Is the Leap Manifesto at risk of easy reversal?

Today, 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.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

16 thoughts on “Is the Leap Manifesto at risk of easy reversal?”

  1. Another very different approach to preventing catastrophic climate change is to enact technocratic solutions which people barely notice. The plausibility of this is sharply diminished by the political power of the fossil fuel industry combined with how politicians tend to be both scientifically ignorant and driven by short-term economic issues rather than any matter of long-term importance.

  2. Avi and Klein stand firmly behind the evil of the neo-liberal economic systems around the world. Their approach is towards small, sustainable and community based development. The world is so complex now and it is hard to know what would work best to create a wave of support for the climate change movement. Although people now agree that it exists, really only the large fossil fuel companies and other extractors can put an end to further exploration and exploitation. Indigenous people have stood their ground on protecting the earth, but corporations will not stop unless it is no longer profitable. I do feel excited about the future role of our native people and the role model they can become to our society in relation to the environment.

  3. Sorry, pundits of Canada. The Leap will bring us together
    Avi Lewis

    It’s time to speak some truth about this controversial document. In fact, the Leap Manifesto came out of a meeting (yes, held in Toronto) that brought together dozens of social-movement activists from six provinces: Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Saskatchewan, B.C. and Alberta. It is a consensus statement – literally written by committee – that reflects a common vision from across a spectrum of different causes.

    That meeting was attended by First Nations living downstream from the tar sands and leaders from some of the biggest trade unions in Canada. There were refugee advocates, anti-poverty activists, and environmentalists of many stripes (yes, there is a huge range.)

    While much has been said about the Leap Manifesto’s controversial call for no new fossil-fuel infrastructure, the other 14 demands in the document reflect a strong progressive consensus in Canada. The need for a green energy revolution, massive reinvestment in health, education and child care, big spending on transit and housing and respecting indigenous land rights – these may be framed with urgency in the Leap Manifesto, but they are hardly controversial.

    What makes the Leap different is that it connects the dots, showing how all these demands are integral to a fair and ambitious response to climate change. It’s not a list – it’s a story.

  4. The Democrats’ nascent third effort, the Green New Deal (GND) championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and endorsed by Kamala Harris and other presidential hopefuls, is therefore designed differently. It is intended to have the durability of legislation, but to be so broadly appealing to Democrats it can be passed without Republican support.

    Thus its main innovation: targeting climate change and social inequities together. A blueprint released by Ms Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey, one of the architects of the 2009 bill, promises universal health care and affordable housing, as well as extremely steep emissions cuts. This has been viewed as a naive effort to cure all the ills of modern capitalism at a stroke. Yet it is also intended, in theory more pragmatically, to expand Democratic support for emissions cuts by harnessing the two main parts of the party’s coalition: college graduates who want climate-change policy and blue-collar workers whose jobs are threatened by it. Resistance from those workers’ representatives—for example Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate energy committee—was another reason why Waxman-Markey failed. The social policy in the GND blueprint is designed to win them over.

    The enthusiasm the green deal has generated, from the climate activists who invaded Mitch McConnell’s Senate office this week as well as the 2020 contenders, is testament to more than Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s salesmanship. Its emissions targets, which would include decarbonising electricity generation within a decade, are at once vastly ambitious and merely commensurate with what scientists recommend. That makes it hard for anyone concerned about global warming to gainsay the proposal. It has a powerful moral allure. Yet the gravity of climate change also means the world cannot afford another failed effort by America to curb its tide of carbon pollution. And the green deal appears to have no chance of success.

    Only a unified Democratic government—with a filibuster-proof majority or no filibuster to worry about—could entertain passing it. This is not simply because the climate-related proposals in Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s draft are left-wing. In fact, by allowing a possible role for carbon pricing, nuclear power and carbon capture-and-storage, they are more moderate than many activists would like. A bigger problem is that by lumping together climate and social policy the proposal appears to confirm one of the main Republican arguments for inaction on global warming: a contention that Democrats are using the issue as a smokescreen for a left-wing economic agenda. This has hitherto been an exaggeration; Democrats have been pushing carbon pricing, a market-based solution, for a decade. Yet the green deal provides compelling evidence for it, which makes the prospects of Republicans returning to sanity on global warming even more remote.

