Let’s Not Burn Our Forests for Heating

As the map clearly shows, supplying Northern Pulp and Bowater Mersey has been a destructive process for our forests.   We have clear cut far too much of our 12 million acres of our forests to supply a low value product – pulp wood.   Since the closure of the mills, some are advocating use of the wood, which used to be delivered to Northern Pulp, be used for area heating plants in our towns.  The proposal is looking for huge government funding to convert the wood into chips or pellets to heat groups of buildings. 

Canada’s Managed Forest and Logging CO2 – Data from Canada’s National Inventory Reports Based on aCHART by Barry Saxifrage & National Observer.com April 2021.    

The Chart “Canada’s Managed Forest CO2” shows how since 2000 we have managed our forest to destroy its Carbon Dioxide absorbing ability and turn it into a carbon dioxide emitter. 

Ideally our forests should be one of our defences against rising greenhouse gas levels and climate change. They were, but they are no longer. Mature forests absorb carbon dioxide. The bigger the trees the more they absorb. The tiny trees in clear cuts absorb very little CO2. When we ruthlessly cut old growth and clear cut forests, their capacity to absorb C02 declines. Clear cut forests, especially when turned into mono culture, do not regenerate well. Clear cutting with heavy machinery rips apart the forest floor exposing it to erosion, losing even more carbon dioxide that was stored in the forest’s earth. We are left with a degraded forest and degraded earth to nurture it.

Nova Scotian forest policies have made us a contributor to turning our forests from being part of the solution to being a growing part of the problem rather than a growing part of the solution. Worse still one of the major uses for wood from Nova Scotian forests is turning it into wood chips and shipping them to Europe to be burned. This use of wood as the chart below shows is far an environmental disaster.

CO2 PER UNIT OF ENERGY  – Tonnes of CO2 per TJ of heat from burning each carbon source.  Data from IPCC 2006 Table 2.2 Default Emissions Factors for Stationary Combustion.  Coal ranges for 95 for coking coal to 98 for anthracite and up to 101 for lignite.  National Observer April 2021

Work by Dr. Suzanne Simard, a forestry biologist at UBC, shows the intricate network of mutual sustenance different types of trees provide to each other in a mixed forest.  What we do not want to do is return to creating mono culture woodlands to produce a low grade of wood for a new low grade, low value use that accelerates climate change.  Using the forest for wood chips so we can return to the Northern Pulp, Mersey Bowater type of forest usage would ensure destroying even more forest.  It would ensure, that instead of helping combat climate change, our forests would increasingly contribute to climate change by burning wood.  It would leave our grandchildren to carry the terrible burden of our short sightedness.  It would also leave us with weak forests.  As Suzanne Simard’s work so clearly proves, the mono culture forest is an unhealthy forest. 

Part of the misleading claim made for the district heating option is that burning wood is using a renewable energy source and that it somehow helps with climate change.  The chart, “CO2 Per Unit of Energy,” points out the reality.  Burning wood produces carbon dioxide.  Even if technology can improve the efficiency and get CO2 emissions down to Fossil Gas and Diesel levels, using wood for area heating plants is doing exactly what our children and their children need us to urgently stop doing. 

We have just witnessed the financial power of the large players in the forest industry and the power of their misleading advertising to stampede the provincial government.  Let us remember we are living on the unceeded territory of the Mi’kmaq people.  Land we appropriated under the guise that we were a superior people.  Surely the least we can do is stop abusing that land.  Surely we are ready to stop stealing a reasonable life from future generations.   Forests have been around for 400 million years.  Indigenous people left them in pristine shape for us for at least 13,000 years.  It is time we learned to live with our forests and co-operate with them rather to destroying them for tomorrow’s quick buck.  Let’s opt for short term discomfort for long term gain.  Lets plan a high value added use of any wood we harvest that employs more people than slash and burn.

We need to abandon the bogus notion that forest biofuels are renewable energy and move on to a world that values and supports future generations rather than ripping their future apart. We need to turn to the forest management practices championed by Elanor Ostrom the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics. Lets make the management of the forests the responsibility of the people who work in them with a set of government policies that give incentives for high value uses and disincentives for low value uses, damaging biodiversity, degrading the forest soil and clear cutting. Co-operatives of wood lot owners encouraged to practice sylviculture and forest worker co-operatives with incentives to learn sylviculture.

Lessons from Runaway Capitalism: Capital as ‘god’ and Capitalism as Religion

Do we see a need to transform our society?  Why do those who look after our children and our seniors get paid so little when we say we value what they do?  Why did Canada’s billionaires increase their wealth by over 35% during the first nine months of the Pandemic while millions faced unemployment and rent and food insecurity?  Why do the cleaners and retail cashiers get very low pay and insecure work without sick leave?  Why are we subsidizing oil exploration when we know if we burned all the reserves we have already found we would ensure runaway climate change?  These are just a few of the questions that suggest we have lost our common sense.

As we look around us at all the things that make ‘no sense’, there is a growing realization that all this ‘non-sense’ is connected.   It is like discovering a powerful, invasive weed in your garden.   The weed has a strong set of roots supporting hardy leaves and seeds.  The roots spread out choking all around them and sending up new shoots with more leaves and more seeds.  The seeds spawn ever more weeds.   The weeds, like cancer, choke out life. 

A truly functional economy is one that provides humanity with the goods and services we need to live decent meaningful lives.  In doing so, it must not destroy the natural world of which we are part and upon which we depend.  To discover if our economy is healthy we should measure what percent of people have important goods and services like an adequate supply of food, clothing and shelter, and have access to education, health care and meaningful work.  But we do not do that.  Instead, our governments measure gross national product (GNP), the amount of wealth or capital produced.  

They do not regard how that wealth is shared as important even though it was produced through the efforts of billions of people who get to share little of it.  They do not measure the destruction of nature required to produce wealth.  They do not measure impacts on health like the millions of deaths per year caused by fossil fuel combustion. 

We are instructed that if GNP is growing our economy is healthy.  We are taught it does not meant the economy is unhealthy if:

  • Most of the wealth goes to only 1% of the people; 
  • The economy pollutes the drinking water of millions;
  • Spews toxic fumes that make millions of people sick;
  • Workers are paid too little to buy food;
  • The Earth’ climate is altered so that our children will have a difficult life and our grandchildren may have no life at all;

We are told, as long as GNP is increasing as rapidly as possible and the owners of capital and the high priests of capital are happy, all is well.  The same message often comes from the governments who are responsible for the wellbeing of society.

Examining the things that do not make sense, it becomes clear that the forces driving the growing sense of chaos in our world are forces that destroy life in all its forms.  The chaos is driven by a worship of capital.  We have allowed all life on the planet and the planet itself, including human society, to be organized around serving the insatiable needs of capital.  Capital is a product of our imaginations.  ‘Capital’ is a useful idea that has become the ultimate weed, the cancer of our living planet.  It should be a tool we use, but it has become the new ‘god’ and all else, nature and humanity, have become tools serving this new ‘god’. 

Maximizing profit always involve a sort of sacrificial offering.  Sacrifices come in many forms.  It could be a worker paid $2 a day, or a pristine river filled with poison, or a female or black worker paid less, or a thousand people thrown out of work or a child dying from pollution induced asthma.  It could be someone needing a vastly over-priced medicine or someone forced to work when they are sick or workers injured or killed by unsafe working conditions or a ten year old child forced to work.  All of these sacrifices increase profit.  These are sacrifices we are told we must accept to avoid the anger of the ‘angry god capital’.   There are many millions of these sacrifices daily. 

