The post-truth pol­i­tics that pro­pelled Trump and Ford to of­fice were in­vented in the cli­mate wars

NOW Magazine - - NEWSFRONT - By KEITH STE­WART Keith Ste­wart is a se­nior en­ergy strate­gist with Green­peace Canada. He teaches en­ergy pol­icy at the Univer­sity of Toronto. [email protected] | @nowtoronto

It was the most sur­real mo­ment at the un­veil­ing of the On­tario’s new cli­mate plan last week – En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Rod Phillips heap­ing praise on Lib­eral gov­ern­ments of the last 15 years for suc­cess­fully re­duc­ing green­house gas emis­sions.

Then came the kicker: thanks to those ef­forts, On­tario has done its bit, so the Ford gov­ern­ment in­tends to sit out the fight against cli­mate change.

On­tario will not only do noth­ing, but it is also launch­ing a le­gal chal­lenge of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s at­tempt to fill the cli­mate ac­tion gap through car­bon pric­ing, although the Ford gov­ern­ment will sup­port any ef­forts to get pipe­lines built through On­tario.

Not even Phillips could pre­tend that the gov­ern­ment’s so-called plan was any­thing other than a re­treat.

Af­ter re­duc­ing On­tario’s car­bon pol­lu­tion by 44 mega­tonnes (MT) over the last 12 years, the new tar­get is to re­duce them by 18 MT over the next 12 years. When look­ing at the de­tails of the “Made-in-On­tario” plan – and there aren’t many in the 53page doc­u­ment – it’s clear that much of the re­duc­tions that will hap­pen will be due to fed­eral gov­ern­ment poli­cies.

To add in­sult, the Ford gov­ern­ment’s plan is re­plac­ing a sys­tem un­der which pol­luters paid for us­ing our at­mos­phere as a garbage dump, with one where our tax­pay­ers will pay pol­luters for what may or may not be re­duc­tions in green­house gas emis­sions.

This switch is mod­elled on Aus­tralia, where the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment aban­doned a car­bon tax that was re­duc­ing over­all emis­sions and re­placed it with in­dus­try sub­si­dies through “re­v­erse auc­tion.” Aus­tralia’s plan has re­sulted in steadily ris­ing emis­sions.

The Globe and Mail chas­tised the Ford plan in ed­i­to­ri­als and columns as “un-con­ser­va­tive” for its sub­si­dies to busi­ness. But this misses the point about the Ac­tu­ally Ex­ist­ing Con­ser­va­tive move­ment: its de­vo­tion to free mar­kets and small gov­ern­ment van­ishes when faced with a chal­lenge to the sta­tus quo. South of the bor­der, Trump stokes the re­sent­ment of white men as cover for us­ing state power to prop up U.S. busi­ness and run mas­sive deficits to pay for tax cuts to the 1 per cent. In Canada, uber-Con­ser­va­tive Ja­son Ken­ney is de­mand­ing gov­ern­ment-man­dated oil pro­duc­tion quo­tas to ben­e­fit firms that made los­ing bets on the tar sands. As a long-time cli­mate ac­tivist, I can’t help but note that the fake news tricks and post-truth pol­i­tics that pro­pelled Don­ald Trump and Doug Ford into of­fice were in­vented in the cli­mate wars. This in­cludes mak­ing stuff up to ad­vance one’s in­ter­ests (like claim­ing that car­bon pric­ing doesn’t re­duce emis­sions), to cre­at­ing an echo cham­ber to re­peat those claims via tax­payer-funded “news” out­lets that pro­mote the gov­ern­ment line (see On­tario News Now) and third-party on­line lobby groups (On­tario Proud). Most egre­giously, the Con­ser­va­tive move­ment claims that pur­su­ing poli­cies that ben­e­fit the wealthy and pow­er­ful one per cent are “for the peo­ple.” Ford’s aban­don­ment of car­bon pric­ing isn’t a bug for the con­tem­po­rary Con­ser­va­tive move­ment, it’s a fea­ture. So if ask­ing him to be a “true con­ser­va­tive” and sup­port car­bon pric­ing won’t work, what’s left?

In the U.S., pro­gres­sive politi­cians like Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez are work­ing with the youth-led Sun­rise Move­ment to ad­vance a Green New Deal that would di­rect mas­sive gov­ern­ment in­vest­ment into a rapid tran­si­tion to a 100 per cent re­new­able en­ergy econ­omy.

In Canada, youth are oc­cu­py­ing the of­fices of politi­cians as they gear up for a ma­jor Pow­erShift gath­er­ing in Ot­tawa in Fe­bru­ary. They rec­og­nize that a tran­si­tion to 100 per cent re­new­ables presents an op­por­tu­nity to mean­ing­fully im­ple­ment the UN Dec­la­ra­tion on the Rights of Indige­nous Peo­ples and to align with sci­en­tists who say it is nec­es­sary to phase out fos­sil fu­els to limit cat­a­strophic warm­ing to 1.5 de­grees Cel­sius.

From the school walk­outs in Aus­tralia and Swe­den to the youth cli­mate law­suits in the U.S. and Que­bec, where more than 50,000 peo­ple took to the streets to call for ag­gres­sive cli­mate ac­tion in re­sponse to the elec­tion of the con­ser­va­tive Coali­tion Avenir Québec (CAQ) gov­ern­ment, young peo­ple are de­mand­ing cli­mate so­lu­tions that are as big as the prob­lem.

Will you?

Not even en­vi­ron­ment min­is­ter Rod Phillips can pre­tend that On­tario’s cli­mate plan is any­thing but a full re­treat.

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