Climate Convergence Speech - presented at 'The Federal Election and the Climate Crisis - Forum & Discussion' Oct. 11, 2019

Gene McGuckin

The children, who rallied in their tens of thousands on Canadian streets two weeks ago, want our current federal election to produce a government with a climate justice plan that will give us a more equitable society and strongly support global efforts to save our civilization and maybe our species. It is somewhat mind-boggling that not one of the four main parties contesting the election has put forward such a plan.

None of them even acknowledges the root cause of both climate disruption and social injustice, which is the worldwide, profit-driven economic system that, as Greta Thunberg put it in her angry UN speech, focuses only on “money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.”

All the parties are so loyal to this economic system—to capitalism—that they refuse to offer climate justice plans that fundamentally challenge that system, that go beyond some more-or-less-inadequate reforms. So, they stick with the failing so-called solutions of denialism, market mechanisms (like carbon pricing and tax-breaks), government regulation that never goes far enough, and the confidence that there will be an eleventh-hour, miracle, technological breakthrough.

Some gaping holes in their plans include:

A serious lack of stress on the urgency of the crises. No party calls for halting construction of all fossil fuel infrastructure. Last year’s IPCC report with its 12-year deadline, was a conservative, lowest-common-denominator assessment when it was published. More recent scientific reports predict earlier, more destructive, impacts resulting from climate disruption. Most say the fossil fuels already in the system are enough to bring catastrophe.

Similarly, no party talks about the absolute necessity that Canadians significantly reduce our carbon footprint, individually and all together, not just by turning off the lights and riding bicycles, but by making major changes in our consumption of just about everything. We have the highest per capita emission rate in the world. So, we need to consume less, fly less, import less, etc., and we need to remove/replace production sites with large emissions (can you say, “tar sands” or “fracking”?) Anyone who thinks we’re going to save the kids’ future without personal inconvenience and discomforts also needs to cut back on whatever they’re smoking.

Nor does any party even mention that we should honour existing pledges to aid underdeveloped countries, let alone increasing them. None talks about preparing adequately for the growing tide of climate refugees fleeing hunger and brutality (some of it directly traceable to Canadian banks and corporations); no, the parties would rather debate how racist and xenophobic our barriers to asylum claims should be.

In their pro-profit blindness, all parties ignore such obvious non-market solutions as nationalizing the entire energy industry and winding it down. Nationalization is a century-old public policy solution, used by eight provincial governments in the hydro industry. And it beats subsidies.

And the hypocrisy of the so-called progressive parties on supposedly supporting First Nation territorial rights, as outlined in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is breath-taking.

Yet, all parties at least pretend to put forward plans, because more and more millions of us are aware that business-as-usual capitalist economics and governance are not preventing our rush toward global economic, ecological, and social system crashes. More and more of us know that we need planned solutions and quick action to avoid ecotastrophe. That option is not, unfortunately, on the ballot in this election. Of course, the Greens and NDP are better than “Mr. Delay and Mr. Deny,” but on a sinking ship partially patching half the holes in the hull doesn’t save the passengers.

Nothing I say should be taken as an argument not to vote. I’m arguing against ONLY voting. Our best electoral hope, at this point, appears to be electing a minority government with as many ecology-conscious, ecology-committed MPs as possible (ready to break party discipline).

But on October 22, we need to recognize that it’s time to stop asking governments and corporations to come up with climate justice plans. They won’t, because that would hurt their profits. Yet we need a plan (or plans that fit together), so someone is going to have to do that planning. Since we can’t just wait until the next election, that someone is going to have to be us.

Our awareness of the need for real planning has already led many of us to attend Green New Deal discussions. These have been less frequent since the election writ was dropped due to worries about running afoul of new election laws, but they should start happening again soon after the election.

The Green New Deal organizing offers a beginning framework for us to start hammering out genuine climate justice plans that can transition us from where we are to where we have to be—going beyond “pressuring” governments to demanding measures we know are needed. The third XR demand for a citizens’ assembly to oversee government actions, is a good one—with one amendment. I wouldn’t count on current governments setting up such oversight bodies nor would I trust them if they did. GND groups can set them up—maybe fight for governments can provide some of the funding.

It may be hard to imagine bringing people together and working like this, but we need to understand that saving the kids’ future is going to take efforts that are beyond what we’ve known as normal. The new democracy is going to have to be one of citizens in action, not just taking a few minutes every few years to mark ballots in a voting booth.

Implementing the needed transition will take social and economic planning that must be thoroughly democratic and inclusive. We’ll need to build a movement of union and non-union working people and all of our allies—of all genders, ethnicities, religions, and ages. We’ll set goals, develop strategies and tactics, try them in practice and revise as necessary. We’ll need to deal with all the inter-woven strands of crisis—of environment crisis and social crisis—and learn to try our best to create interwoven solutions.

Some of us have experienced what I believe was a foretaste of such citizen cooperation on climate justice issues. When Justin Trudeau betrayed his campaign promise to re-do, from scratch, the Trans Mountain Expansion Project assessment, he substituted a sop for us in the form of a “Ministerial Review Panel,” holding meetings along the pipeline route and inviting all manner of people to come and present their views on the project. At the three days of meetings in Burnaby, all manner of people did come, voluntarily, to testify to a packed gallery of other citizens. They were biologists, engineers, business people, teachers, blue-collar and white-collar trade unionists, people who just lived in the affected neighbourhoods. Together they had an immense store of learning, experience, talents, ideas, intelligence, love, and abilities to cooperate.

But getting back to the present and the future. Past experience shows that growing our political power will take extra-parliamentary actions—huge street rallies, occupations, coordinated strikes, and solidarity, between neighbourhoods and cities, and across borders. As suggested a moment ago, we’ll have to do things, individually and collectively, that we’ve never done before or even imagined doing. After a rough start, we’ll get better at it. As with all human labour, it changes not only what is being worked on; it also changes the people doing the work. The alternative is simply voting (or not) and then going back to being passive spectators, which will mean accepting disaster.

As soon as possible, by some process we can’t predict precisely right now, we’ll have to form governments that do represent our kids’ right to a future that isn’t hellish. Democratic government and state power will be necessary to enforce the will of the majority and to coordinate the rapid, massive planning and implementation tasks we’ll have to accomplish.


I’d like to end by emphasizing a point that doesn’t smoothly fit in anywhere else in my remarks—the importance of trade unions getting more involved in our struggles. Because employers and the flourishing crop of right-wing politicians play the jobs vs. the environment card, too many energy workers and way too many of their leaders are either opposed to climate justice battles or just absent from the fray. Inside the union movement there are bitter divisions. Yet, it’s hard to imagine a climate justice solution without the strength of organized labour on side. I hope that with the rising of the Sustainabiliteens, Our Time, and other youth groups that we will have allies at the dinner tables of many of my union brothers and sisters, but it is an important question for the whole movement to discuss in coming months.

Editor: here are the videos of the complete Forum of Oct. 11 including Gene presenting the above speech: <iframe src="" width="560" height="315" style="border:none;overflow:hidden" scrolling="no" frameborder="0" allowTransparency="true" allowFullScreen="true"></iframe> 

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