The billionaires are the new holy family.  Their high priests are the corporate managers, lobbyists, high finance traders, chosen academics and politicians – all those purchased (hired or given money) to do their bidding.  As just one example, between 2011 and 2018, lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry recorded 11,452 visits to the federal government, six contacts per working day. (University of Victoria, Corporate Mapping Project) 

The High Priests are the ones who ensure governments obey.  They lobby, threaten, cajole, buy billions of dollars of advertising, play philanthropist, fund sympathetic education to produce good compliant workers, advertise in schools, and, when all else fails, they sue or use the justice system to threaten. They move capital to tax havens beyond the reach of governments and lobby for lower taxes on their corporations and themselves.   Billionaires and their high priests do not need grubby public services like healthcare or disability pensions or social services.

Well the owners of capital do need some government services. 

  • They need a legal system that protects them and enforces contracts. 
  • They need police to protect them. 
  • They need armies to defend them and create markets for their products.
  • They need access to natural resources they can turn into profit. 
  • They need trade agreements that they get to help write, that work well for them. 
  • They need regulations that they can circumvent but poorer people must obey. 
  • They need government to tax the 90% to pay for their subsidies and infrastructure.
  • They need a justice system they can afford better than the 99%.

To obtain what they need they have created the “corporate welfare” state. 

Everything in the universe has to be put to the service of this new ‘god’ to ensure  a ‘profit’ for ‘the god capital’.  Everything.  Rocks and minerals.  Water and air.  All forms of life.  Plants and animals.  Human society.  Education.  Health care.  Universities.  Research and learning.  Religion.  Trade.  Governments.  The atmosphere and the stratosphere.  The moon and Mars and someday, in the psychopathic dreams of this ‘god’s’ followers, the stars.  All must now be seen as having value and meaning only in as much as they can be used to grow capital.   

Alas, all is not well in the capitalist economic religion.  The disasters produced by the millions of daily sacrifices are being noticed and understood.   Like a cancer whose growth has proved too successful, its runaway cells are now choking human society and indeed all life on the planet.  As we look around us it becomes clear that we have abandoned a reverence for life and the search for meaning.  The only meaning has become amassing more and more capital in fewer and fewer hands.   This beautiful planet, this jewel in the universe, may possibly be reduced to a barren piece of space debris by runaway climate change.  

In the capitalist religion anything that produces profit can, and in most cases, will be done.   The high priests of capitalism tell us that the less the size of government beyond what is needed for the corporate welfare state, the better.  Everything should be left to the increasingly dysfunctional markets where all is decided by one dollar one vote and 1% have more than 50% of the wealth.  In the US the 1%, as of 2019, own 56% of all traded equities.  Since the explosive growth of billionaire wealth during the pandemic, amid the suffering of the two thirds of the population living pay cheque to pay cheque, and 6 million slipping into poverty, the stock markets have soared.   The $1.2 trillion in new billionaire wealth had to be religiously invested by their managers and accountants.

The sacrifices to catastrophe capitalism are producing wild fires and floods, droughts and severe cold snaps, super storms and killer heat waves, food insecurity and refugees, rising plastic filled oceans with declining life, health destroying smog, people dying of hunger growing food for the super-rich, growing extinctions of life forms – an almost endless list.  Is this really the best and only way to organize our economies?  Is it beyond our imaginations to say ENOUGH!  Must we be silent until this catastrophic capitalist religion destroys itself and the ability of the planet to support life? 

Imagine we were 300 people on a ship with a failed communication system that went aground on an uninhabited island far from shipping lanes.  As we gather ashore we begin the process of figuring out how we will survive.   We get settled enough to hold a large meeting which most people attend.  Plans are discussed on the things we need to do together.  Finding food, building shelter, caring for any sick or injured, a care organization for the children, establishing some rules of behaviour and more.  People begin forming into groups for various tasks.  Then a loud voice commands our attention.

            “There is a better way to do this, he says.  Fred here is the richest person and he knows best.  We should approve an organization whose purpose is to make Fred richer and richer providing us with what we need.  He will decide what to do and how to do it and who will do what.  Everything that is done will make Fred a profit so he will have the motivation to get things done.  Fred’s greed will make everything happen and the benefit will trickle down to everyone.”  One would hope the laughter would be deafening.  Yet it is a good description of the economy we need to replace.

Where capital is ‘god’, every new idea has to be milked for its possible contribution to profit.  The capital centred objective is how can the person with that new idea turn it into personal gain?  Then, how can some capital-centred agency, a corporation, buy that idea and use it to create as much shareholder profit as possible and exclude others from ‘profiting’ from it?  The objective of capital is market control to eliminate competition.  That is how to ensure the maximum price the market will bear.  If a profit can be made from an idea, but it destroys life or undermines society and meaning, capital owners want to know how they can  prevent regulations from standing in the way of maximizing profit?

Can we transform our relationship to nature and build a society and economy that serves life rather than ‘milking it’?   Can we create a society and economy that enhances the meaning of our lives rather than draining and constraining meaning?  Can we fashion a society and an economy that, to borrow the words of Ursula Franklin, “that would treat nature with the same respect as all governments of Canada have always treated the United States, as a great power and a force to fear.”  Nature is a great power and abusing it for billionaire profit should give us great fear.  We can switch, we have alternatives and indeed we must begin the transformation.

Coming Next: A Nature and People Centered Economy

Pursuing an Insane Balance

Balance is one of those words that radiates goodness.  We should lead a balanced life.  We should avoid extremes and keep everything in balance.  A balanced assessment is a good assessment.  These statements radiate good common sense.  But it is a word that can be abused.  Two examples leap out at us in our present world.  Examples where the concept of balance becomes a mask for enormously destructive suggestions masquerading as being balanced.

The first is in the discussion of climate change.  We are told with grave authority that in responding to climate change we need to balance the health of the economy and business with the health of the planet.  If we put in place too many restrictions on carbon emissions we will trigger an economic decline, throw millions of people out of work and trigger immense human suffering.  Our daily lives require fossil fuels for cars, public transit and air travel.  We are told we need to be very cautious about how we rein in greenhouse gas production.  This analysis is false in the short run, disruptive in the medium term, and a long term catastrophe. 

If we begin reining in greenhouse gas production as rapidly as possible, phasing out fossil fuel production, and do it stupidly, then there will be negative consequences.  Environmentalists are not asking the world to abandon common sense.  What they are asking for is a good common sense plan to reduce our use of fossil fuel as quickly as possible.  We are not getting such a plan.  Instead we are getting stupid statements like Prime Minister Trudeau’s assurance in Texas, to the oil industry, that we are not ‘stupid enough to leave all those valuable fossil fuels in the ground.’  Or the absolute nonsense suggestion from Alberta premier Kenny that we should start a trade war with the United States because President Biden has cancelled a pipeline.  What else could he say after he ignorantly invested $1.5 billion of Albertan’s money to ensure he could ramp up production of high pollution tar sands bitumen?  Kenny’s words spell out hard reality denial.  He talks for big oil.  Trudeau’s words are soft denial.  He talks for our grandchildren but does what Kenny and big oil want.

A so called balanced appraisal would take a cold analytical look at the mounting daily cost of ramping up greenhouse gas production.  Almost daily around the world we see the enormous negative impacts of greenhouse gas emissions.  Wild fires, floods, droughts, extreme heat waves, super storms, species extinctions, disappearing glaciers, rising ocean levels with declining life in them, and more impacts, are on the increase year after year, just as thousands of scientists predicted.  Insured and uninsured losses are climbing.  The data from global ‘reinsurance companies’ who insure insurance companies, is very clear.  This is not damage a decade from now.  This is damage measured over the last decade.  It is significantly less than the damage to our economy that will occur over the next decade.  It is a fraction of the damage to our economy we can anticipate between 2030 and 2040.  Beyond that, runaway climate change will simply lead to complete destruction of the economy as we now know it.  That is our grandchildren’s economy.

