Climate Change Wealth and Power

There was a superb interview on Information Morning on CBC with Louise Comeau of the New Brunswick Conservation Council.  It covered both what we are learning form the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and environmental groups like the Conservation Council about the magnitude of the climate change threat and initiatives we can take to avoid the worst consequences.  Our grandchildren need more voices like Ms. Comeau’s and the Council’s.  We need more interviews like this to expand our understanding of the depth of the danger from the path which we seem to be unable to abandon.  We need more Ecology Action Centres and Sierra Clubs and Councils of Canadians.  More environmental groups.

In 1980 I chose my auto based in large part on its fuel economy.  When I built a passive solar home in Antigonish in 1994, we installed a ground source heat pump.  In our current double R60 walled home we heat with air source heat pumps because a ground source one would have been over kill.  Our hot water comes from and air source hot water heater.  This is all very nice but is based on information I gathered from unconventional sources.  Why is it that governments with the same information choose to largely ignore the science or pay lip service to it? 

Why is it that people are not making rapid changes or making climate change a major part of life decisions?  Let’s remember that last October at election time 69% of Canadians (in Atlantic Canada 75%) believed there was ‘convincing or solid evidence’ that global warming is happening.   75% of Canadians believe warming is the result of “human and industrial activity such as burning fossil fuels.”  What renders them incapable of action?

Perhaps the reason is that we live in a quasi-democracy in which real control lies in the hands of super rich shareholder investors (During the pandemic our billionaires increased their wealth by $111 billion, or over 50%.)  They own the key corporations and pay small groups of managers to maximize the return to the investor owners.  (In 2016, 20% of Canadians owned 73.5% of all the wealth in Canada while the poorest 40% owned 1.2%)   Even the CBC, with its supposed climate change focus, floods us with ads for SUVs, giant trucks and off road gas guzzlers.  The ads are designed by psychologists and marketing experts spending millions of times more than environmental organization budgets on market research.   The advertising deluge covers thousands of everyday products and reaches us on social media, TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, billboards and store shelves.  

To counter this deluge, how much information do people have pumped at them about good environmental choices?  Corporations out spend environmental organizations by a ratio of tens of thousands to one.  Nor do they feel confined by their own science.  Even when their science predicted climate change, the oil companies funded lies and decades of falsehoods about climate change.  Could it be that people often do not act as if climate change mattered because they are drowning in misinformation and marketing manipulation with only the odd breath of truth in the mixture.

People, especially the young, are increasingly depressed about a future of climate danger, about the degraded capacity for the earth to support life, about the impossibility of not just owning a home but not being able to find one they can afford to rent, about a government that just does not listen to ordinary people but does listen to corporations.  How many of the bottom 60% can afford an electric vehicle?  How many can afford an air source heat pump or to weather proof their homes?  Income inequality has put many sustainable choices beyond the reach of the bottom 80% who share just 25% of Canada’s wealth, and especially those who were very vulnerable during the pandemic and who still are.

Do governments listen?  Commenting on its latest report, the report’s co-chair, James Skea of Imperial College London, told The Associated Press: “If we continue acting as we are now, we’re not even going to limit warming to 2 degrees, never mind 1.5 degrees.”  2 degrees Celsius will be a disaster for our grandchildren.  U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change revealed “a litany of broken climate promises” by governments and corporations, accusing them of stoking global warming by clinging to harmful fossil fuels.  “It is a file of shame, cataloguing the empty pledges that put us firmly on track towards an unlivable world,” he said.  His description fit the velvet, pious sounding promises of Canada’s Prime Minister which dissolve into thin air as he shovels more money at oil companies pretending he is not serving them.

And why do governments not listen?  Having worked years ago for the Prime Minister, it became obvious that Ottawa and provincial capitals have many more lobbyists than Members of Parliaments.  It was the same at COP26 where the largest delegation was the fossil fuel industry.  The corporations lobby with immense resources, again many times the budgets of all the environmental groups in the country.  They have armies of lawyers and accountants and ‘experts’.  They are backed by ‘their’ market research which has little to do with public good and everything to do with sales and profits.  They ‘help’ governments write trade deals and legislation.  They provide ‘expertise’ to departmental officials.  They wine and dine. 

I am writing this not to sink people into despair.  We cannot change where we are going unless we face the very uncomfortable facts that produced and continue to produce our current reality.  Only with the uncomfortable facts on the table can we hope to find a path out of this mess.  Without the courage to face these facts there is no hope.  Facing tough realities does not guarantee success but it gives room for hope. 

All this is to suggest that we need to break the corporate strangle hold on society, government and the economy when it comes to the environment.  It calls for a profound critique of corporate power to underlie every statement about climate change and the environment.  It means urging people to take their money out of banks and moving it to credit unions who are not significant investors in fossil fuels.  It means perhaps picketing garages that sell gas guzzlers.  It surely demands government programs to make it possible for most Canadians to afford to fight climate change, including long term changes in income equality.  Perhaps it means non-violent civil disobedience directed at corporations and governments.  The struggle to protect our grandchildren has to be ramped up or it will be a struggle lost.

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