Exxon’s Love for the Poor

Rex TillersonAt Exxon Mobil’s annual meeting in Dallas this week, shareholders rejected a motion to set greenhouse gas reduction targets for the firm. CEO Rex Tillerson argued that such an extreme measure would hurt the world’s poor, stating, “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”

So begins, I expect, the newest form of corporate philanthropy, wherein titans of industry the world over seek to ease their troubled consciences and aid the downtrodden by — what else? — frying the planet. Companies like Exxon already benefit from myriad government handouts, so why not do the obvious and simply relabel their tax credits “charitable”?

Never mind the fact that the effects of climate change will hit poor people the hardest, reducing crop yields and increasing food prices globally, threatening hundreds of millions with homelessness and possibly statelessness at the hands of rising sea levels. And never mind the devious misdirection at play in implying a clean separation between “planet” and “humanity,” as though the former were not where the latter so happens to spend most of its time.

After disparaging climate models and the atmospheric carbon threshold of 350 parts per million identified therein, Tillerson went on to say, “We do not see a viable pathway with any known technology today to achieve the 350 outcome that is not devastating to economies, societies and peoples’ health and well-being around the world.”

This common line of reasoning assumes a world marked by an unbridgeable chasm between environmental and economic well-being — identifying social justice and poverty alleviation solely with the latter — which, if true, would showcase a fundamental irrationality at the heart of our economic system. We can avert one kind of catastrophe or the other. Never both.

It is no wonder so many people seek alternative models, in which economic laws are recognized not as immutable, but as social constructs that can be bent, broken, and reconceived if we so desire. Alternative models in which — and I’m just spitballing here — the whole purpose of the economic system is to benefit the poor directly, instead of multimillionaire CEOs who make transparently self-serving excuses for climate inaction.

Crazy, I know. But a blogger can dream.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

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On the Limits of Scandalmongering, or Why I Don’t Care About Rob Ford’s Alleged Crack Use

Rob FordFor all my political ideals and self-conceptualizations, I cannot for the life of me seem to get myself more than superficially interested in the scandals that plague the holders of public office. The Rob Ford crack video hubbub is a case in point.

Yes, it is funny. Yes, there is hardly a politico more deserving of being knocked down a peg. And now, with even Ford’s brother being brought in on the fun with allegations of a drug dealing past, the entire country seems to be locked in the grips of an overpowering case of SchadenFord (no, I am not the first to think that one up).

Yet there is something disturbing in the idea that for all the regressive initiatives embraced by Ford during his two-and-a-half years as Toronto Mayor — for all his ill-advised crusades against labour, cyclists, libraries, and transit — it is the as yet unproven crack video, surely the least of his transgressions, that now threatens to do him in.

A similar point can be made about the Senate expenses scandal currently underway in Ottawa. True, this one is different from the crack case insofar as it involves the misuse of public funds, but if we focus solely on the “bad apples” like Wallin and Duffy and Harb and Brazeau, then we lose sight of the wider issue, namely the culture of entitlement inherent in an unelected upper chamber that makes the cultivation of such bad apples practically inevitable. The NDP is taking the enlightened position with respect to this scandal — criticizing the individuals involved, yes, but also connecting them to something more profound, more systemic, taking the opportunity to renew its longstanding call to abolish the Senate entirely.

And that, precisely, is what’s missing from most scandalmongering, defined as it is by an overemphasis on personalities and an underemphasis on institutions. The Fords and the Duffys of the world, entertaining though they are, do not affect us nearly as deeply as the offices they hold and the policies they implement. Of course those who do wrong deserve to be punished, but the news coverage generated by these individual wrongdoings are completely out of proportion to their true impacts.

We’d do a lot better focusing on what really matters.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

Five Lessons — Real and Imagined — from BC’s Election Results

electionIn a stunning upset of “Dewey Defeats Truman” proportions, the BC Liberals have defied all the polls save one and returned to power with a fourth straight majority government. No doubt, there will be much soul searching and wound licking over the coming weeks. I believe that five lessons — real, imagined, and not-quite-clear — will be gleaned from the experience.

1. Proceed with caution when predicting the future.

In last year’s US Presidential election, statistician Nate Silver made fools out of all those television pundits who privileged “gut feeling” over quantitative analysis. But sometimes even the data geeks get it wrong.

So what happened in British Columbia? Did voter support swing at the last minute? Did New Democrats fail to get out their vote? Were there methodological problems with the polling? All we can say for sure is that the political landscape is littered with failed predictions (albeit rarely so shocking as last night’s), and that in the future, partisans and non-partisans alike are probably better off displaying greater humility when speaking of what is yet to come.

