In the Chamber -- Grant Mitchell's Blog

Acting with Faith

Posted 11/10/2011 by Grant Mitchell

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Acting with faith

These are comments I made to the Interfaith Committee on Climate Change. I would also invite you to read Mardi Tindal's speech and Dr. Willard Mettzger's speech. They are well worth the read and very inspiring. To read the Call to Action from the Interfaith Committee on Climate Change, please click here.

 Thank you for the invitation to speak. I am here because I believe this important work.

 There was a suggestion that my comments, in part, should deal with Bill C-311. And it fits in with what I really want say, so I thought I would. Bill C-311 was the climate change bill presented by the NDPs Bruce Hyer and passed by the opposition to Harper's minority government last year.  I sponsored it and it was defeated by the Conservative majority in the Senate.

 It was said that I called the vote and that somehow that forced the Conservatives to defeat the bill. There are two problems with that: opposition in the Senate cannot call a vote even when we had a majority, and, of course, nobody, least of all me, made the Conservatives defeat it.  In fact, I wish I could have taken credit for calling the vote.  Because, had they not become frazzled and called the vote, the Conservatives would have defeated it by allowing it to die on the order paper without it ever coming to a vote at all.

 The remarkable thing about this is that that bill, like the Kyoto Protocol Implementation Act before it (which I sponsored and also got passed), was all but benign to a government intent on doing little to nothing on climate change. Even if passed, it would have helped climate change progress very little and altered the government's trajectory on climate change inaction not at all.

 Private members’ bills cannot be money bills and so they cannot demand very much of government by way of concrete action. Both these bills called upon the government only to report on progress toward certain GHG reduction objectives. In the case of the Kyoto bill, they have been doing that for several years to literally no effect.

 Killing bill C-311 was one of the most confounding and frustrating moments in my political career.

 Despite what most of us take to be such clear proof of the need to act and the advantages of action over inaction, we could not even get a bill passed that did barely more than acknowledge the existence of climate change.

 We know that the science of climate change is overwhelming. There is probably more consensus on this science than there is on many of the things we stake our lives on all day long: like those pharmaceutical drugs which work only some of the time on some of the people. Yet the purveyors of the "bad science" mantra have all but stymied real progress on climate change.

 And we do not even have to rely on science.  We see it on the news and feel it in our own lives when it is 28 degrees in Toronto in mid-October.

 There is the irrefutable, logical truth that climate change will be infinitely damaging to economies and will kill and is probably already in the process of killing many more jobs than traditional development will ever be able to create. And yet, somehow the argument prevails that the industrial development that produces unrelenting GHG emissions is the only way to create jobs, that there is no other alternative.   

 The obvious is that we fundamentally restructured our economy to win the Second World War and that did not wreck the economy or destroy jobs. The economist, Mark Jaccard, and others show that achieving reasonable GHG reduction goals will not damage Canada's economy at all; and that it can be done without net economic outflows from one region to another.

 We also know that even the oil sands produced oil at a significant loss for the better part of 25 or 30 years before economies of scale, the ingenuity of continued technology improvement and rising prices allowed them to turn a profit. Why not the same patience and vision for hydrogen, or wind or solar? And yet, current cost and rising taxes are successfully invoked as the reason that almost every alternative form of energy is dismissed, diminished, and discounted.

 I am always struck by the intensity with which we focus on the "tough on crime" agenda without a moment's consideration for what climate change will steal from us all.

 It’s clearly time to change the frame in which we think about climate change.

 I remember an instance during the 2008 election where one very senior environmentalist said that Stephane Dion had the right idea with the green shift, but was critical of him because he did such a poor job of communicating it. This from a leading environmentalist who has been trying to communicate the same message and other ones like it for the last 40 yrs and, by definition, ironically, hasn’t done any better.

 George Lakoff talks about this failure of progressives to communicate and convince and how it has been caused by a conscious technique which has at the same time fuelled the rise of the right wing in the US. It applies here in Canada now. If you have not read him, I really recommend you get his book "Don’t Think of an Elephant" and start there.

 He says that the Conservative right figured out long ago that they could trump rationale argument with what has become brilliant reframing of issues. Progressives are driven and thwarted in our efforts to discuss, communicate and convince by the emergence of the new framing about this and so many other issues: "Bad science", "Taxes",  "Jobs" hamstring the debate on climate change. Other issues are equally thwarted by:  "Soft on crime"; "Family values"; "Big government"; “Tax and spend whatever".

 Lakoff says that the progressives don't get it - we still think you can win a debate with rational argument.

 It was in light of these observations that I had an epiphany some months ago: it struck me suddenly that we really do not need more technologies to reduce GHG emissions. We have more than enough of that. What we really need are new technologies to convince people that we need to reduce GHG emissions.

 To paraphrase George Lakoff, we need to reframe this issue of climate change in a way that is conducive to progressive thought and action.

 That's the beauty of the initiative by the Interfaith Committee on Climate Justice in Ottawa today and tomorrow to announce, describe and celebrate. It is a very powerful departure from the frame that we progressives have found ourselves arguing within. 

 For a couple of reasons:

1. Faith appeals to our higher values and motivations.  It emphasizes that humility should replace hubris; that obligation to others should trump our inclination to selfishness; that service to others causes us to be bigger people; and that above all else we have a profound intergenerational responsibility to our children and grand-children.

 We wonder why the younger generation, whatever letter we use to name it today, is alienated from the political process created in our the baby-boomers' interests. We are dumping fiscal disaster on them; the cost of getting an education is becoming prohibitive and when you get one it is diminished by being in classes with 500 hundred other undergraduates and you can't get a real job anyway. And, we are dumping climate disaster on them. Believe me, we have intergenerational responsibility.

 2. The appeal to faith cuts across the left right continuum that captivates the climate change debate - people of faith come from all political perspectives and when it comes to faith they agree on much more than they disagree on. In fact, we might say that there is a Trojan Horse effect here - because so much of the current government's support is from people of faith whose opinion deeply matters to the electoral future of the Conservative party.

 So, this call to action is very real start in a new and promising direction.   A direction where perhaps minds can be changed, obligations understood and significant action taken.  There is hope in this, a great place to start. Now we have to do whatever it takes to make it work.

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