What will it look like?  Imagine, in many areas of the planet, not being able to insure your home, or almost any building, not built to withstand 250km/hr winds.  What will it cost to build storm sewers capable of absorbing multiple 150mm rain storms, and what will be the cost of not building them?  The sixth massive die off of species will have been dramatically accelerated – that is plant and animals.  Food security disruption will be catastrophic.   The 2017 UN Ocean Conference, notes “More than 600 million people … live in coastal areas that are less than 10 meters above sea level.”  If you want to believe these, and many more frightening consequences will not happen, just go and read what reputable scientists are saying: “Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree.”

When political leaders say we need to balance environmental impacts and the economy they have capitulated to those who will lose a lot of money.  Not to have a plan with hard targets for 2030 and 2035 and 2040 is to be out of touch or denying reality.  This is a misuse of the word “balance” to mask insanity.

And Then There is the Pandemic

The second masquerade of balance also involves the economy.  We need to balance the restrictions needed protect health of society with the health of the economy and business.  Look at the chaos in the United States.  Look at the chaos in Alberta and Ontario and other provinces.  Weekly their leaders agonize over restricting freedom and causing economic harm.  Some like Premier Kenny have even gone the extra distance of likening COVID 19 to the flu and musing in May 2020 that, “The average age of death from COVID in Alberta is 83, and I’ll remind the house that the average life expectancy in the province is 82,” he said.  “I’m not sure what to make of that, but it suggests that if you make it to 83 before dying of COVID-19 you’ve already beaten the odds, so, congratulations.”  This was in defence of easing restrictions on individuals and business. 

For the ideological extreme right who do not want to limit their freedom so others may live, this is a logical position.  Thankfully most people in society believe in protecting one another including the elderly, indigenous people, Blacks, people of colour, the homeless, those with pre-existing conditions.   The people who care are the people who make society livable and civilized.  In any ‘civilized’ society, the hopefully very small minority who think their freedom ‘Trumps’ other people’s safety and health, are restrained from irresponsible action.  The restraint may be a prohibition from driving over speed limits, not being allowed to yell fire in a crowded theatre for the pure fun of it or holding a super spreader event just because they feel like it.  Allowing unbridled personal freedom is out of balance.

The business case for easing restrictions and raising them again and easing them and raising them again simply does not exist.  Canada’s billionaires increased their wealth during the pandemic, between March and December 2020.  Canada’s top 44 billionaires grew their fortunes by $53 billion from April to October, or by more than 28 per cent.  (Tax Fairness Canada)  Their businesses thrived with the restrictions.  We need a significant increase in their taxes to help the many small and medium businesses, and those whose incomes were lost, get the protection they need to survive.  That includes protection from on again off again on again restrictions.  Easing restrictions prematurely is not an act of balance, it is the response of weak leaders to the pressure from a minority.

Economic Inequality Produces Imbalance

Throughout the pandemic people around the world have been amazed and inspired by those willing to put their lives at risk to make sure society functioned.  The courage of health care workers, cleaners, truck drivers, the supermarket workers who go to work even when afraid or exhausted is an expression of the very best of what it means to be human.  Caring for the dying is both rewarding and soul destroying.  The higher the rates of illness, the more it can be soul destroying especially when you know thousands of others not dying of COVID can be dying from lack of care.  Back to balance.  Easing restrictions during a pandemic in response to a minority within the business community, and the extreme right minority just because they are part of your political base, is not balance.  It is insanity.  

The UPC party in Alberta takes the ‘Insane Imbalance’ prize.  When should you pick a fight with doctors?  The UPC response – during a pandemic.  When do you fire thousands of health care workers so they can be paid less?  The UPC answer – during a pandemic.  Ontario’s Conservative government is the clear runner up. 

Let’s stop the insanity of balancing the wellbeing of our people against someone’s misguided idea of the ‘economy’.  The purpose of an economy is to provide people with the goods and services they need to live, and a way to contribute to society that provides meaning.  The greater the number of our people who are suffering, the weaker our economy and society are and the weaker they will become.  The fewer who can contribute to society, the weaker the economy and society. 

It is more important that we measure how many people have access to good food, clothing, shelter, health care, education, medicine, child care and other basics of life than to measure how much wealth is produced to be shared increasingly among the richest 1%.  We need to move to a people based economy, a co-operative economy and away from a capital based economy whose rules and structures are geared to benefit the very few.

Lessons From Runaway Capitalism: Lesson 1: Let Us Not Be Smug

“Humanity faces a potentially terminal crisis of collapsing environmental systems, extreme and growing inequality, failing institutional legitimacy, and disintegration of the basic trust of one another on which the social fabric depends. No individual caused these vast problems, and no individual or group of individuals can solve them alone.” David Korton, Yes Magazine, 21 Jan 2021 https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2021/01/21/biden-presidency-build-back-better/? 

The events in Washington DC on January 6 were a logical outgrowth of a series of events and trends that have unfolded over a number of decades.  The attack on the Capital was not the opening round of an attack on democracy but the logical product of a significant long term erosion of democracy. The Trump presidency did not spring out of nowhere.  It was made possible, perhaps even inevitable, by the corrosive effects of runaway economic inequality, the natural product of capitalism. 

Understanding what took place in the US is important for Canadians.  The same forces that produced the Trump victory in 2016 are present in our Canada, and have been here for some time. 

Democracy in both our countries is being eroded, not by a conspiracy of some small group, but by an economic system focused on the wants and needs of capital that is fundamentally at odds with democracy.  The 5% who control that economy do not need to conspire – their key interests are simply the same and their power to influence enormous.

The dictatorship of Inequality

The foundation of the capital centered economy is one dollar-one vote in a world where 50% of the wealth is owned by 1% of the people, and the wealthiest 10% own 85%.  The bottom 50% of the world’s people own 9.4%.  In a capital centered economy 10% of the people have 85% of the votes. However, democracy is based on one person one vote.  Democracy and capitalism are at war and capitalism is winning. 

The 651 billionaires in the US and the 46 in Canada have significantly increased their wealth since 2010 and made spectacular gains during the pandemic.  The $185 billion owned by Canada’s billionaires and the $4.1 trillion owned by US billionaires gives them enormous economic, political and social power.  The companies they control give them far more power.

Just during the pandemic, Canadian billionaire’s wealth grew $53 billion while millions of Canadians lost their jobs, ran short of food, rent and suffered higher death rates.  In the United States, reeling from a runaway pandemic, “The total net worth of the nation’s 651 billionaires rose from $2.95 trillion on March 18—the rough start of the pandemic shutdowns—to $4.01 trillion on Dec. 7, a leap of 36%”.  (Based on an analysis of Forbes magazine’s research on billionaires.  https://inequality.org/great-divide/updates-billionaire-pandemic/ )

The global economy, while producing many new shiny toys for the more affluent of us to play with, is also eroding the environment and social cohesion.  The economy passes on the cost of massive environmental damage to 90% of people, especially the poorest 50%, and everyone’s children and grandchildren, while the profits of that damage go primarily to a very small percent every day.  The 1% live away from the environmental destruction and pollution they profit from while the 50% live in it.  Inequality is growing ever faster.  Future inequality will explode, engulfing future generations.

The bottom 70% have watched their dreams and their hopes for their children shrink.  Those under thirty see a future that, unless there is profound change, will offer them unstable gig work, runaway climate change, wild fires, floods, droughts, killer heat waves, shrinking supplies of clean water, crop failures.  They may well face the spectacle of a mass extinction of life forms and an economy and society in tatters. 