2. Going negative works.

This is a very depressing development. Early on, NDP leader Adrian Dix admirably vowed to run a positive campaign, and although that strategy began to shift in the final days, his team never attempted anything on the scale of the unrelenting attacks unleashed by Premier Christy Clark and the Liberals.

While negative campaigning can sometimes backfire, it appears to have worked this time around, as the Liberals successfully tapped into the sizable block of BC voters susceptible to red scare tactics. All the Premier had to do was remind us of secret NDP plans to steal our hard-earned tax dollars and distribute them to greedy union bosses, or something to that effect, and BC’s “free enterprise coalition” dutifully flocked into action.

If I were inclined to ignore lesson #1 above, I would predict an NDP emulation of this campaign style for the next several elections.

3. Campaigning on the environment doesn’t work.

This is even more depressing — and not necessarily accurate. But in politics, it is perception that matters.

During this election, the NDP adopted a moderately progressive environmental platform. The strategy evidently did not pay off. Conceivably, the problem may have been that its environmental policies did not go far enough; perhaps a more stringent stance, like opposition to LNG, might have chipped off a few extra Green votes and energized the party’s base. But New Democrats are most likely drawing a different conclusion. I predict (again, with all due humility) that in the next election, the NDP will focus more on capturing the ideological territory of the Liberals than the Greens.

But there are different strategies to consider.

4. The NDP and the Greens must cooperate.

This call is likely to grow louder over the coming months and years, but electoral cooperation won’t be easy to implement. Green Party support comes from across the political spectrum — more so from the NDP than the Liberals, to be sure, but not overwhelmingly so. Plus, it is hard to determine exactly how Green and NDP transfers of support would break down on a riding-by-riding basis.

But while such a scheme is not guaranteed to succeed, neither is it guaranteed to fail. A pre-election alliance in targeted ridings is at least worth further exploration. And with Jane Sterk’s probable impending departure from the Green Party leadership, possibly to be replaced by new MLA Andrew Weaver who said he would prefer an NDP to a Liberal government, bad blood between the two parties may yet diminish.

5. It’s now up to civil society.

Regardless of what happens in 2017, BC will spend the next four years governed by a party that believes itself to have a mandate for pipeline ambiguity, LNG development, and climate inaction. Environmental and social justice groups must mobilize to demonstrate to the government that its priorities for the province are not embraced by the majority of voters who wanted someone else.

“Well, that was easy,” Christy Clark joked in her victory speech last night. It is now up to all of us to make sure that the next four years are anything but.

This post appears on rabble.ca.

Why Vote Green?

Green PartyIn the fight against global climate change, we are currently approaching the endgame.

The time for compromise has come and gone. A certain temperature increase is inevitable — already “locked in” — but if we are to have any chance of preventing runaway global warming and the destruction this would entail, then we need to start saying no right now to the expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure. Either we stay below the two-degree warming threshold or we don’t. Politicians who only get us partway there are no better than those who don’t even try.

This is the issue of primary importance during the election campaign underway here in British Columbia. Environmental questions are the ones with the most profound, far-reaching, and long-lasting impacts. Air, water, land, food, climate. These are not frivolous, “post-materialist” concerns that we have the luxury to think about only when there’s nothing else on the radar. They are inescapably wrapped up in our collective survival.

In this context, limiting our consideration to just the NDP and the Liberals won’t cut it. We British Columbians must “think globally” while we vote locally. It is time for us to embrace the Green Party.

No one is perfect, but a brief look at the party’s platform makes it clear how the Greens got their name. They alone in the electoral field support raising the carbon tax, and they are the ones most consistently opposed to oil pipelines. On natural gas, the Greens provide a lone voice of skepticism towards LNG and propose a moratorium on new gas developments. They even go so far as to endorse relocalization and to question our current economic model of perpetual growth.

On non-environmental issues, the Greens favour the creation of a Guaranteed Livable Income as a means of poverty elimination, ensuring that no one in BC falls below the Statistics Canada low-income cut-off. This would amount to a major raise for those on welfare or disability, while at the same time reducing administrative costs by combining all social assistance programs into one. The Greens also propose a living wage for public sector employees, a phase-out of BC’s regressive MSP premiums, and a drastic reduction in post-secondary tuition fees. They support an end to drug prohibition (which is, strictly speaking, a matter of federal jurisdiction, but provinces do have the freedom to set their own policing priorities). And more than any other party, the Greens are committed to a deepening of democracy through free votes in the Legislature, campaign finance reform, electoral reform, and an expanded use of citizens’ assemblies.

So why vote Green? Why vote for a party that is not Liberal or NDP, not one of the two main contenders? A party with a reputation for being marginal, minor league, no more than a protest vote? Simply put: because the Greens have the strongest policies on the issues that matter most.

Considering all that is at stake, why would one vote otherwise?

This post appears on rabble.ca.