Archives for posts with tag: climate change

When it comes to highest global carbon emissions, Canada is ranked 11th overall, contributing about 2% of the world’s CO2 emissions. On a per capita basis, however, Canada joins other oil producing nations of the Middle East and jumps to 7th place, ahead of the two largest polluters in absolute terms, China and the United States. Because Canada is supposed to be the “nice” country, we make claims of producing “ethical oil” to allay the fears of Western oil consumers not wanting to give their petro-dollars to evil Muslims. Our way of syphoning oil from the ground may make Canadians one of the biggest polluters on the planet, but we’ll be damned sure to do it politely. This brings us to the current debate around pipelines in Canada.

Pipelines are the practical manifestation of ethical oil. They reduce carbon emissions in long-distance transfers of oil (when compared to rail), they produce less spillage than rail, and they are typically built further from communities than rail. If we assume that oil production is going to continue into the near future, which is a safe bet all things considered, then the use of pipelines could be considered a harm reduction approach. If we are going to be polluting anyway, let’s pollute in the least pollution-y way possible. I mean, oil advocates also say that the pipelines are good because they’re going to expand the market, which would indicate more pollution since additional oil production will likely offset the reduction of carbon emission created by pipelines, but let’s sweep that one under the rug for now. All us hippie progressives love harm reduction when it comes to our drugs, why not embrace harm reduction when it comes to CO2 emissions?

It’s okay because the world has access to a needle exchange program

Vancouver is known worldwide for its harm reduction approach to drugs. They give heroin to heroin addicts, so surely their methodology is suitable for examining pipelines from this perspective. Vancouver invested in a four-pillars approach to fighting drug addiction in its city. These pillars are prevention, treatment, enforcement, and of course, harm reduction.

When looking at the pillar of harm reduction, its big caveat is that it does not condone the usage of drugs, but highlights that abstinence is not an immediate goal for some users, thus necessitating a pragmatic approach. Oil isn’t going away any time soon no matter how hard we might wish it to be so, so the first point goes to harm reduction.

Next, it wants to define what the harms actually are. Physical harms of drugs are obvious (death and illness, for example), but there are also psychological harms (the fear of crime/violence/family breakdown), social harms (the breakdown of social systems), economic harms (lost productivity, workplace accidents, health care costs, etc.), and community harms (public disorder, drug litter, etc.). Harm reduction is literally the name of the game, and pipelines do reduce the harms listed above. I mean, there are harms that pipelines ignore, like the aforementioned problem of expanding markets. Also, if we assume the jobs, jobs, jobs promised in pipeline development addresses economic harms, we have to ignore that oil is still a dying industry and renewable energy is the 8th fastest growing market in Canada. Short-term economic benefits may result in long-term harms, but I’m still fine burying my head in the sand over this for right now. Let’s just say that pipelines reduce measurable harms because they still technically reduce some harms.

You know, from this perspective, it looks like oil is going to last forever!

The next course of action within harm reduction is to maximize intervention options. Drug users need clean needles, sure, but they also need stable housing, supervised consumption, safe supply, street drug testing, and so on. Pipelines are one issue. While you can certainly find centrists who will advocate for pipelines being built alongside investments in renewable energy (the current Liberal government is one such example), those investments paints a different picture. Canada spends about $4.8 billion dollars a year on fossil fuel companies; this is not direct cash payments (though cash does appear occasionally, such as money for oil well cleanup costs – $1.7 billion), but includes things like tax breaks, research and development support, etc. Our environmentally conscious Liberals spent $4.5 billion on a pipeline that may actually go nowhere. In the wannabe petro-state Alberta, they spent $1.5 billion on a pipeline that the Biden administration very predictably cancelled. Alberta’s government also spends millions of dollars on a propaganda outlet that takes to task such things like the accurate reporting of the New York Times and cartoons. Remember these are tax dollars, not Big Oil corporate expenditures. When you realize that 10-30% of what the world’s governments spend on fossil fuels could pay for the entire green shift to renewable energy, it becomes clear that this is where we depart from the harm reduction philosophy. In order to truly reduce harm, we actually need to be putting real effort into moving away from fossil fuels.

