Why we need to leap to a just green economy

What is radical?

It's certainly a label Indigenous, social justice and environmental activists wore frequently during Harper years.  

It's now a label being widely used in the mainstream media to frame the Leap Manifesto (along with a whole lot of other colourful adjectives).

But really, what is radical?

Is it proposing a Canada based on caring for the earth and one another, for respecting Indigenous rights and wrestling power away from big energy corporations through more energy democracy like the Leap Manifesto suggests?

Or is it a world in which energy corporations would have us on course to a 4 to 6 degree temperature rise spelling disaster for people and the planet (and yes, our economies) or living in a world where the richest 62 people are as wealthy as half the world's population?

According to mainstream Canadian news coverage lately, it's the former. 

Why I support the Leap Manifesto

First off, let me be clear. I was at the meeting held this past summer that brought together dozens of social-movement activists from six provinces, including First Nations living downstream from the tar sands, leaders from some of the biggest trade unions in Canada, anti-poverty activists, environmentalists, social justice organizers, and more.

I was heartened by the rich discussion we had, and remain supportive of the Leap Manifesto and the many ways in which it has inspired important work.

Since it's release, I've seen many of our chapters (we have over 60 grassroots chapters across the country) integrate the document into panel discussions following screenings of 'This Changes Everything,' collecting signatures for the petition, leafleting at farmers markets and busy spots, sharing and discussing it with their MPs and allies in the community.

It has led to the launch of a concrete new initiative to use Canada Post offices as a vehicle for supporting community power and providing much needed local banking services (more on this here)

And now, it has led to grassroots activists in one of Canada's main political parties successfully passing a motion at the recent NDP convention to debate the Leap Manifesto at the riding level.

I think this is good thing.

I think healthy debate must be part of our movements, always. We must not back away from engaging with each other, inside and outside of partisan politics - and let me emphasize that while the Leap Manifesto has been taken up by NDP grassroots activists, it is not a partisan, or NDP manifesto.

So why has this been so controversial?

There are a whole lot of layers to pull back on this one, and I'm not going to speculate on the internal dynamics within the federal NDP on this, but I would like to address what I think is a few key points. 

Global oil price crash is hurting Albertans 

No if, and's or buts. People who work in, or depend on people employed in the tar sands (or oil sands or bitumen sands, however you want to call them) are hurting. This is hurting families, it is hurting communities.

Yes, I've long campaigned against the expansion of the tar sands and continue to do so. Do I take any joy or happiness is seeing workers hurting now? No I do not.

Do I think there are things that could have been done to prepare Alberta to better weather this storm?

Absolutely.

We, and many others have long pointed to the example of Norway, where the government has set aside $900 billion USD thanks to oil and gas royalties to help support social programmes and deal with the inevitable bust of the fossil fuel boom. In contrast, Alberta has squandered the opportunities it had, selling off it's resources (recognizing fully that resources on Indigenous territories weren't theirs to sell off in the first place, and the ongoing struggles of First Nations for adequate consultation and respect of Indigenous rights) to transnational corporations tapping into billions from Canadians subsidizing the fossil fuel industry while paying some of the lowest royalty rates in the world (and by the way, there are still lessons that can be learned from Norway and applied now).

But this is what Premier Notley has inherited, and I for one, do not envy her position. I support much of what she has done such as raising corporate tax rates, moving forward the discussion towards $15.00 minimum wage and agreeing to phase out coal fired power, but I disagree with her on pipelines.

Intricately tied to the criticisms we've seen unfold in the past several days attacking the Leap Manifesto has been a focus on the Leap's call, "[there is] ... no longer an excuse for building new infrastructure projects that lock us into increased extraction decades into the future."

We're talking about no new pipelines or expansion in the tar sands, combined with the recognition that we need to aim for weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels by 2050. Something climate scientists have said is needed, and possible.

In the context Alberta now faces, this has been framed as radical and risky, foolish.

But here's the thing. A new pipeline won't fix Alberta's economic woes. Lack of market access isn't what is causing job losses in Alberta.

It is tanking global oil prices, the influence of US fracked oil and the higher costs of producing tar sands crude. Longer-term there is the threat of government policies aimed at reducing climate pollution that will bear down on the province's tar sands sector making 40 year long infrastructure, like Notley's favoured 1.1 million barrel per day Energy East pipeline an economic risk (find a more detailed analysis backing this up here).

Then there is consideration of how allowing the largest tar sands pipeline yet would make it so that we can't do our fair share in address climate change.

Energy East alone would allow for a close to 40 per cent increase in tar sands production and threatens to blow our carbon budget in a 2 degree temperature rise scenario (considering only the upstream emissions of this one project) in 19 years, let alone the 1.5 degree target we need.  

Where do we go from here? 

Well, the Leap Manifesto actually has some good suggestions.

In an op-ed featured in the Edmonton Journal this week by Avi Lewis, journalist and filmaker, Grand Chief Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations Tony Alexis and Joel French, executive director of Public Interest Alberta "Instead of corporate welfare, the proceeds from the carbon price should go toward an ambitious energy transition: a made-in-Alberta plan to truly diversify the economy while benefiting communities, First Nations and ordinary Albertans immediately."

In fact, a new poll asking Albertans how they would like revenue raised by a proposed carbon tax spent indicates that by more than a two-to-one margin, people favour spending it on green energy projects, transit and energy efficiencies.

According to the One Million Climate jobs campaign,

By investing up to 5 percent of the annual federal budget, each year, for a five-year period — in public renewable energy developments [i.e. wind, solar, and geothermal power]; energy efficiencies through building retrofits; public transit improvements and expansion; and in higher speed rail between urban cities within urban corridors — Canada could create one million new jobs in the economy while reducing between 25 and 35 percent of our annual greenhouse gas emissions.

I think we can write policy documents and put forward proposals until we are blue in the face (and yes, we absolutely need these blue prints, we already have some, and will continue to need to work on this level), but it is through telling real stories, through tangible examples, which I think will be led by Indigenous communities, grassroots activists and workers, that we'll find the solutions we need.

Take, for example, The Little Buffalo First Nation communities' solar power project (located in the heart of the tar sands). The growing number of cooperatives and potential of publicly owned renewable power projects in Canada and around the world. The trail blazing by oil sands workers with Iron and Earth.

Ultimately, this is where I think bridge building exists and where hearts and minds can be won over to the possibility of a better, more just and less destructive world.

We know that investments in renewables, energy efficiency and public transit generate more jobs then investments in fossil fuels. Let's get on the path to making this happen, and let's do it in a way that lifts people and communities up, helping to reduce inequalities, not worsen them or embolden corporate power.

This is the conversation I think the Leap Manifesto and the many waves of actions it has inspired, will lead us.