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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Let us decide how our taxes are spent

(May 6, 2019)

If you have ever put money in a Salvation Army Christmas kettle, you have participated in “crowdfunding.” Social media has just made that kettle collection into a worldwide affair on Kickstarter, GoFundMe or a host of similar platforms.

The latest variant is the birthday fundraiser, escalating the (free) “Happy Birthday” that Facebook reminds you to send your friends into a donation to their favourite charity.

For every crowdfunder that succeeds, of course, many never reach their target. But crowdfunding opens up an internet avenue for people to contribute to a cause that otherwise they would never have noticed.

For the tragedy surrounding the Humboldt Broncos bus crash, for example, more than $15 million was raised in a matter of days.

I was thinking about crowdfunding the other day as I drove to work. Despite my best efforts at rush-hour slalom driving, I hit more potholes than ever.

Perhaps the best way to end the “Battle of the Brians” would be to give Mayor Brian Bowman and Premier Brian Pallister each a shovel and a trailer full of hot asphalt to drag around the city to fix the roads themselves.

If I were NDP Leader Wab Kinew, however, I would create a campaign ad featuring someone driving around the city with a GoPro camera on their dash — every time the car hits a pothole, the driver would angrily mutter “Pallister!” It might make the premier think twice about calling a snap spring election.

Shifting the scene to Ontario, where the budget antics of Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford are in the news daily, I thought about the advantages of crowdfunding as a tool for citizen democracy.

At present, people elect governments for indeterminate reasons. We don’t know why each person voted the way they did, we just see the results. The elected officials, however, interpret these results as a divine mandate. Whatever they choose to do must be right, because they have been given the power.

Yet, even assuming all the people who voted for the current Manitoba government last time still support its decisions, this translates into 53 per cent of the 57 per cent of eligible voters who cast a ballot. In other words, 30 per cent of adult Manitobans gave Pallister his majority — leaving the other 70 per cent twisting in the wind.

Similarly, whatever reasons people had for voting PC in Ontario, I doubt a majority of voters supporting Doug Ford wanted poor kids to go hungry to school because cancelling the breakfast program would save some money. Nor was cancelling a tree-planting initiative an obvious cut. For that matter, neither was cancelling green-power initiatives, which will cost the government millions in penalties before the lawsuits even start.

The list goes on. Ford does it because he can — not a comforting thought for the rest of Ontario, at the mercy of the leader’s buck-a-beer whims for years to come.

But what if, instead, some of our tax dollars were spent through a crowdfunding platform? You could designate a portion of your income taxes, let’s say, to the things you wanted the government to fund. For once, the elite rich few who pride themselves on paying no taxes would have no say. At least some of our tax dollars would go where the average person felt they should, no politics attached.

Want to keep open the Concordia ER? Forget the lawn signs — designate your taxes. Want those potholes fixed? Don’t wait for some Brian to win — fill them up on PotHoles.com.

Think that $25 a month to support welfare recipients finding work is more important than spending money on government advertising about a PST cut? Make it so. Want electric buses? Ditto.

It could be a next step in real democracy — people making crowdfunding choices on a daily basis about what they think is important, rather than a minority electing a leader every four (or three) years to rule with impunity, regardless of what anyone else thinks or wants.

It would also be a far more effective democratic tool than random telephone opinion surveys to find out “what Manitobans want,” because everyone who had a stake in the decision could (literally) vote with their wallets.

On Manitoba’s climate (in)action file, crowdfunding green initiatives with tax dollars would tap into the anxiety that Manitobans have about the kind of world the next generation will inherit. It would give the rest of us the chance to do what our politicians won’t. Mind you, perhaps only people who have small children should be allowed to vote on initiatives that shape or deny a sustainable future.

As Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg reminds us, our current political dithering robs children everywhere of their future. Their issues are not on the ballot, nor can they vote.

But their parents can. And should.

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