Are you telling me that being nice about our oil isn’t actually enough to stop climate change??

The final aspect of harm reduction within the four pillars approach is the respect of basic human dignity. Drug users are human beings. They have endured trauma, and in order to cope with that trauma, they use drugs. It’s not a perfect system, but society needs to approach the problem with compassion and respect. However, the planet isn’t emotionally coping with anything. There is no autonomy to respect. The dignity of the Earth does not demand pipelines in the way that the dignity of a human being demands shelter and livelihood. Harm reduction is actually a failed metaphor because the planet is not doing this to itself. It’s an assault that we need to prevent from becoming a murder. Beating someone to death with a cushion may hurt less than a ball-peen hammer, but just because it takes longer doesn’t mean it still doesn’t ultimately lead to death. Harm reduction is allowing a person to do what they’re normally going to do in the safest way possible; the same kind of concession would mean allowing the planet to do what it would normally do as best it could with human beings dicking around on top of it. We are the ones addicted to oil. We are the ones needing intervention. Pipelines are the addict telling his family that he’s quitting for sure this time, but he still needs to borrow $40. A pipeline is not a clean needle. It’s a lie.

As we try to survive the intense heat of one of the hottest summers on record, and witness the dryness that comes with it devastating our province with forest fires, most of us probably recognize the link between the noticeably hotter and dryer days with that whole climate change thing that people have been talking about for decades. Science, you win this round.

In order to combat climate change, however, we need to drastically reduce our carbon emissions. One such method, proven to reduce the number of carbon-emitting vehicles on the road, is an improved transit system. Of course, given the choice, a group of peoples, asked to democratically choose whether or not to broaden their transit in an effort to reduce congestion, decrease emissions, and improve infrastructure at the cost of a 0.05% sales tax increase, will invariably choose to let their province burn, because hey, those extra couple of dollars at the checkout line might mean having to wait an extra paycheck to buy your next pair of yoga pants.

So it really does seem most people equate taxation as a fate worse than planetary obliteration. Now, it could be argued that the ‘No’ vote against the transit system was a giant ‘fuck you’ towards the mismanagement and financial corruption that is occurring within the transit administration, or due to a general mistrust of government, but frankly, arguing austerity for the sake of pettiness is the absolute worst reason. Government accountability is determined by elections and activism, not plebiscites.

Or maybe privatization is the answer? However, by definition, any profit-driven entity will always offer as little product as they can for as much price as they can get away with, and so when it comes to public services, it seems inane to privatize them. Think of what it would be like if a company owned the police. Quotas for tickets would be ramped up, and more provisions would be given towards fighting crimes that pay rather than fighting crimes, period. And of course, no one is going to arrest their boss. There’s the example of that fee-based fire fighting service that forbade fight fighters from putting out house fires that ignited outside of city limits, unless the individual had paid a $75 fee. A rate that discriminates based on location, as well as being a burden on those who live in poverty, is patently unfair. And yet another example would be to privatize the roads and see all the toll booths that would pop up at every corner. Also remember that any private company will only provide funding for scientific ventures and research that might ultimately profit them, whereas a government is not bound by the same motives.

Now, in this particular blog post, I won’t advocate a communist approach where the government runs all the means of production, but for many services, it just makes sense to have an impartial, non-profit oriented body managing them. Services for the less fortunate, for instance, or universal services like health care or police that provide a necessary function for society.

What’s a necessary service? Well, that’s up for debate, but I hope I’ve provided enough examples to show that privatizing everything would be egregiously stupid. Why help poor people? Unfortunately, people ask this question because general human compassion apparently isn’t enough, and fine, here are some examples that will convince your “socially liberal/ fiscally conservative” ideals: poor people get sick more because of bad diets and less access to sports, fitness centres, etc.; they commit more crimes because they have less money and therefore less connection with society; they don’t spend as much money at your stores because they don’t have that money in the first place, and if some kid with the potential to cure cancer can’t go to school because he can’t afford to, then that will lead to a deficient society. So helping the poor removes strain on the health care system, reduces crime, improves the economy from a Keynesian standpoint, and provides a society with the greatest potential.