The 5%, with vast wealth to spend on lobbyists, political donations, ‘think tanks’, advertising and managerial and legal talent steer and corrupt governments with a mixture of cajoling and threats.  If government does not do what they want they will pull their capital out and throw hundreds of thousands out of work.  They want government to shrink and enter into trade deals that serve the interests of the 5%. They demand lower personal and corporate taxes that deeply shrink government services and replace government support for education and healthcare for example with the miserly gifts of charitable philanthropy.  Their gifts seem very large viewed by those with the annual incomes of the bottom 50%.  But those gifts, in the absence of adequate government funding, give the 5% more and more control over the content of education and over the science and healthcare experts who have become dependent on them.  The access to and decisions about education, healthcare and research go from being a public decision based on the needs of the society to a private decision based on the whims and wants of the richest 10%.

That enormous pool of wealth also funds racist organizations, anti-immigrant groups, bigotry promotion, climate denial, and anti-environmentalism.  The 5% also advertise in and fund media with contempt for truth and those stoking hatred (for example Fox media and Epoch Times) and far right wing economic theorists.  It is vital to the interests of the 1% that the 99% are as divided and as confused as possible.  Exon’s 30 years of lies about climate change were not an isolated incident but one of thousands of possible examples.

The decades of growing dysfunction of our capital dominated economy, political life and society has produced a justified growing distrust of democracy.  This was the powerful gift given to Donald Trump by decades of blind and sometimes corrupt leadership. 

He promised the 50% he would “drain the swamp”.  In spite of being clearly the worst part of the swamp, he persuaded them he was not even remotely near the swamp but instead the heroic crusader who would make America great again.  He blamed all problems on immigrants, Muslims and people of colour, stoking racist fears and religious divisions.  He told more than 30,000 documented lies and demonized the media when they documented his lies.  He slandered anyone who criticized him and he held the truth, evidence and facts in contempt.  He funneled vast amounts of wealth to the wealthiest while proclaiming his devotion to a large and increasingly angry population. 

The biggest error we can make is to blame his followers.  Yes, they believed the unbelievable, but decades of betrayal and lies have taught them not to trust politicians or democracy.  Inequality is not limited to incomes but also to access to government and to the courts.  When people in the bottom 70% cheat to avoid some small amount of taxes, they get nailed.  When the super-rich and their corporations dodge huge taxes or use tax havens, they are ignored, get their wrists slapped lightly or go to court or get the taxes reduced or tax laws changed.  Many tens of billions are tucked away without fuss in legal or illegal tax havens, but heaven help a Canadian CERB recipient who cheated a bit or made a legitimate error.

Democratic and Republican governments in the US and Liberal and Conservative governments in Canada have, at best, payed lip service to the problems of the bottom 70%, and at worst have simply sold them out while downplaying the reality of either environmental catastrophe or runaway inequality.  The claim that we have to choose between the economy and the environment is a smoke screen.  The real choice is between a serious plan to transform the economy over several decades into a green economic democracy, or fuel a path to environmental, economic and social disaster. 

We plowed the ground for Trump.  We made it easy for inept far right leaders like Kenny and Ford to dupe people.  Where will we be in four years?

How the Household Appliances of Capitalism Use You

When we built our new home 6 years ago we bought all new energy efficient appliances, all from Sears, all Kenmore.  A week ago while baking some custard, the stove, a Kenmore (but made by Frigidaire), started beeping and the panel on the Electronic Oven Control (EOC) started flashing “F10”.  We dug out the stove manual and after some digging found out that F10 meant “Runaway Temperature”.  The oven temperature had soared to over 500F while being set at 325F and the custards were small black volcanos.  We turned off power at the circuit breaker since nothing on the control panel responded to the touch controls.  With the power off, I removed the back panel behind the EOC and found it partly blackened from short circuits – it appeared more than one. 

We called a repair person, a very busy man who called back the next day.  He asked how old the stove was and when I told him 6 years he said we were luckier than most.  These EOC systems, he told us, often do not last more than 3 years.  He asked what model number so he could check whether or not they still made a replacement part, if any were available and what the cost would be.  The part cost, he said, usually ran between $300 and $500.  We gave him the information.  He called back after a few minutes to advise the part would cost $326 plus $48.74 tax = $374.74 plus installation.  An almost identical new stove the same size, made by Frigidaire (the company that made our Kenmore) would be $698.  The part for our six year old stove now costs 46.7% of the cost of an entire new stove. 

At our cottage, which we purchased in 1994, there is a stove that was 10-15 years old when we bought it, which makes it over 30 years old now.  Since 1994 we have only had to replace two stove top elements that cost about $25 each.  $50 over 30 years.  It is clear that the world has changed.  The changes made to stoves to make them “smart” are not anything necessary or of great value.  They are ‘frills’!  They add nothing to the essential usefulness of stoves.  Indeed we should fear them since they can allow the stove to turned on and be used when we are not at the home.  Worse they are likely to fail – not anything I would recommend given the determination of appliance manufacturers to provide appliances people cannot depend upon.  After the “runaway temperature” incident, we will not again leave the house with the stove on; in fact we will have to remain in a room close enough to the kitchen to hear if the alarm beeps!

I do a considerable amount of research on capitalism, the economic system which is steadily spiraling into chaos.  Some chaotic processes are slow, like climate change.  Others like accelerated obsolescence are galloping chaos.  The purpose of the few huge manufacturers, who produce for numerous competing brand names, is not to provide us with appliances, never mind safe reliable appliances.  Their purpose it is to maximize profits.  There is more profit to be made from selling new appliances.  Charging exorbitant prices for parts, and making them as hard to get as possible, is a reinforcing pressure to buy a new one.  People desperately need their appliances for keeping food from spoiling, for cooking it, and for washing and other necessities of daily life.  Most of the ‘exotic’ features, like being able to ‘phone your stove’, are really rather useless frills but increasingly it is difficult to find an appliance without them.  These features shorten the life of appliances.  For example the new stove I had to purchase because we had visitors arriving has sensors on each stove top element that shuts them off at 700F.   I suspect these burners will fail early and be expensive and hard to replace after the stove is only two or four years old.  Our stove at the cottage has cooked meals for more than thirty years without any of the so called ‘great improvements’ designed to fail and boost new stove sales.

On a recent CBC Marketplace episode on appliances, I felt sorry for the poor woman they interviewed, a paid employee of the appliance manufacturers, who had to weave and bob around the interviewer’s questions.  I am sure she is a decent person who loves her family and cares about her children and grandchildren.  She is likely a caring neighbor.  She was clearly articulate and intelligent.  It was painful to watch her reduced to mouthing weak, banal excuses and having to defend the indefensible.   At some level she must feel a deep rooted angst.  Many, many people are caught between earning a living and believing in the value of what they do for a living. 

Shop floor workers have to build what they know are shoddy products.  Managers are under pressure to make them produce as much as possible for as little as they can pay them with little regard for pollution or worker safety.  Industry apologists have to defend the indefensible.  They all undermine their self-respect acting on behalf of shareholders seeking maximum profit in the next quarter.  I suspect it is an underlying cause of much of the drug abuse and alcoholism and even suicide that are slowly growing in our societies.  Much work in our society is not fulfilling or ennobling, but demeaning.

Let’s nurture and assist worker owned businesses to produce basic reliable appliances and parts close to the people who need them.  Yes, we do need ‘right to repair’ laws, but we can do far more by building a better, more people centered economy, that will be less likely to produce garbage appliances.  Let’s require the corporations producing garbage appliances to take them back when they fail or cannot be repaired at a reasonable price and make them recycle every component.  If they had to absorb the cost of the garbage they produce, rather than to pass it along to society to pay, they would be less likely to produce garbage appliances.  If the appliances and their parts were made by worker owned companies close to the buyers and their communities, they would pay fairer salaries and provide needed benefits.  Starvation wages, exploited women and children workers, cheap unsafe working conditions, tax avoidance and seeking lax or non-existent environmental protection are key standard tools of investor owned firms to maximize profits.   

