Monday, February 22, 2016

A hearty endorsement of the LEAP Manifesto

There will be millions in Canada and around the world who, having been nurtured in the spirit of “An Inconvenient Truth” produced by Al Gore, will next turn to a new movie, as their catalyst for attitudes, perceptions and actions that can only be considered natural, if not absolutely necessary. Seizing this moment in history in which we all face an existential threat from climate change and global warming, “This Changes Everything,” a movie produced by Avi Lewis, and based on the book of the same name, written by his partner, Naomi Klein, proposes a rethinking of the capitalist economic model to bring about dramatic humane and panoramic change:

·       ending our dependence on fossil fuels,

·       ending our obsessive subsidies to the fossil fuel sector

·       building energy efficient and non-polluting buildings, targeting low income communities and neighbourhoods first

·       providing a guaranteed annual income

·       expanding low carbon sectors: caregiving, teaching, social work, the arts, public interest media

·       respecting the inherent right of indigenous people through implementation of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,

·       high-speed rail powered by renewable

·       affordable public transit

·       a local, ecologically-based agriculture

·       an end to all trade deals that obstruct the rebuilding of local economies

·       ensuring immigration status and full protection for all workers

·       initiating financial transaction taxes,

·       increasing resource royalties

·       imposing high income taxes of corporations and the wealthy

·       initiating a progressive carbon tax

·       cutting military spending


This is no modest proposal. It overturns many of the conventional and deeply ingrained habits, behaviours, customs, and practices of the last century or more. It proposes a transformation that amounts not to skipping stones on the mirror surface of a lake but rather dropping a monumental boulder smack into the middle of the world’s lakes and oceans. The ripples, very different from the rising waters that are predicted if we continue to ignore the threat of global warming, will bring moderation to the climate energies in which we are currently engulfed; they will also signal a dramatic shift in the attitudes of all majorities to their minority peoples, shift the basic premises on which human discourse is based away from a virtual sacralising of the profit and the status motive and ambition that currently drives much of our transactional culture to a culture in which equality, compassion, dignity and a much more sustainable ethic prevails.

In order to bring about such a shift in global patterns of behaviour and attitude, amounting to nothing short of another “reformation” in the church, or a Sputnik in space travel, or another wave like that of the digital age, there will have to be a rethink in many of the academic departments of many of the world’s universities. History will include a celebration of the frontiers-folk who were building houses from recycled tires, and those who were “off-grid” from people known primarily for their eccentricities, to a respect for their courage and their leadership in our shared struggle for a decent and sustainable world, as the legacy we wish to leave for our grandchildren.

Bernie Sanders will not be permitted to be a mere footnote in the history of humanity. Al Gore will not  be permitted to be merely a tragic “wannabe” president of the United States who got a Nobel Peace Prize for his “Inconvenient Truth”. Bill McKibben will no longer be relegated to the airwaves of NPR and will spawn disciples in all academic disciplines, as a matter of ensconcing the new “ethic” in the curriculum of the world’s greatest universities, and their reduced dependence on the corporate benefactors who pollute planet with excess carbon. UBC will no longer reject a bid to off-load all investments in the fossil fuel sector, and they will be joined by a majority of universities in both developed and developing countries.

The liberal arts will experience a re-birth. And perhaps it will no longer be a shameful decision for young male university graduates to enlist as elementary school teachers, even kindergarten teachers.

There will, however, be both naysayers and political opposition, perhaps even street demonstrations in protest to such a “communist” proposal. Substantially raising the taxes of both the rich (and powerful) and the corporations (also the powerful), both of which measures will be necessary to accomplish these lofty and worthy goals. Defanging the fossil fuel industry, along with the fracking industry, will only generate howls of anguish, grief and perhaps even revenge. Giving aboriginal and indigenous communities a real voice in their lives, and in those issues that impact their lives, as local, provincial and national tables, on their own merit, (and not as representatives of the Liberal Party of Canada, or any other national political party) will generate hostility and resentment, extending beyond the level of anger when national rail lines are blocked by aboriginal people, in a vain attempt to get their voices acknowledged (never mind actually heard). Cutting military spending, especially by those amounts required to make this vision feasible, will undercut those whose lives, careers and reputations are embedded in the military establishment. And cutting military spending will also require, whether openly stated or not, a significant change in the direction of our foreign policy, away from guns, bombs, missiles and fighter jets and towards negotiations, agreements, treaties and contracts even with those who consider us their enemy. All political leaders who depend on the “macho” applications of hard power (and that includes nearly every current world leader, with a possible nod to Obama who has determinedly tried to avoid military action whenever possible) and the generals, admirals and sargeants who advise them will have to generate different options for resolving disputes between and among nations.

Military colleges will be expected to develop curriculum that focuses on the strategies, tactics, the theories and philosophies that attend peacekeeping. Corporations too will have to chift their focus from a narcissistic pursuit of the greatest profit for the smallest number of executives, at the expense of service and product deficits and consumer trust, to a perspective that respects their workers and their consumers ahead of their pursuit of profits, ironically thereby generating enhanced profits, through better business practices. Since everyone will be elegible for a guaranteed annual income (a social policy profoundly and eagerly supported elsewhere in this space), the notion of government hand-outs will be eliminated as will the reduction of social stigma on those who choose to work less than the currently required excessive number of hours to impress their bosses and their neighbours, but not their doctors (who hardly ever caution patients working too hard or too long, given their own ridiculous and self-sabotaging schedules, introduced as a matter of the rigeur of the medical profession, way back in medical school).

In a culture that elevates the reasonable expectation that we are each “our brother’s keeper” (while keeping an eye on the potential for abuses by those who seek a free ride) our culture will elevate the aspirations and the imaginations, not to mention the contributions of generations of young people, whose pride and respect for their homeland will inevitably rise.

In Canada, the level of militarism remains considerably lower than it is in the United States, while the penetration of vegetarianism is significantly higher. Nevertheless, if this revolution is to have real roots in Canada, it would be preferable for it to be linked intimately to a similar movement in the United States where militarism including arms manufacturing dominates the culture and the national mind-set, verging tragically on being its own ‘religion.’ Vegetarianism, too, would support the reduction of the pollution contributed by animal farming. It is not an incidental observation to note that in Canada, just announced today, a mere 44% of Canadians believe that humans are the main cause of global warming and climate change. Whatever the comparable figure is in the United States, both populations will have be more rigorously educated on the science that supports the conclusion that human contributions have to be reduced, if not completely eliminated, if we are to reach legitimate and reasonable emission controls.

Let’s be clear, we are drowning in our own effluent; we are suffocating in our own poisoned atmosphere; we are atrophying in our own hope for a reasonable change in the direction we are heading; we are all complicit in the over-consumption of needless and contaminating products, given the status and reputation we attach to their acquisition; and we are all political actors (whether we choose to participate or not) and only through our conscious political choices, conversations and activism will such a vision as that proposed by LEAP come to reality.

This is just one more voice, perhaps crying the wilderness, encouraging each person reading these digits to reflect on our own lives, on the premises that guide our lives, on the colleagues who influence our lives, and contemplate taking the “radical” step of attending a showing of the movie, “This Changes Everything”....being shown in Canada on dates available on their website, of signing a commitment to support LEAP, and then of engaging with those in our circles in conversations that put these ideas on the table.

Consider this modest piece a sincere endorsement of what I consider modest proposals in LEAP, and an invitation to join with others in your community to move the conversation in the direction of these goals.


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