Today, Toronto350.org hosted a teach-in in preparation for the climate change consultations which the Trudeau government has asked MPs to hold.
Avi Lewis — co-creator of the Leap Manifesto — was on the panel. The question which I submitted through the commendable system of written cards (to avoid tedious speeches from the self-important audience members) wasn’t posed to the panel, but I did ask Mr. Lewis about it after.
Specifically, I raised the issue of progressive climate change policies being adopted by one government and removed or reversed by the next. How can we enact policies that can avoid the worst impacts of climate change and avoid being reversed when new governments take power, especially right-wing ones?
Mr. Lewis said that the climate movement doesn’t have an answer to this question.
He began by describing how the right wing in North America has been effective at creating mechanisms to lock in its own policies. Specifically, he cited the network of right-wing think tanks and multilateral trade agreements that constrain the policy options of future left-leaning governments. To this could be added some of Sylvia Bashevkin’s analysis of how centre-left governments like those of Clinton and Chretien adopted much of the thought of their right-wing predecessors.
I went on to contrast two potential approaches to success, the hope that a coalition of leftist forces can work together to achieve all of their objectives (which seemed the underlying logic of today’s event, and much other climate change organizing) and the approach embodied by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), in which they are strictly non-partisan and seek to become a trusted source of climate information for members of all political parties and adherents to all mainstream ideologies.
Mr. Lewis said that he saw little point in the CCL approach, in part because parties like the Republicans in the U.S. are so unreceptive. He also thought this approach has been tried unsuccessfully by the climate movement already, whereas major pressure from a left-wing coalition was novel and might be able to drive change in a government like Trudeau’s.
I remain skeptical about the idea that a coalition of the centre-to-far-left can achieve durable success on climate change. These are critical years in terms of blocking big new infrastructure projects, but solving climate change will ultimately require decades of belt-tightening and sacrifice. Conservatives need to be on board if we’re going to succeed, and tying climate change mitigation too tightly to other elements of the left-wing agenda could impede that. Hence my anxiety about non-strategic linkages with laudable but not critically connected causes, from LGBTQ rights to minimum wage policy to the conduct of police forces.
The big exception in my view is solidarity with indigenous peoples. Around the world, they are absolutely central to the process of shutting down fossil fuel development. In Canada, where the Trudeau government remains either clueless or in denial, they may also be the only ones with the legal power to stop the construction of fossil fuel production and transportation infrastructure that we will all regret.