May 28, 2012

Bringing a vision of climate justice into focus


One of the key barriers to change facing those of us working towards climate justice is the lack of a clear vision.

By advocating for bold climate action, we are asking people to embrace dramatic change — yet the picture of their new life remains fuzzy and difficult to imagine. Compounding this challenge is the reality that most aspects of our everyday lives, the shape of our communities, and wider societal norms and structures are predicated on unlimited access to cheap oil. And in the current context of economic insecurity, stagnant real incomes, and longer working hours, asking people to consider possible sacrifices or increased uncertainty is a hard sell.

And so, if we want people to desire and demand climate action, we need to bring the picture of a new good life into focus – a life that people can imagine, relate to and even desire – and to answer for the general public some very basic and entirely reasonable questions:

  • What will my home and community look like in this new world?
  • How will I make a decent living for my family, and will the work be rewarding?
  • How will I get around?
  • Where will our food come from?
  • Where will our energy & electricity come from?
  • How will I play (can I still travel and enjoy my leisure time in an enjoyable and satisfying way)?
  • How will we collectively pay for the huge public and private investments that will be needed to get us from here to there?
  • Who decides? (Meaning, will we all be included in making decisions, or will the policy agenda be imposed by governments will little appreciation for the economic security of those without political power?)

Issue by issue, the CJP has sought to answer these questions. The very first CJP report was entitled Searching for the Good Life in a Carbon Neutral BC: Meeting BC’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets with Fairness and Equity. As the title suggests, it shifted the focus towards quality of life, and broadly outlined a wide range of policy options, all through the lens of reducing inequality. In the years since, the CJP has systematically addressed most of the province’s major industrial sectors. Each report provides one more building-block in a more coherent vision, with reports produced thus far on: fair and effective carbon pricing, green jobs and industrial strategies, a new vision for transportation and urban design for “complete communities”, a sustainable low-GHG food system, zero-emission housing while confronting energy poverty, a dramatic new approach to forestry (emphasizing carbon storage), natural gas and hydraulic fracturing, and forthcoming studies on a future electricity system, zero waste, a just transition plan for workers in high-GHG industries, carbon-neutral rural resource communities, and more.

Here are a few examples of solutions we’ve proposed:

  • Our work on carbon pricing models a $200 per tonne carbon tax (a level at which we would indeed see noticeable changes in behavior, consumption and investment). Such a tax would generate close to $8 billion per year in new revenues (not bad for an economy with an annual GDP of approximately $200 billion). Half of these revenues could go towards an expanded lower-income credit that would entirely offset the cost of the tax for virtually all low and modest-income households and partially offset it for middle-income households, and half the revenue could be directed towards public investments in transit, retrofits and a bold green jobs plan.
  • Our work on zero-emission homes proposes that older homes and multi-unit rental stock be targeted for retrofits (using financing tied to property tax or utility bills); a plan that could produce 12,000 direct jobs, with a special focus on apprenticeship training for traditionally marginalized populations.
  • Our work on transportation and building “complete communities” proposes a $2 billion per year investment in public transportation, and an approach to urban design that would minimize the need for long commutes.
  • Our work on forestry (jointly published by three of the province’s leading environmental NGOs and all the forestry unions in BC – an unique occurrence) maps out a dramatically new approach to this core provincial sector (almost all of which occurs on Crown land). It proposes an innovative mix of increased conservation, longer growth periods, active management of tree plantations, intensive silviculture and re-forestation, and the increased use of value-added wood products that store carbon – all through the lens of maximizing carbon sequestering while stabilizing employment in the sector.

Once the picture of the future is given greater clarity, it becomes easier for people to entertain how we move from here to there.

(Thanks to Marc Lee and Shannon Daub, on whose work I’ve drawn. This post is derived from a speech I gave at the annual meeting of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, which is viewable here. For more on the CCPA-BC’s Climate Justice Project, see here.)

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