As with so many increasingly urgent issues in our investor driven economy, the appliance mess is not an aberration but a standard, logical outcome of capitalism.  Just one more part of chaos capitalism.

Can We Change Our World? Atautsikut/ Leave None Behind, Says YES

I am often bemused by people who respond to my critiques of capitalism and promotion of co-operatives by gently, and sometimes not so gently, saying, “But you know that is not possibly going to happen.”  Or they say, “There is no alternative to capitalism.”   Imagine an indigenous group for whom the government’s objective was to have them disappear.  A group faced with the power of a mega corporation that dominated their communities.  Imagine them saying not just ‘we can do better and change this reality but we can do so in a way that leaves no one behind’

If you believe we cannot change our world, watch this film by John Houston![1] Aliva Tulugak, past president of the Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau-Québec used these words to describe the film.

 “I believe what you have filmed will be important for our grandchildren and our children.  Back when there was nothing in all of Nunavik… those who came before us, those who founded the co-operatives and the Federation… they started out with nothing but their determination.”  His words are important words for people around the globe to hear. 

The free world premiere of the film will take place Sat. July 4 at 11:00 AM Atlantic Time and is available to all the world in English at https://youtu.be/gh3abENu-S8 .  The message of this film is important to my grandchildren and grandchildren around the world.  To believe we cannot stop organizing human life and the entire natural world to serve capital is to proclaim capital is ‘god’.  It is to say we accept that run away climate change must happen.  It is to voice the belief that a billion people must go hungry even as we waste enough food to feed them each day.  It is to say it is acceptable that the super-rich, the top 1%, get richer and richer while the rest of humanity falls farther and farther behind.  It is to claim that it is impossible for healthcare, education, decent housing and food to be available for every child in the world.  It is to be in favour of the CEO of a large corporation being paid $2,284,044,884 (yes more than two billion dollars) in annual compensation, but many essential workers who keep us safe cannot be paid more than a minimum wage or be hired full time so they could receive benefits. 

“A marginalized people rose up from humble beginnings, with nothing but their talent, their guiding principles, and their determination to leave none behind. The public has heard so many sad stories, but “Atautsikut/Leaving None Behind” reveals another aspect of the true North. In their own words, raw and unfiltered, the Nunavik Inuit and Cree recount their struggle and how their co-ops came shining through—a message of hope.”

We owe our grandchildren more than the deep pessimism that says, ‘we have no alternative’.  We owe them more than the foolish optimism that says, ‘Things will get better,’ even while we watch climate change gathering strength and the wealth of billionaires sky rocket during the pandemic.  We owe it to them to act with the courage of the Inuit and Cree who survived government attempts to eliminate them, and the exploitation of the Hudson’s Bay Company.  We owe it to them to be ‘hopefulists’ and activists!


[1] For other films by John Houston see: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQO9G6cdq96ByCJwQ_DKo_g/

Black Lives are Sacred – Change the Culture – Part 2

In Part One I reflected on the links and roots of racism in the capitalism that benefits from it.  But, why are our governments seemingly unable to deal with racism and the inequality that is linked to it?   They are faced with 1% of the world’s people owning more than 50% of the world’s wealth.  Governments function under the pressure of capitalism.  Why do our governments turn a blind eye to racism and inequality?  Most ‘democratic’ governments have become ‘quasi democracies’ where the real power lies with the powerful bullying wealthiest 10%.  If we do not serve them they will hurt us.  They will destroy jobs and disrupt lives and communities.  .  For the richest 10% it will be a minor inconvenience, one they can endure and recover from.   Between March and the end of May, while millions lost their sources of income, billionaires in the US increased their wealth by 19.2%

1.1% of US billionaires are black.  In Canada there are no black billionaires but we do have a billionaire descended from indigenous people.   The US has 585 billionaires, Canada 45.  Ending racism is not a high priority for the almost entirely white 10%.  Surely we will look at the bullying power and the luxurious life of the few beside the poverty, suffering and powerlessness of the many and ask ‘can we allow this modern form of slavery to continue?’  Why are black, brown and indigenous people, women, healthcare workers, janitors and so many essential workers so poorly paid?   Why are so few of them in the bodies where decisions are made?  

I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist.  Optimists tend to believe all will be well no matter what.  Pessimists see a desperate future.  I am a ‘hopefulist’.  One who hopes we will begin to recognize the madness and self-destruction of capitalism and the racism, inequality and climate catastrophe it is brewing.  I hope we can have the courage to rein in the greed that fuels it and build a different economy.  It is possible to imagine another reality.  Three of my wonderful children are black as are eight of my grandchildren.   They drive my hope.

Can we imagine another reality?  Is capitalist culture an expression of the dominant trait of human beings or is it a reality humanity has been duped into?  Is it the inevitable expression of human progress or is it something we have been seduced to accept as capitalism slowly normalized evil.  What happens when societies face catastrophes?   They pull together.  Beautiful acts of kindness emerge by the millions as we take care of each other.  Sure, a few mean actions emerge, but the vast majority pitch in to help each other and then go out on their balconies to sing, play music and bang pots and pans for joy to celebrate the kindness.  That is how all but a tiny minority of humanity spontaneously responds to catastrophes and pandemics.

How did people react when George Floyd was tortured and murdered?  Around the world millions of people took to the streets in, almost without exception, peaceful anger.  Black people and white people and brown people, indigenous people, people of all faiths.  Young people and old people.  This is the heart beat of humanity that self-centered capitalism has put its knee on.   Imagine a culture which celebrated the needs of people and communities being met rather than celebrating the greed of billionaires.  Imagine a culture that rejoiced more over acts of caring and compassion rather than hoarding and exploiting.  Imagine a culture in which the inborn inclinations of the 99% dominated the self centered desire of the 1%.

Imagine a society organized around people rather than money and the understanding that we are part of nature and that to be fully human we must love and respect nature and each other.  Imagine a society organized to work together to meet its needs.  Imagine a society where altruism and caring for each other, as most people do in times of crisis, were seen as far more important than wealth, competition and self centered action.  Imagine if we really learned from Darwin that co-operation among cells and species and within species was a more effective winning strategy than competition.  Imagine a world where humans saw co-operative winning as a better outcome than competitive efforts that produce few winners and many losers.  Imagine a society where our children and grandchildren would be judged as Martin Luther King so eloquently hoped, by the beauty of their character rather than the colour of their skin.

There is an alternative economy and culture possible.  Worker co-operatives, consumer co-operatives, producer, community and small business co-operatives all draw on the best of human nature.  Voting control is based on one person one vote rather than one dollar one vote.  Their purpose is to meet member and community need rather than maximizing return to the wealthy shareholders.

Are co-operatives perfect?  No they are human.  A worker co-operative may exploit consumers.  A consumer co-operative can exploit workers.  Farm co-operatives can exploit both.  They exploit less often but it does happen.  A solidarity co-operative, where the key people involved are all members and involved in decision making, makes exploitation even less of a problem.  An elder care co-operative, for example, would have residents, workers and family members engaged in membership meetings and electing the board with representatives of each group.  There are hundreds of these co-operatives in Europe and a growing number in Canada.

With capitalism, the 1% are at the table leaving the 99% to do their best to gather what scraps fall or are thrown to them.  We need a society where not only white people but black, brown, indigenous, people with accents and those of all beliefs are working together in structures that gather them at the table, involved in decision making and sharing the benefits of their work rather than scrapping for crumbs.

