The Greenbelts

It’s getting harder and harder to follow issues like this with most of the news media retreating behind paywalls or advertising barriers. Governments count on that.

Just so, it was a struggle to find out just why half the province’s Greenbelt Council (along with its president) resigned this week. The CBC article on this is a convoluted mess (which is unusual for CBC). The double-negative in the headline makes it clear how much they’re trying to tiptoe around political sensibilities.

The Canadian Press is clearer, and here’s the story: “the bill would strip power from local conservation authorities and expand ministerial authority on zoning and other potentially sensitive environmental issues.”

Now why would the province need to do this? Sure, there’s that whole argument about red tape blocking development, but these are conservation lands. They’re not supposed to be developed. So let’s be clear: the province wants to develop conservation lands.

Now as the CBC article (ever so tactfully) says, “Premier Doug Ford’s government has vowed, repeatedly, to not allow development in the Greenbelt — a permanently protected area of green space that surrounds the Golden Horseshoe area.”

But who believes that? More to the point, if the conservation authorities are stripped of all authority, who is there to stop them? In today’s dearth of news coverage, who would even notice? Once the decisions are taken from public bodies and put into back rooms, nobody will know the decision has been taken until the bulldozers roll through.

And that’s a problem. As David Crombie says, as we wipe out these natural areas, we’re less and less able to deal with natural disasters like flooding, which leads to greater costs in the future. We also lose habitats for wildlife, and we lose the green space urban dwellers need in order to rest and relax.

The government can dance around this all they like. But decisions on protected land belong in the public spotlight, where the interests of the entire community can be heard, and not only those of developers looking for a windfall.

Energy Environment Media

A Clean-Energy Hatchet Job

Re: Quebec Ink: As Hydro-Québec expands into cleantech, entrepreneurs cry foul

This is a hatchet job, with no pretense of being objective. It reads as a screed from the far right, depending on the argument that government-owned companies shouldn’t be in a market competing against private enterprise. This common argument is used repeatedly in other sectors to undermine essential services, and in this case, it’s being used to undermine Quebec’s substantial investment in clean energy.One one point of view is presented in this article.

Now while I’m no fan of balance for the sake of balance, it does appear that there is a very legitimate second perspective here that the author hasn’t even tried to represent. I representative from Hydro Quebec would probably point out that the people of Quebec are entitled to the best return on their investment, an investment all the more notable because it came at a time when almost all private investment was pouring (still!) into hydrocarbons.

And this is exactly why we need public investment in the energy sector. Entrenched private sector interests lobbied hard, and continue to lobby, against clean energy. They show little interest in doing the research and investment necessary, preferring to rely on profits from oil and gas, no matter how harmful they are to the environment. To the extent that they do invest, they do so in order to undermine competition from clean energy.

This is why I won’t be renewing my subscription to the logic. As I have pointed out elsewhere, this publication is practicing advocacy journalism, pushing a pro-business perspective while ignoring interests and issues that represent the broader concerns of the community.The Logic

Environment Media

Responding to Sky News

I’ll quote this extract, posted on LinkedIn, in full:

Excellent response from a journalist from Skynews Australia to the youth who recently showed for the climate:

” …you are the first generation to have asked for air conditioning in every classroom; your lessons are all made to the computer; you have a television in each room; you spend all day using electronic means instead of walking to go at school, you take all kinds of means of transport. You are the biggest consumer of consumer goods in all history, you constantly buy the most expensive clothes to be “trend”, your protest is announced by digital and electronic means.

Kids, before protest, turn off the air conditioning, go to school on foot, turn off your phones and read a book.

None of this will happen, because you are selfish, poorly educated, manipulated by people who use you, saying you have a noble cause while having fun in the most insane western luxury. Wake up and close it. Learn about the facts before you protest and start by respecting your elders “.

First of all, the youth has a name: she is Greta Thunberg. Here is her address to the United Nations:

Now for my response to the criticism.