    It might therefore seem sensible that the deal’s architects are only counting on Democratic votes. Yet moderates such as Mr Manchin—who says the GND is “not a deal, it’s a dream”—seem unlikely to support it. The proposal is already being used to attack such Democrats in rural states with lots of extractive industries. Opposing it would offer them a relatively low-cost opportunity to define themselves against their party. It is therefore hard to imagine anything resembling Ms Ocasio-Cortez’s blueprint passing into law. And if it did, Republicans would unite to overturn it, just as they did in response to Mr Obama’s much less provocative health-care reform. The inconvenient truth for Democrats is that they cannot impose their policies by legislative fiat any more than Mr Obama could do so by executive order.

  5. Right there is where Alberta has a big problem. It’s not just that the oilsands exist ⁠—so do many other fossil fuel projects around the world. It’s that Canada is already the fifth-largest oil producer in the world and is enthusiastically, massively expanding the size of fossil projects. Right at this moment, Alberta is actively preparing to add its largest oilsands mine ever, Teck Resources’ Frontier project (rolling over the opposition of First Nations and siting the project right next to Wood Buffalo National Park).

    The fossil fuel industry can try its best to school Greta on its technological innovations in the oil and gas sector. Others will rightly point out that the Alberta isn’t just fossil fuels ⁠— the province also has admirable clean energy projects.

    These arguments will be hard to hear above the still-groaning wreckage of Alberta’s recent climate policies. Kenney promised to tear up Alberta’s climate progress on Day 1 of his new government. He kept his promise. Gleefully.

    Kenney didn’t just take an immediate wrecking ball to climate policy (even Easterners like Doug Ford can do that); he launched the province into all-out war with environmentalists. Thirty million dollars for a “war room” (yes, unbelievably, Kenney’s own words) to take the evil greenies to a kangaroo court and pay to advertise the bonesaw argument across the country and around the world.

    Alberta is now spending more dollars fighting people concerned about climate change than it spends on monitoring the toxic effluent and air pollution from oil extraction.

  6. Democratic Candidates Are Utterly Delusional About the Looming Judicial Crisis

    Even their more moderate policy proposals will struggle to get the approval of a right-wing Supreme Court.

    The list of suspect proposals goes on. Warren’s Green New Deal would decarbonize the economy by dramatically tightening federal pollution standards, which courts could find to exceed Congress’ power to regulate commerce. Joe Biden’s more modest plan relies partly on “new executive orders” to repurpose existing law as a tool in the fight against emissions. But President Barack Obama already tried that tack and got crushed at the Supreme Court. As a lower court judge, Brett Kavanaugh was a leading critic of the Obama administration’s efforts to expand the Environmental Protection Agency’s control over carbon. Now he can provide the fifth vote to block any Democratic presidents’ efforts to curtail emissions.

  7. Since nobody wants to overthrow capitalism for the usual trumped-up reasons — inequality, worker oppression, racism, fascism, rising corporate control, globalization, middle-class decline, greedy bankers, private property —the scientific claim of a climate crisis offers a new justification.

    From Greta’s Extinction Rebellion to Green New Deal advocates in the United States to the champions of socialism in Europe, the left is using climate change to push an another agenda. In a recent commentary, Greta and two other young global activists — Luisa Neubauer from Germany and Angela Valenzuela from Chile — made it clear their objectives transcend climate change. They want climate action that is “powerful and wide-ranging.” After all, they say, “the climate crisis is not just about the environment. It is a crisis of human rights, of justice, and of political will. Colonial, racist, and patriarchal systems of oppression have created and fuelled it. We need to dismantle them all.”

    In their reading of the economic world, carbon emissions are the product of market capitalism that needs to be replaced by a government-controlled system that will forcibly eliminate fossil fuels.

    In the United States, Green New Deal advocates talk about a green economy, but what they have in mind is a state-directed economic system whose primary official objective is to achieve “net-zero carbon emissions.” The same objectives dominate the Green New Deal advocates in Europe.

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