Co-operation requires a cultural shift.  Immersed in and forced to interact with a capitalist culture that is mindlessly individualistic and just ‘focused on me’ hinders, warps and limits co-operation.  We need to grow and nurture the spirit of ‘let us work together on this’ that has always been strong in human society.  We need public policy that rewards co-operation and inhibits and discourages the cult of the selfish individual.  Co-operation’s strength flows from the reality we are truly both individual and social.   They are two sides of each of us.  We cannot separate our individuality from our social nature.  Co-operation not only allows both, it celebrates both, and gathers all around the table not based on their wealth but on their shared humanity.

We have a choice to make, between going back to a normal capitalist economy, or setting in motion a fair green democratic economy.  What will we do?

Black Lives Are Sacred- Change the culture – Part 1

The image of a police officer torturing and executing a black man in Minneapolis was horrifying.  It was not the first, and regrettably will not likely be the last, in spite of the outrage it generated.  Most similar killings in Canada are not caught on video.  Life is sacred.  Black lives are sacred.  Why do our police forces act as if black and indigenous lives don’t matter as much?

As with many festering problems in our societies (and I include Canada which is different but similar) a big part of the heart of the problem is capitalist culture.  Racism could only endure for hundreds of years because it remains a deeply held part of our culture.

  The wealth of Canada and the US was born in slavery and the theft of indigenous lands.  Both slavery and seizing indigenous land required deep cultural beliefs that were racist.  Justifying evil actions can only take place by building cultural myths that excuse them, and a huge part of those cultural beliefs rest on the claim that enslaved and indigenous people are inferior.  Those beliefs are compounded by our capitalism built on the foundation of slavery, land theft and colonialism.

If you:

  • organize society and the use of nature around serving capital,
  • sanctify the growth of capital measured by GDP,
  • define freedom as the absolute right to accumulate capital, and finally,
  • combine that with the belief that people always act in their own self-interest, (with greed as a driver of ‘progress’),

………. Do not expect a good outcome.  

Capitalism is a system where the highest good is the growth of capital, not the wellbeing of people.  People are to be used, and where possible exploited, in the service of capital.  Racism and sexism simply makes the use of some people more profitable.  It is the only reasonable explanation for why racial minorities and women are paid less.  In a capitalist culture these ideas are accepted as the ‘realistic normal’ and ‘above question’.  Racism is part of the capitalist normal.  Part of the white population is also exploited in the pursuit of profit.  Racism helps channel the rage and despair of poor exploited whites toward black and racialized groups rather than against billionaires.  Think Trump.

The destructive outcome is deepened by the common capitalist belief that people are wealthy because they deserve it and the poor are poor by their own fault.  The job of the police in such a society is to protect the wealth, especially that of the wealthiest, from the needs of other 90%, especially those who are inferior and who claim a fair share they do not deserve. 

The culture of racism is amplified because a small percentage of those attracted to police work are wounded, insecure and angry bullies for whom walking around with a gun and a night stick is not a form of self-protection but a threat.  In some police forces, this threatening minority is seen as ‘the effective, tough officers, the leaders we need’.   Our society further compounds this by the almost universal exoneration of any police officer guilty of excessive force, brutality or murder.   We must not confuse our duty to protect those who sometimes risk their lives to protect us with a grant of freedom to do violence with automatic exoneration.    These exonerations do not protect police, they simply generate fear and distrust among the people they are commissioned to serve and put all police at greater risk. 

Millions of people on June 1 saw a woman kneeling in the street, with her hands in front of her face, getting kicked in the face by an approaching officer.  Will this brutal act be punished?  Not likely, but it is in the real interest of every ‘peace officer’ that it is indeed punished.

I was deeply moved by the account of one police leader who went to the demonstrators and told them he was there to be with them and joined the demonstration.  In another brief video clip a white officer spoke gently and put his arms around a black man overcome with grief to comfort him.  In yet another, a group of National Guard members went down on one knee in solidarity.  These were ‘peace officers’.  This is what we need rather than the hatred and violence spewing out of the White House which poisons the US, Canada and the world.  One can only hope that more and more peace officers and military officers and public servants will simply respond to orders to be racist, violent, cruel and do evil on behalf of the White House with the word “No”. 

The timidity of our government, cowering inside our houses of Parliament, lacking the courage to stand up to bullying and cruelty or call a lie a lie, is not anything to admire.  Canada and the US are neighbors and need to a nurture friendly relationship.  Alas, we are too afraid of what their government might do.  Our response to evil actions should not be strained silence or mimic the threatening bluster of the bully.  It needs to be a quiet, clear and respectful ‘no’, whenever possible coordinated with other like-minded nations.  Force, violence and intimidation are the tools of bullies.  Cowering empowers billionaire bullies and leaves their racism unchallenged.   We too must learn to say “no” to racism and all other evil.

Part 2 to follow

COVID 19: The Case for a New Eldercare Model

As we struggle through this pandemic buffeted by the additional tragedy in Nova Scotia, one fact becomes increasingly clear.  As of May 3rd 2020, 83% of the 37 deaths are seniors living in elder care facilities.  Across Canada almost 80% the more than 3,600 deaths are seniors living in elder care facilities, and that percentage is expected to rise.  

As a society we have not cared adequately for our elders.  We have drifted a long way from the idea that you can tell the level of civilization in a society by how we look after our most vulnerable people.  We have forgotten that, as fully functioning human beings, we are both social and individual, and that we are responsible not just for looking after ourselves but each other.  But science, from evolutionary biology to psychology, tells us that we are by nature co-operative and altruistic.  Caring for others is part of our nature.  It has allowed us to just not survive but to thrive.  How did we let our human nature become so warped?  We have become a society where nature and humanity are organized to serve the right of hyper individualized people to accumulate capital. 

This essay looks at the lessons we need to learn from the COVID 19 Pandemic, and then suggests two concrete proposals that will not eliminate risk but will put us in a much better position down the road to provide our elders with significantly improved care and a more resilient healthcare system.  It also is based on the understanding that we cannot understand the serious eldercare inadequacy without understanding the economic and social context that drove the failure.

Lessons

What did this pandemic teach us about our arrangements for elder care?  What problems did it uncover?  In answering these questions it is useful to remember that in our economic system, whenever the return to capital can be increased by reducing how well human needs are met, meeting human needs will suffer.  That includes ensuring the level of taxes on returns to capital are minimized and government revenues and services are reduced to those services designed to protect capital and promote greater returns to capital.  That said the pandemic:

  • Showed us how our severe shortage of nursing home beds can hobble our hospitals by having as many as 700 seniors in Nova Scotia waiting in hospital beds for a place in a nursing home.  That meant the ability for hospitals to accommodate COVID 19 sufferers was severely limited.  The COVID crisis was greatly worsened. 
  • Taught us that many of our nursing homes have two and three seniors to a room.  People who have lived their adult lives in the privacy of their homes are living their final years with little or no privacy.  They are also far more vulnerable to illnesses that inevitably enter the facilities.  It also reminded us that we made no caring response to the separation of couples who had shared a life time together.
  • Uncovered too many facilities that are poorly designed with limited capacity to isolate residents in the event of an outbreak. 
  • Brought to light that the front line workers in elder care are, almost without exception, poorly paid.  Many homes deliberately pay as low wages as they can get away with, and in addition hire as many part time workers as possible to both keep pay levels minimum and avoid paying any benefits like sick leave.  This means workers dreaded staying home if sick because they live in or close to poverty.  It also means that many workers worked in more than one care facility to make a bare living.  This means that the virus spread from home to home leading to hundreds more deaths. 
  • Showed some homes across the country had so few and over worked staff that there were immobile residents who were almost abandoned in their beds for many hours, and if a few cases apparently for days. 
  • Made it clear that low pay was a clear and deep injustice.  Workers who come to work day after day at great risk to themselves and their families clearly know that our economic system sees them as a commodity whose cost can be lowered to increase profit and/or cut government expenditures.  This is true of many essential workers besides direct care workers, including cleaners, janitors and those such as truck drivers who keep eldercare facilities supplied.   
  • Produced a reality in which care givers had little or no time to provide information to families, especially after Covid 19 affected staff or residents and urgent workloads escalated.  Many families lost loved ones without any chance to connect with them.  Our elder care demeaned and devalued family bonds.
  • Brought to light the inadequate equipment in nursing homes and/or hospitals, and the lack of ready plans to meet the crisis.  The lessons from the SARS epidemic and Ebola were lost in budget restraint.  It also underlined that we were dependent for supplies of equipment from sources that, in a global crisis, were very unreliable.  It became clear that our dependency relationship with the United States is very high risk and even hostile.  We scrambled to develop Canadian sources – will we protect our newly created sources of vital supplies?
  • Brought into question the role of private, for profit provision of health care.  Many of our facilities are for profit rather than for care.   There have been far too many instances, even before the crisis, of patients with acute bedsores or being administered levels of medication more consistent with minimizing staff needs than patient wellbeing.
  • Taught us once again that government funding for health care is not adequate.  This is an inevitable result of tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy and the unwillingness of governments to deal with tax havens. 
  • We learned once again that government regulation of elder care facilities has simply not been adequately carried out, especially for those facilities in which the profit motive competes with care.  ‘Self-regulation’ of these facilities is something they demand, but is granted only at great risk.

Another possible lesson we should examine carefully is the increasing tendency to try and manage government like a business.  Yes, it should be managed efficiently, but increasing the downward pressure on care workers’ incomes is a standard business strategy, but it is unacceptable public policy.  Cutting corners on equipment can increase business profits but is not good public policy.   Cutting budgets for public health and elder care when the proportion of seniors is increasing may allow businesses to be taxed less, but it is appalling public policy.  It is in the national interest to nurture a strong commitment to public service in those who work for the government.  This is not being achieved with a revolving door between government and for profit corporations with business managers and public servants exchanging jobs.   We want efficient and effective government but we cannot afford government that is run like a business.

A Positive Future for Eldercare

There are two significant opportunities that are possible in this time when most people have developed a sense that the old normal is not about to return, and we need to be willing to make major changes to how our society and economy work.  The first opportunity is to ask ourselves what kinds of organizational structures would respond better to meeting human need and enhance our ability to engage people to build a better more caring society.  If we reflect on the lessons above, what type of organization would be most appropriate and likely to perform better?  The for profit business model is simply not appropriate for meeting our need for elder care.  The second opportunity is to ensure the ability of governments to act in the interest of citizens rather than for corporate interests.   

Over a 250 million people around the world work in co-operative businesses.  Their purpose is to meet member and community need.  They produce everything from production machinery, pottery, auto parts, robots and food.  They meet people’s needs for providing financial, marketing, legal, architectural, retail and consulting services.  As well they provide education, rehabilitation and health care.  They are owned by workers, consumers, farmers and small and medium sized businesses.  This is a very flexible business model! 

Are co-operatives perfect?  No, of course not, they are owned by people and perfect people simply do not exist anywhere.  But their purpose is to meet human need rather than returns for investors.  They have an internationally accepted set of values and principles.  They are governed on the basis of one person one vote rather than one dollar one vote.  They have community roots.  The pay gap between the highest paid manager and the lowest paid staff is usually less that 10:1 rather than 300 or 400:1, often found in capital based business.  Their record on environmental issues is not perfect but is better than capital based business.  They are also better at social responsibility.  They have to be financially healthy but they are committed to meeting need rather than maximizing returns to already rich investors.

Adopting a co-operative organizational structure brings with it acceptance of a shared purpose, meeting member and community need, and a set of values and principles shaped by more than 150 years of experience of people working together.  Those values, honesty, openness, social responsibility, caring for others, equality, equity, mutual self-help, self-responsibility, solidarity and democracy.  These are the kinds of values that the victims of this tragedy lacked. 

The co-operative principles include open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy and independence, education and training, co-operation among co-operatives and concern for community.  These value and principles, once adopted, become the signposts of accountability for the organization.  Members, governments and the community can look to them as the basis of standards of accountability

So what co-operative structure might make a strong contribution to much better elder care?  In Quebec, and much more so in Northern Italy and the Basque Country of Spain, there are solidarity co-operatives.  They have different classes or types of members.   A retail co-operative might have consumer members and worker members.  A co-operative daycare would have parent members, worker members and perhaps a community member.  An educational co-operative membership can include students, parents and teachers.  The idea is to have membership open to people for whom the co-operative was important and for all the members to share common goals.  As in every co-operative, each member would have one vote.  Each class of members would elect a portion of the board of directors.  All those for whom the co-operative was important would have a say in governance.

For eldercare homes one class of members would be the elder residents themselves, healthcare worker members and family members where the family had a loved one who was a resident.    Each “class of member” would elect the members of the board of directors.  The eldercare workers might elect four board members, residents three, family members two.  Those nine might choose a director from the community or area served by the facility.  This structure would ensure that the policies and operations of the home were based on decisions made with input for whom the home was of major importance. 

The purposes of the co-operative would be: to provide an excellent level of care to elder residents; a rewarding place to work with fair pay and benefits as well as the opportunity for workers to be the best they could be; and to ensure open, clear communication to families that their loved one was well looked after and the assurance that they were well informed.   Let me suggest that this structure is much preferable to private for profit ownership.  If you review the lessons learned from the COVID 19 elder care disaster, this organizational structure has enormous promise.

  • It gives those elders involved a role of participation and respect and a voice in governance.  Their wisdom and the contribution they have made and can still give are given an outlet.  Their dignity as humans is respected by giving it voice. 
  • A solidarity co-operative structure demonstrates respect for the care givers and those workers who put their lives, and often the lives of their families, on the line during a crisis.  Behavioural economics tells us, that given a living income, a sense of workplace autonomy, the chance to be the best you can be and the opportunity to make the world a better place are all stronger motives than financial gain.  We put signs in our windows, stood on balconies and cheered and sung and banged pots and pans; now is the time to make changes to show we really do care and admire them.   
  • It responds to the pain of families whose hearts were broken as they learned their loved ones whom they had been unable to see, had died in a world that did not even allow normal grieving or a funeral.  It responds to the horror of those who learned those they loved had died filthy and of hunger or dehydration. 
  • It is an organizational structure that allows elders, their families and the elder care workers to regain trust in elder care facilities.
  • It makes the role of governments to regulate standards of care much more easily achievable.
  • It encourages working together with other eldercare co-operatives to communicate with government and the community about elder care needs and issues.  Clearly organized voices offer a great improvement over the past inability of the warnings of individual elder care advocates to be heard.  Not hearing or acting on those warnings allowed the eldercare disaster to evolve.

The Role of Government

It is clear to Canadians that our policies toward elder care and the elder care providers has been an appalling failure.  Last year Ontario and Quebec cut healthcare funding by over a half a billion dollars.   Atlantic Canadians have faced doctor shortages for over 25 years with an estimated 9-13% of Atlantic Canadians lacking a family doctor.  In Nova Scotia the closure of emergency rooms exploded from just over 20,000 hours in 2014-15 to just under 50,000 in 2018-19, and the waiting list for elder care is, sadly, large and long.  The Nova Scotia government priority has been a balanced budget. 

In reality, between 2008 and 2019, the share of the world’s wealth in the hands of the richest 1% has climbed from 42% to over 50%.  The claims of neoclassical economics that richly rewarding the already very rich would result in a ‘trickle down’ of wealth to the 99% has in reality fueled a ‘trickle up’, or more correctly a flood of wealth to the 1%.  The rich threaten that if we do not cut their personal and corporate taxes they will take their money to another country and leave us jobless.  But even with cut taxes, they pull their money out and hide it in tax havens.  We have clearly hung on far too long to the bizarre notion that an economy guided by greed and self-interest would not have terrible consequences.  