Doesn’t the writer see the irony in this: “you are the first generation to have asked for air conditioning in every classroom?” They are complaining about global warming. One of the first effects, especially in Australia, is that it’s hotter.

But a lot of his vitriol is aimed at the use of electronics. “Read a book,” he advises. This is rich. I live in a nation where virtually all of the old growth forest was removed so that people like him could read a book. The paper production industry continues to destroy land and pollute the environment. Now it’s true that electronic media use a lot of power. But there’s no reason why this can’t be – especially in Australia – solar power. That is your fault, not the fault of the youth.

He also complains that youth use all sorts of means of transport instead of walking. Perhaps he hasn’t seen how cities are designed these days. Mostly, there is no public transport. They are spread out over wide areas and gas-fueled cars and buses are the only means of transportation. It is physically impossible to walk most places in a reasonable amount of time. All of that is your fault, not the fault of the youth.

He complains that youth are “the biggest consumer of consumer goods in all history.” The youth, looking at the McMansions and SUVs owned by their parents, might be surprised to hear that. But even they were the biggest consumers of goods, it was not them that created an economy dedicated to consumer spending, where demand is created by relentless advertising and media coverage. All of that is your fault, not the fault of the youth.

He complains that youth should “Learn about the facts before you protest.” We could ask who it was that was responsible for educating the youth. We could ask who it was that created climate change denial, misinformation, and fake news. On this issue especially, the older generation has been actively engaged in making it difficult to learn about climate change. And to this day, with columns like this, you continue to lie and mislead. All of that is your fault, not the fault of the youth.

The fact is, there is nothing the youth can practically do on their own that will make a difference, other than what they’re doing. They own none of the wealth and power that have created and powered an economy that is out of control and destroying the planet. In a world where dollars count as votes, they have no votes. The planet is being destroyed by the elder generation and its industries, and they respond by denying there’s a crisis, by saying they cannot afford to take their foot off the gas, and by blaming the youth.

Economy Environment Labour

The Plant

By now it has become apparent that GM is unyielding in its plans to close the plant in Oshawa as it shuts down this and some US facilities in order to move production to Mexico.

The response of our provincial government has been to shrug its shoulders and say “whatevs”. The response from the federal government has been silence. The response from the progressive left has been protest and (on the part of the union) strikes.

At least the left is doing something, which is more than can be said of our governments. But none of this is likely to be effective. We need to rethink this.

A country’s investment in manufacturing and industry is sometimes referred to as its ‘plant’. And as a result of this and similar shutdowns in the past, the plant in Canada is shrinking. We are led to believe that this is inevitable, as companies will always seek lower wages and less stringent labour and environmental regulations elsewhere.

But if this were simply true, then manufacturing in places like Germany and Japan would be shrinking as well. What is it about these nations that protects their industries?

There are many factors, but I want to highlight one: the close involvement of employees in the determination of corporate policy. In Germany this is called ‘codetermination‘ and you can see the impact in everything from education to industrial policy. In Japan, there is separation of ownership and control, boards selected from within the company, and a process of decision-making by consensus.

This is a stark-contrast to the North American model where – as we have seen with the GM example – decisions are made at the senior leadership level, where the interests of shareholders are prioritized over all else, and are imposed on the company without pretense of democracy or consensus.

The result is that these companies have no loyalty to their employees, and they feel free to shut down plants, close companies (and eliminate pensions), and take other actions that are injurious to the communities in which they are located. And as we have seen, the result has been the overall reduction of the plant in Canada.

And it’s not just old-economy sectors like manufacturing and retail. Even the high-tech sector has been hit hard. And we have lost significant capacity in the failures of companies like Nortel, Backberry and Corel (some of which exist, but are shadows of their former selves). The list of defunct Canadian companies is long and includes every economic sector.

So, when faced with something like the GM shutdown, what should we be doing instead?

Let’s be clear, first of all, about the fact that GM is creating a cost to the economy as a whole, both in the reduction in Canada’s plant, and in the accommodations that need to be made in the communities that depend on that plant. This cost is all the greater when we consider the investment the Canadian public made, via corporate subsidies, to keep GM operational in the past.

