#RealChange wearing thin: A look back at Trudeau’s first year

We’re one year into Justin Trudeau’s government of #RealChange, yet it’s mostly the rhetoric not the policies that have changed. Some of the shine is finally wearing off. Whether approving pipelines, settting electoral reform up to fail or privatizing airports and transit, the Liberals are showing themselves to be the good capitalist managers they’ve always been, not the anti-austerity crusaders of the last election campaign.

Today, three guests—Derrick O’Keefe, Clayton Thomas-Müller and Luke Savage—take a look back at this first year of the Liberal government and look forward to how opposition to it can develop. Derrick is a journalist, author and editor at Ricochet Media. He’s based in Vancouver and currently working on a book on BC politics and history. Clayton Thomas Muller is a climate campaigner with 350.org based in Winnipeg. Luke Savage works for the Broadbent Institute at its Press Progress media outfit and writes frequently on US and Canadian politics.

All the best to you and yours! Back in the New Year!

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The return of the modernist left

In the past few years, what has been loosely called the modernist left has seen some revival. Whether coming out of the ultimate failures of the Occupy movement, dissatisfaction with moralistic lifestyle politics or an attempt to analyze the current conundrum of moribound but hegemonic capitalism, some have returned to the idea of the left as a modernizing force—progressive in the most literal sense. Agree with its postulates or not, this broad current on today’s left deserves to be engaged, as it seriously grapples with everything from ecology to technology to economics and the left’s strategic response to our unhappy contemporary situation. This week, I present two interviews with authors of recent books that fit squarely into this current.

First, I speak with Nick Srnicek, who, along with Alex Williams, has written Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work. Next, I speak with Leigh Phillips, author of the more colorfully titled Austerity Ecology and the Collapse-Porn Addicts: A Defense of Growth Progress Industry and Stuff.

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Why #COP21 won’t deliver the deal we need: Interview with Oscar Reyes

Last week, I interviewed Oscar Reyes on the background to and likely outcomes of the climate talks in Paris just wrapping up. His answers were prescient as the talks look set to deliver a decidedly insufficient agreement, one that locks in more warming shrouded in lofty rhetoric. This interview gives context to the talks and the perspective for the continued fight for climate justice.

Oscar is a Barcelona-based climate policy researcher. He works with the Institute for Policy Studies and has also been affiliated with the Transnational Institute; he has a long history of excellent critical writing and activism on climate issues.

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Michal Rozworski: What concretely is going to be debated, and what are its limits?

Oscar Reyes: In Paris, countries are trying to create a protocol that will replace the Kyoto Protocol from 1997. The Kyoto Protocol put some limits on emissions, but at the same time it brought in carbon markets and created lots of loopholes.

Is this deal going to do better than Kyoto? My guess is no. Every country will make a statement about what they want to do to reduce emissions. We know that the collective action of countries is meant to restrict warming to 2 degrees or even 1.5 degrees. What’s promised is not going to meet that target. The better outcome would be some kind of mechanism for increasing those later.

Another key piece of the COP21 talks is finance. If countries in the Global South are to not follow the kind of fossil-fuel-intensive development of the North, there needs to be some cash resources to help that transition. Under the UN climate convention, developed countries are supposed to pay these additional costs, but we know that they aren’t intending to.

They’ve started talking about a figure of around $100 billion per year, and they’re nowhere near even that. So there’s a scramble now to come up with different ways of counting this $100 billion without doing much extra, which given global flows of infrastructure investment and finance won’t be too hard.

On the other side, we have the G77, the largest grouping of developing countries, which has said this is not an acceptable definition. We’ll see where this goes but finance will be a key part of the talks.

Is there any concerted pressure from the Global South to really start shifting both rhetoric and policies at this official level this time around? (more…)

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COP21, climate inaction and corporate power

This week marks the beginning of the COP21 climate talks in Paris, the latest episode in a UN framework that has been trying, and failing, to reduce global carbon emission for over two decades now. For my first interview, I caught up with Oscar Reyes, Barcelona-based climate policy researcher, to get an overview of what to expect from the talks. Oscar works with the Institute for Policy Studies and has also been affiliated with the Transnational Institute; he has a long history of excellent critical writing and activism on climate issues.

In the second part of the episode, I speak with Shannon Daub, Communications Director for the CCPA British Columbia office. Shannon discusses the CCPA’s important new project that will trace the fossil fuel industry’s networks of money and influence across Canada, particularly the Western provinces. Climate inaction and corporate power: a key duo to examine on the eve of another summit that looks to tinker at the edges of a very dangerous status quo.

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Climate and the state – refugees in Europe

Two interviews this week on two human-made crises: first, my conversation author and academic Christian Parenti on the climate crisis and the role of the state followed by journalist Jesse Rosenfeld with an update on the refugee crisis in Europe.

Christian Parenti is author of numerous books, most recently Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence, and he teaches in the Labour Studies program at NYU. He spoke with me about the complex relationship between the state and climate change mitigation under capitalism, also the subject of a recent article of his in Jacobin. Jesse Rosenfeld is a freelance journalist based in Beirut who spent significant time in Europe covering this summer’s wave of migration, producing, among other things, an excellent series of articles for The Nation magazine. An accurate picture of the refugee migration into Europe is all the more important today, when it is certain that refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea and other countries will be on the receiving end of a backlash in the wake of the Paris terror attacks.