We are solidly in the midst of a new epoch in the history of our planet, ‘The Anthropocene’.  It is an era in which it is impossible to look at any location on our planet without finding it being reshaped by human activity.  It is a period in which humans may well choose to largely destroy the ability of the planet to support life as we know it, a process which has already begun.   We are, in terms of geologic time, speeding toward runaway climate change.  The sixth mass extinction of life on the planet is now happening.  We have made the air toxic.  We have made the oceans increasingly acidic, choking in plastic and subject to a reduction in life.  We are heading for a global fresh water shortage.  Worldwide epidemics have increased from 3 in the 1800’s, 5 in the 1900’s and 5 since 2000, in just 20 years.  Our investor based economy will do anything that produces a profit.  Capital has become the modern god for whom no sacrifice seems too great.  It is evident in our approach to eldercare.  Nature and society are organized in the service of capital and insatiable greed.

COVID 19 and climate change are urgent calls for us to shift to a human economy focused on meeting human need, one governed fully recognizing our interdependence with nature and each other.  Sadly, it is possible that the response to both will be to tax the 99% to bail out the 1% who do not need it.   That was the response to the 2008 economic collapse caused by financial industry greed.  It is the COVID 19 response of the Trump administration in the United States for whom we walk on egg shells to avoid offending.  It is possible our governments will pour billions of dollars more into the oil industry attempting to return to the 1950’s.  It may bail out companies with trillions of tax dollars without taking a strong ownership position or control on behalf of tax payers whose money they invested.   Or we can start the careful process of building a green democratic economy.  If we absolutely must bail some corporations out the government should own them and sell them to their workers to run co-operatively.

If we pick a long term green economic democracy approach, there is no better place to start than with elder care using strong measures to nurture, support and finance a co-operative, participatory, people based approach.  Post COVID 19 federal and provincial governments need to decide to raise revenues by dealing with getting the richest 10% of Canadians to pay their fair share.  This would strengthen provincial revenues and make possible federal transfers to provincial governments with a strong bias for solidarity elder care co-operatives.  Engage the co-operative sector and credit unions.  Let us build elder care with Canadians, engaging the best of who they are rather than having them ill served by facilities built for other purposes.

Responding to Colchester’s Traumatic Pain

We are reeling.  The unimaginable has happened.  We are learning the names and hearing the stories of people just like us gunned down in their home or on the street.  We are learning that wonderful people – family, friends, neighbors, care givers, people who were loved – have succumbed to a wave of evil acts by someone who was clearly deranged. The wave of evil washed over us.  Then a different wave began building.  Hearts are being posted on trees, candles in windows, e-mails have come from around the world, tears are running down cheeks of strangers.  A wave of what is best in humanity is washing over us.  This is not something we are responsible for but we feel responsible for responding somehow.  We also feel bereft that we cannot do more, especially when weighed down by the pandemic.

One of my ideals that I struggle with is the belief that, if we believe in God, we should judge actions and structures and not people.  That is a profound challenge.  Scott Peck, in his book People of the Lie, writes about people who seem to have given their lives over to evil.  They live among us, often appearing normal, and when they commit an evil act we are often caught by surprise.  This is not a reality we can control.  A wave of evil acts leaves us feeling out of control.   In time, we will want to know as much as we can about from where this explosion of evil came, but that is for a bit later.

In Man’s Search for Meaning, concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl tells us we can always control what we choose to think about, and unlike Dr. Frankl, we are free to choose to act on what we choose to think about.  It is reassuring that the overwhelming choices of people are to respond with honesty, openness, caring for others, sharing, social responsibility, fairness.  These are people centered responses.   Evolution has gifted the human brain with altruism that inclines us to help others and work together.  When confronted with natural disasters, from storms to wild fires, to pandemics to floods, people work together in an explosion of altruism that seeks to dwarf the explosion of evil.

What is the most appropriated way to honor and remember and care for the victims of this tragedy and their families and friends?  As we think about the stories we have heard about the victims – nurses, a teacher, a police officer, a fire fighter, fathers, mothers – one guide as to how to respond is how they might like us to respond.  All were caregivers in one way or another.  Our response should be a caregiver’s response.  Our response should be focused on the best of human nature.  The pain they feel will not go away tomorrow.  Children of victims will grow up with the pain and the absence of support and love of a missing parent or parents.  Our response needs to be enduring. 

In a few weeks or months this terrible tragedy will be out of the headlines.  Most of will move ahead in our lives not knowing much more than the names of survivors or their struggle with the aftermath of these evil acts.   What can we put in place today that will respond to the needs of the victims of this tragedy in the weeks, months, and years to come.  One possible response would be a trust fund, one that is responsive to what families and friends want and need.  One that is guided by caregivers. 

An important question is how to structure it.  It should be people based rather than government based to be close to the people it serves.  A community based co-operative drawing on the ideas of solidarity co-operation offers many strengths.  Adopting a co-operative organizational structure brings with it acceptance of a shared purpose, meeting member and community need, and a set of values and principles shaped by more than 150 years of people working together.  Those values, honesty, openness, social responsibility, caring for others, equality, equity, mutual self-help, self-responsibility, solidarity and democracy are the kinds of values that the victims of this tragedy showed.  They are also, once adopted, become the signposts of accountability for the organization.

Membership should be open to the families and friends and people from the communities directly impacted.  It could be open to caregivers either as individuals or through their organizations.   Members should choose who will direct the organization.  Families and friends of victims should be assured strong participation in governance, as should caregivers.  Those they choose might appoint community and or government representatives to be part of the governance.

It might be tentatively called the Colchester Memorial Co-operative Trust.   It could be funded by individual donations from the thousands of people moved by compassion for the victims and their families.  It could be funded as well by governments as a memorial to those who lost their lives and the spontaneous community response. 

The Trust should have as its primary focus staying in touch with the families to ensure that they have the care and support that we all feel but cannot deliver.  The care and support needs will change over time.  Social and psychological support and just ensuring people do not feel alone would clearly be early priorities.  Education assistance and funding needs may grow over time.  It might also look at a suitable memorial or memorials so that we never forget those we lost, and that, while people are fundamentally good, frailty lives among us as does a capacity for evil.  It might also look at increasing our understanding of how this event happened and what if anything might lessen the chance of it happening again.  It might look with caring judgement at the decisions of emergency first responders caught up in the horror of events beyond any reasonable expectation.

Finally, let me cautiously express a final hope.  Let us judge the evil of the actions but leave to the Creator the judgement of him whom we will not name.  Let us also leave room in our hearts for the family and friends of him whom we will not name.  I do not know even who they are, but heaven alone knows what agonizing thoughts and guilt and rejection they are experiencing.  If they were in any way complicit they need to have deep courage to come forward.  If they were not complicit, they too are victims.  Let the Trust respond to them as appropriate as its most difficult task. 

Let us remember Lisa Mcully, Heidi Stevenson, Tom Bagley, Sean McLeod, Alanna Jenkins, Jamie and Greg Blair, Emily and Aaron Tuck, Jolene Oliver, Kristen Beaton, Heather O’Brien, Corrie Ellison, Gina Goulet, Joey Webber, Dawn Madson, Frank Gulenchyn, Joy and Peter Bond, Elizabeth Joanne Thomas, John Joseph Zahl, Lillian Hyslop and any further victims yet to be found, with love and caring.  Let us never forget that those left behind need to be surrounded by our love and caring, not just today, but for as long as they need us.