Second, we should take the position that it is unacceptable to simply shut down effective and reliable plant infrastructure in Canada. The plant is a part of social infrastructure, and while it is operated by GM, it belongs in a certain sense to the community as a whole.

If GM is not willing to continue operating the plant, then the community and the nation should be prepared to step in to keep the plant operational, if not as a part of GM, then as something else (which could include being a competitor to GM).

We should take over and convert plant that is being abandoned into plant that is organized for, and run by, employees and members of the community. It should not be an option for GM to simply close it and sell it for parts. The cost of closing a plant in Canada should include the cost of replacing it with an equally viable plant under new management.

As a part of a progressive industrial policy, we should be looking to convert Canadian production from an industrial model to a cooperative model, from a model based on wealth and power to one based on community and consensus.

And we should be investing in these strategically.

For example, imagine what could have been done had Doug Ford not painted himself into a doctrinaire corner on environmental issues. Imagine the positive response that would have resulted had he announced that carbon tax money would be invested in saving the GM plant and investing in environmentally-friendly transportation technology.

An entire plant with equipment, infrastructure, and thousands of skilled employees is already at our disposal to make a significant impact in both protecting Canadian industry and acting as responsible environmental stewards. But Ford can’t fix this without admitting that maybe he was wrong.

So instead he shrugs his shoulders and says “meh”, and meanwhile, thousands lose their jobs and a key piece of Canada’s economy, Oshawa’s industrial capacity, is crippled.

Environment Resources

The Pipeline

Justin Trudeau was elected Prime Minister on a broadly leftish program, two key planks of which included reconciliation with indigenous peoples, and environmental stewardship, including especially a response to climate change.

Before the last election, I cautioned that it is a long Liberal tradition to run on the left and then to renege on their campaign promises. Now we’re three years in and most of the promises have been broken. That includes the promises of reconciliation and stewardship.

Alberta premier Rachel Notley could have handled this a lot better as well. It’s not her fault that the U.S. discovered shale oil and that world prices tanked. It’s also not her fault that 44 years of Conservative government didn’t produce the needed pipelines to salt water. But her response hasn’t been strategic, and it doesn’t match what she was saying before the election.

The message before the election was that Alberta should invest in refining and value-added processing for its oil reserves, rather than to simply pipe them south to be burned. There is a future in the oil industry, but not as an energy source. You can be in the oil industry and be environmentally responsible while developing a hydrocarbon-based manufacturing industry. But Alberta didn’t do that.

Even a pipeline strategy would have been much easier to sell fellow-NDP premier John Horgan in British Columbia if it were a part of a broad-based environmental strategy. The two premiers should have met in order to declare a common (and progressive) front on environmental issues. Alberta oil could have been seen as a boon to BC industry.

Completely absent and totally unhelpful in any of this has been federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh. But that’s a topic for a different post.

Trudeau could have emerged as the peacekeeper, crafting a policy that respected the interests of everyone concerned while supporting Alberta in a time of need. Instead, he chose the politics of the bludgeon, choosing to impose a pipeline on a province and a people that clearly doesn’t want it, and in the process betraying his commitment to both the environment and to indigenous peoples.

Because, let’s be clear, the time to ship oil to market to be burned is over. The warnings on climate change are clear. We are already seeing some of the consequences. The cost, both to Canada and internationally – will be far greater than the cost of adapting Alberta’s economy to a post-fossil fuels future.

But we don’t actually have a strategy that takes environmental stewardship seriously. We have, at best, a strategy based on a hope that market forces (along with carbon pricing) will fix this on their own. Oh, they may fix it, but what we know about the market is that it doesn’t care who gets hurt in the process. Maybe it’s Alberta. Maybe it’s indigenous people. It doesn’t matter to the market.

The problem with making promises you know you’re going to break is that these promises aren’t based on any vision except for your own short-term success. And without a vision to sustain them, there is no guidance when things get difficult. And things are getting difficult.