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Cutting through Canada’s election fog: inequality, climate change and free trade

This week’s podcast is a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives double-header. The CCPA has been an invaluable resource for alternative economic and political analysis for decades and I always enjoy highlighting their work. First up, I speak with Seth Klein, the director of the Centre’s British Columbia office, on how inequality and climate, two major issues to which Seth and the CCPA devote considersable effort, have fared in Canada’s election debate so far. Seth also talks about how the platforms of the parties stack up against the Leap Manifesto. The second half of the episode contains my conversation with Scott Sinclair, the CCPA’s chief trade researcher. Scott talks about the freshly-concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, and what this enormous trade pact means for us and our democracy.

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Carbon politics: papal and more worldly

Last week, Pope Francis released his encyclical on climate change, Laudato Si. The document speaks out strongly against environmental degradation in all forms and even calls for climate justice between the global North and South. My first guest is Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, staff writer at The New Republic who writes frequently on the intersection of religion, politics and economics. She spoke with me about the the Pope’s encyclical and how it fits into political and economic debates.

One interesting detail in Laudato Si is a very specific injunction against carbon trading. This market-driven means of trying to fight climate change is one that is gaining popularity. Just last month, for instance, the Ontario government announced it would sign onto a scheme that already includes Quebec and California. In the second interview, I speak with Romain Felli, a research fellow in Politics and the Environment at the University of Geneva. Romain has looked extensively at carbon trading and gives a critical take on theses schemes. (Cancon quota: Romain joined me from Toronto, where he is on a one-year research exchange at York University!)

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No to pipelines, yes to Site C?

Here’s a piece I wrote for Ricochet after getting riled up by *some* of the arguments against Site C. The full piece is here.

As the movement against pipelines rapidly grows, more and more often you can hear the question, “We know what you’re against. What are you for?” The debate over the future of power generation in British Columbia offers some lessons for how to answer this question and not fall victim to a privatized green vision.

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Tuesday the B.C. government decided to give the long-delayed Site C dam the green light. The dam would be the third on the Peace River in northeastern B.C. It will produce enough electricity to power nearly half a million homes (or one or two liquefied natural gas plants), flood around 50 square kilometres of land and cost almost $9 billion.

The decision has reinforced the polarized tenor of debate over Site C in B.C. On one side are local groups, First Nations, and environmentalists; the governing B.C. Liberals and business organizations stand opposite.

At first glance, Site C is what the left has been going on about for a while: major, green, public infrastructure. Not only does Site C fit this billing, but it could power further green initiatives like a mass electrification of transportation. It would also be very efficient: relatively little land would be flooded given the power generated, because the Peace River is already twice dammed.

Of course, the picture is not so simple. First, the proposed dam has not seen a transparent and independent review process; in fact, it has been exempted from the standard BC Utilities Commission review process. Second, the territory to be impacted is First Nations treaty land and hosts farming communities. Not only would construction of Site C inhibit farming, hunting, fishing and other uses of the land, but Canadian courts have recently confirmed the necessity of respecting and accommodating Aboriginal title. Finally, Site C has been so beloved by the Liberals and the business community because it could eventually supply cheap power to planned liquefied natural gas and mining industries — clean power for dirty industry.

Of these three, the liquefied natural gas industry looks to be on increasingly shaky ground. Critics point to concerns about what will be done with the power generated by Site C given much lower demand outlooks without LNG. Yet while mass electrification of transportation is not on the horizon, projects like Site C are built for decades. The major issue is lack of First Nations accommodation and due process. Without a transparent and democratic process, it is small wonder that the proposed dam has been a flashpoint of anger and protest.

Taking a wider view, Site C is emblematic of something much broader that has relevance across Canada: how do we support genuine green alternatives? This question is about much more than how we generate electricity; it’s about the narrowing of choices and a necessary response that reaffirms the public sphere.

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Climate deals and pipeline steals

Today’s episode is focused on the economics and politics of climate change: my two guests look at climate negotiations in light of the recent US-China climate deal and the corporate history and dodgy tax practices of Kinder Morgan, looking to expand its tar sands pipeline into Vancouver.

To get a global perspective on the state of climate negotiations and the recent US-China climate deal, I speak with Leigh Phillips, a science writer and journalist who has written for Nature, the EU Observer and many other publications. His article on the China-US climate deal is here and he also has a book coming out early in 2015 so be on the lookout for that.

My second guest is economist and former head of ICBC Robyn Allan who updates us on oil pipelines here in Canada. She describes the cost-benefit analysis that somehow always comes out in favour of the interests of large oil companies as well as her investigative work into the corporate structure of Kinder Morgan. Kinder Morgan, of course, is looking to greatly expand the existing Transmountain pipeline from the tar sands to Vancouver and its work site on Burnaby Mountain is currently subject to daily protest and civil disobedience.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, following this link.

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A review of Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything

I have another piece up at Ricochet: a review of Naomi Klein’s big book on climate change, This Changes Everything. It’s friendly but critical, looking at what the book’s themes of austerity, the local and extractivism mean for how we build politics against climate change. I’ve included it in full below…

Naomi Klein’s big book on climate change, This Changes Everything, is at once an extensive catalogue of climate change failures and a passionate defence of budding shoots of resistance. Much more than just an up-to-date account of where we are and how we got here, it is also a meditation on how to move forward — one that needs to be critically examined.

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