As youth follow Thunberg’s lead, what are the adults doing?

(September 25, 2019)

“The adults have failed us.”

The message Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has delivered clearly and consistently for the past year, from her spot outside the Swedish parliament to the UN, is simple and direct.

We are in a global crisis and the adults in charge of everything have done nothing to solve it.

It’s not about getting more information — we have all we need. It’s also not about figuring out what to do — we already know.

The adults have failed us, she says, because they have done nothing. The future of all the children of Earth is literally going up in smoke.

Every day we don’t act, the situation gets worse and more of that future disappears. Species go extinct, at the rate of 200 per day. The air is fouled, the water is filled with toxins and plastic, the food becomes unhealthy or scarce — this is what her future holds, as the landscape becomes dry, barren and unlivable.

She calmly observes there are no politics to change that reality, just yet.

In Canada, the federal election campaign was launched before the dust of the provincial election settled here in Manitoba. Her observation, unfortunately, continues to be true for us.

You could argue — though I would disagree — that business and industry have no responsibility to care for people or for the planet, that narrow-minded self-interest excuses their lack of social responsibility. But politicians, especially in a democracy, have responsibilities to everyone.

While we could also argue about the details of those responsibilities, clearly one of them should be preventing the end of civilization as we know it. Yet the response of all provincial parties to the climate crisis was pathetic, and I fear the federal parties will do no better.

In Manitoba, we have a renewed majority for a government that made indifference and inaction on environmental issues for the past three years into a perverse point of pride, preferring absence to engagement on those issues during the campaign.

The rest of the parties were no better. The climate crisis was ignored by the NDP in favour of a Throwback Thursday routine on health care, and while it was an earnest (but unconvincing) plank in the Liberal platform, for some inexplicable reason a sustainable future was sidelined even by the Green party, whose climate policies were pale green at best.

So, not surprisingly, many Manitobans ignored their own responsibility and stayed home. But there is no point to calling a society democratic when the people don’t vote.

The single biggest reason I heard for this dereliction of duty was, “Why vote, when nothing ever changes?”

There is truth in that reaction. Against the apathy and environmental inaction of the Progressive Conservative party — which once again garnered about 40 per cent or so of the vote — the other parties postured their 60 per cent share into inevitable defeat.

The politics of a sustainable future requires a coalition for the planet, where the best and brightest members of all parties — or none — find a way to work together for the radical transformation that our world so desperately needs.

Thunberg also reminds us individual choices matter, that what each of us does changes the world, in one direction or another.

On Friday, children will be following her lead and striking for the climate in more than 100 countries.

In Manitoba, they will be at the legislature from noon onward, to try to convince this next group of provincial politicians that — together — they must do what needs to be done, so these children can grow toward a future in which they are able to live.

But on that day, and in the aftermath of that global climate strike, where will the adults be? Will they be standing with the children, or standing against them?

Where will you be? Will you change how you live, the choices you make, every day? Or will you instead look into the eyes of your children and grandchildren and tell them you simply don’t care what happens to them?

We are faced with that kind of black or white choice. If nothing else, at least be honest — follow Thunberg’s example and be clear and direct about what you think and what matters most to you. Have the guts to tell the children, to their faces, that you intend to let their future burn.

If you can go on making those same choices as before, after you watch the children strike on Friday, then my Canada — and my world — really is upside down.

Thunberg and others have wondered whether the climate crisis is too important to be left to the politicians to solve. They must also be wondering if the climate crisis is too important for the adults to be left in charge any longer.

We will see what they decide.

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Has Green become the new orange?

(May 15, 2019)

There is a sea change happening in Canadian politics. There is a green tide coming in, across the whole country.

Prince Edward Island is leading the way, just as it did with Confederation. The recent provincial election swept out the red (Liberals), narrowly elected the blue (Conservatives) and, for the first time in Canada, the official Opposition is the Green (party).

Political swings on the Island are not new — but they have see-sawed for 150 years between red and blue, never orange (NDP). This time, the reds were washed away by the surging Green tide. But if Green is the new orange in P.E.I. — and I suspect elsewhere, given the byelection win for the federal Greens in British Columbia that gives them a second MP — what does this mean for the future of the New Democratic Party, the perpetual alternative?

First, the name is unfortunate. The NDP were new once, but not in the lifetime of anyone under 50. Second, their main slogan is no better — looking at the policies and rhetoric of their leadership, “Today’s NDP” is really “yesterday’s” instead. Apart from the work of some outstanding individuals (including Transcona MP Daniel Blaikie, a Red Seal electrician with an MA in philosophy), the federal NDP has floundered for decades.

Across the aisle, the Progressive Conservatives were erased by the blue wave of Reformers from Alberta, but there has been nothing progressive in the federal Conservative party since Joe Clark’s short-lived government fell in 1979. There used to be a wing of red Tories that promoted centrist, socially responsible government. Today, the only red Tories in leadership are angry ones. Yet, among the rank and file, I suspect there are lots of red Tories left. The party’s policies and hierarchy don’t align with them, but they are still not likely to vote either Liberal or NDP.

All of this opens the way for a Green tide — perhaps even in Alberta, despite the decidedly blue-hued result of its recent election.

We are headed further into economic and environmental uncertainty. Old answers (and players) aren’t working, and there is a limit to the number of times the same old thing can be repackaged or rebranded. Real change becomes the only sensible and practical alternative.

The Social Credit Party surprised everyone by winning the Alberta provincial election in 1935, when voters decided red and blue had nothing more to offer. From these roots, the Alberta spin on Conservative politics (including the Reform Party) eventually spread across the country when the money to be made in Big Oil appealed to Bay Street power brokers, and replaced the traditional federal conservative party with its own shade of blue.

Similarly, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation also got its start in Alberta, in 1932, and then moved east to form government in Saskatchewan in 1944. It only became a national party when Prairie farmers allied themselves with trade unions elsewhere, and so the CCF morphed into the NDP in 1961.

Both Alberta blue and Saskatchewan orange began as alternatives, therefore, in a time of great economic and environmental crisis, and then grew. P.E.I. Green could do the same again, as we move further into a deeper global economic and ecological crisis.

As we have seen recently in Alberta and Saskatchewan, it is easier to start a new party than remake old ones. While the “new” Manitoba Liberals seem greener than their opponents, it’s still a red/green show at the core, I fear — not the true renewal of a third option in Manitoba politics. That leaves the Green party, at provincial and federal levels, as we contemplate at least one election this year. Reducing federal politics to repetitive verse, the Liberals are the party of old money and privilege; the Conservatives are the party of new money and profit; the NDP are the party of no money and need.

The Green party is still in search of its own poetic definition, but it has amazing potential. As a clear alternative, the Green party could stand for social justice, fiscal responsibility and ecological engagement. It could deliver the decisive action that our world so desperately requires, right now, instead of offering platitudes to greenwash the guilty consciences of those who could change, but find it personally inconvenient, and so don’t.

It could take all the old colours and combine them into that New Green Deal for Canadians that those of us who are worried about the future young people will inherit still hope to create. And it would be a New Green Deal, not the Green New Deal of the United States, because we do things our own way, here — and don’t intend to apologize for it.

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