises people. As we move further into the 21st Century, it’s going to become increasingly clear that on a planet of finite resources, the status quo of infinite growth simply can’t be sustained.  Greens, with the help of many others, have already acknowledged these limits to growth, and are moving forward by laying the foundations for an equitable and sustainable society.

(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)