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Wanted: Bold climate action

Ottawa river floods as parliament looks on. Photo CC BY-SA 2.0 robin_ottawa

May 13, 2019

Canadians want a Green New Deal. In a recent poll, 61% support a plan which would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide good green jobs.

Approval for the plan goes even higher – to 66% – when coupled with a steep rise in taxing corporations and the rich to pay for it. Two-thirds of people want to see the wealthy pay up since they are the main drivers of climate change.

This new poll comes on the heels of another survey which found that half the Canadian population is less than $200 away from insolvency. The number of people who are considered middle income is declining rapidly in Canada, as more become impoverished each year.

And in many parts of the world things are getting worse. In both the UK and the US, recent census data shows life expectancy is declining. In the US, there has been a spike in infant mortality – up by 20 percent this decade among the bottom 50 percent of the population by income.

During the early years of neoliberalism’s rise, it was common to say that young people may be worse off economically than their parents. A couple of decades later, and we are seeing that young people will not only have a harder life, it will also be much shorter and will be under the cloud of an increasingly unstable climate.

This is creating a new level of misery for many – but it is also the spark for a new resistance.

Now is the time

Despair is the fuel of the far right – and the right has made gains since the economic crisis in 2008. But where a bold political alternative to climate chaos, poverty and racism is on offer, millions flock to that banner.

The word socialism is now a standard topic of discussion on talk shows, around the dinner table and in the lunch room at work or school.

The left needs to seize the opportunity and not allow the anger to go to the right. The right is trying to channel that anger towards division and racism, to redirect it away from the rich who are responsible for the dire conditions people face.

This is what is driving the political polarization we are seeing in the world. The centre parties have seen dwindling support as both the right and left have been growing. In Canada, the political centre represented by Justin Trudeau is proving itself to be inept at solving these crises.

Trudeau is building pipelines rather than taking on climate change. He is putting billions into border security, cops and war – taking a page out of the far-right playbook. He calls for reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, then sends the military onto their land to force them to accept corporate Canada’s demand for more resource extraction.

In recent months we have seen the right gain in provincial elections as well. This indicates not a broad sweep towards right-wing ideas, but a desire for something to get better.

Unfortunately, the NDP is nowhere in responding to this palpable desire for change. In Alberta, Rachel Notley became a cheerleader for more tar sands development, and was soundly defeated – ushering in another hard-right government.

If the federal NDP doesn’t put forward a clear and bold vision to tackle the urgent problems people face in terms of jobs, impoverishment and climate chaos, then we will see the same result in the federal election this fall.

Now is the time! The Extinction Rebellion movement, the student walkouts globally and the rise of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the US show that people will support radical demands.

A key first step: the NDP needs to support a Green New Deal, much like the one that propelled Quebec solidaire to significant gains in the election last October.

Specifically, they need to support and amplify the call to nationalize and retool General Motors in Oshawa to produce electric vehicles.

Thousands of jobs and the future of that community are in the balance. This is a tangible example of what a just transition away from climate disaster could look like, providing concrete solutions to a growing crisis. And it is winnable.

In the meantime, we need to build resistance on the streets against the bigots, the bosses and their political lap dogs.

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