System change not climate change

Rise of Trump and Trudeau haven’t changed need for radical climate action

The entire system must be put into question, not just who joins the new executive committee
Photo: Mike Beauregard

At the thousands-strong demonstration against Kinder Morgan earlier this month in Vancouver, I lounged in a sailboat in False Creek with kayaktivists swarming around me, looking up under the Cambie Bridge at a very large homemade "NO KINDER MORGAN" banner that my friends had stitched in fishnet.

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As I watched the horizon, hordes of righteous, beaming souls started a police-escorted procession and then moved across the bridge and into downtown. The demo ended with spectacular speeches by a range of First Nations displaying a singular commitment to defeat Kinder Morgan's plan to massively expand its Trans Mountain Pipeline, which runs from Alberta to Burnaby, B.C.

Immersion in the energy of the crowd was enough to raise a cynic's sense of resignation as the world inexorably moves down a dangerous climate path facilitated by Donald Trump and Justin Trudeau. Mounting news of climate mayhem includes, for instance, the disappearance of winter in the Arctic.

The lesser evil is still evil

Across-the-board warnings about Trump have been issued, including remarks in the New York Times: "Global warming may indeed be the sharpest example of how policy in Washington will change under a Trump administration."

As president, Trump would dump the Paris climate agreement. He has also pledged to revive the bankrupt U.S. coal industry, kill Obama's Clean Power Plan, eliminate NASA’s climate program, gut federal subsidies for wind and solar power, eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, and stack the Supreme Court and the executive branch of government with industry-friendly appointments.

Trump evokes memories of the Harper government, which extinguished multiple important Canadian environmental laws, muzzled climate scientists, harassed environmental NGOs, created "anti-terrorism" legislation that targets First Nations and other pipeline activists, and generally introduced regressive and reactionary social policy while promoting Canada as the world's new petro-state.

What gets lost in the demonizing of Trump and Harper is a critical memory and understanding of the threat to the environment from their political rivals, Barack Obama and Justin Trudeau.

Recall Obama's All-of-the-Above Energy Strategy, which doubled oil extraction while promoting alternative energies. "The greatest oil boom in this nation's history," argues an article in CNN Money, "has occurred during the tenure of self-proclaimed environmentalist Barack Obama."

Trudeau also backs fossil-fuel development alongside "green" energy sources, making the absurd claim that Canada actually needs new tar sands pipelines to pay for Canada's transition to a green economy.

It is anticipated that Trudeau will approve Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline within days, just as he ignored questions of social licence in the cases of Pacific Northwest LNG, Woodfibre LNG and the Site C dam. Vancouver activists would also be wise to prepare for Trudeau’s backup "Plan B."

Keep on keepin’ on

As the deteriorating emergency of climate crisis presses upon all of us, we need to remember that forms of climate justice action other than the most radical climate movement responses are increasingly futile.

The time for small measures is over, and the need for drastic action is at our doorstep. Scientists have argued for over a hundred years that the radiative effects of increasing carbon dioxide will eventually push delicate ecosystems past historical boundaries and into zones that are dangerous to human life and delicate ecological equilibriums.

At some point, cumulative anthropogenic contributions will trigger amplified positive feedbacks to activate independently within atmospheric and oceanic systems, causing exponential transformations and consequent runaway and irreversible climate crisis. Today, scientists monitor the onset of abrupt climate change in real time. Climate modelling of gradual and linear changes to earth systems are being eclipsed by pronouncements, based on peer-reviewed research, of the passing of climate thresholds and tipping points within climate systems.

Those who fear a Trump presidency or Trudeau duplicity is disaster do not understand that we are already well into the disaster. Trump is just a more extreme symptom of a much larger and more intransigent problem that most citizenry are willing to accept.

Trudeau will go on doing what he has been elected to do: ensuring Canada's place in the juggernaut of globalized capitalism with its growth and profit imperatives. The entire system that must be put into question, not just who joins the new executive committee. The radical activist community must keep doing what it has to do, intensifying its efforts. Referring to the election of Trump, a new coalition of leading environmental groups meeting in Marrakesh, Morrocco, issued a manifesto:

The views of one man neither change how the rest of the world sees the climate crisis, nor can they change the reality of what needs to happen to keep temperature rise to a minimum, below 1.5°C. The rest of the world will go on with climate action, thanks to our incredible pressure as global movements and communities at the frontline who are building power….

As global citizens we commit to build a climate movement, whose beating heart is justice, that can break out of its silo and create a broad based progressive movement alongside Black Lives Matter, Indigenous movements, women's movements, student movements, LGBTQI communities, migrants movements, labour movements, and local movements against corporate power and the fossil fuel industry that work together to address the inequalities and injustices that blight our world.

Thank you, Vancouver, for those few moments on the streets rallying against Kinder Morgan. Hope to join you again soon. In the meantime, "make love, not CO2!"

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