Why rely on the government when we have private charities to look after the poor? First and foremost, a private charity could never undermine the basic systemic principles that are in place to maintain the status quo. A charity could donate food to the food bank, or clothes to a shelter, for example, but it could never provide a welfare system or social housing projects which are a necessary part of getting an individual into a position where they can take care of themselves, rather than rely on liberal alms. In addition, the charitable whims of society are constantly in flux, and follow trends rather than socially just goals with an equitable society as their end game. People also tend to donate to causes that relate to them personally rather than causes that need it the most.

But what if you want to be a selfish asshole? It’s your money, and taxation is theft! Well, actually, all money belongs to the government, since they are the ones printing it. The system of doling it out is arbitrary at best. Adam Smith says that some jobs are worth more based on scarcity and skills required. In regards to scarcity, the diamond industry has shown us that it can be manufactured through hoarding, and scarcity also becomes irrelevant if nobody wants the product. Skills are also fairly subjective, as someone who has dedicated their life to art could be argued to be equally skilled compared to someone who has dedicated their life to medicine, but I don’t need to tell you who gets paid more. The financial value of something is based solely upon supply and demand, and that is subject to the random flux of the market and cultural norms: a mother is tasked with the fate of a child, and a lawyer is tasked with the fate of an alleged criminal, but our culture decided one was worth thousands of dollars and the other is worth nothing, and despite all the lawyer jokes we both know which is which.

So no, it’s not your money. It’s only your money in the sense that it was randomly allocated to you by cultural norms outside of your control. Stephanie Meyers and E. L. James are both rich, while Stephen Hawking and Noam Chomsky live passable lives, financially. If that’s not an indicator of the nature of wealth being arbitrarily decided by cultural forces, I don’t know what is.

As someone who is going into social work, I am repeatedly told that I’m doing good work: taking care of the less fortunate is considered morally righteous. But the minute that I get a job working for the government, I am no longer a good person but a drain on the industrious tax payers of this fine country. I’m still helping poor people, but now they no longer deserve it because it’s the government helping them rather than a private individual. If a private individual donates money to charity, or even if a corporation donates money to charity, then they are lauded as sterling citizens. If the government donates money to the exact same cause, they are wasting tax dollars on frivolous handouts. This hypocrisy of seeing two entities committing the same righteous action but seeing one as the hero and the other the villain is an indicator that people against taxation but for charity are full of shit.

If we realize that taxation is not theft and look at it as charity instead, then we realize an important part of how our civilization is supposed to function. A community does not take care of itself through the work of individuals but collectively, and a government facilitates that. If one thinks of their tax dollars as charity, then you have to look at the government you vote for as the charitable organization you would want to give to. Do you want to donate to the Bomb Children Abroad fund? Probably not. It has a terrible ring to it. A government that advocates lowering corporate taxes is like donating your money to rich businesses; they make more money, and the rest of us get fewer public services because of it. (For you humbuggers, since I really don’t want to get into it, here.) What kinds of causes do you like to donate to? Which party best reflects those values?

Yes, I am aware that governments tend to put the word “fallible” to shame, but libertarian idealism is not the answer for a better society. Like I said earlier, activism and elections are the way to hold governments accountable, and yes, our society falls so far short on both of those elements that it makes me wonder if Ted Kaczynski had the right idea. If you want government to change, great! Be heard; we need it. But we also need taxes, because I don’t think Ayn Rand is going to save us from the forest fires.

Post-Script: Progressive taxation, such as income or corporate tax, can never bankrupt you. They are percentages on profit, and I want to take a moment to clarify the greatest myth against taxation that even Conservative Finance Minister Jim Flaherty wasn’t able to quite wrap his head around: if you go into a higher tax bracket, you pay higher taxes on that bracket only. If the taxes up until $100 are 0% and above that they become 50%, and if you start making $110, you don’t all of a sudden only get $55; you get $105 because the 50% only applies to the $10 you make over the bracket line. There is no disincentive to not earn more with regards to a higher tax bracket because there will always be a higher profit if a higher profit is earned.