Occupy Wall Street

All I can say is WOW.

In a previous post, I wondered and hoped, if the kind of uprising that we saw last spring in Egypt would ever come here, in the name of climate change. When would people draw a line in the sand and say enough is enough? When would they get off the couch, turn off the TV, and take an active role in their democracy? When would the companies and governments of the world stop for a minute – and listen to the people?

The Occupy Wall Street movement is not about climate change, not really. It is about standing up to corporations who seem to have a relationship that is just a bit too cosy with the government. The government should not be looking out for the best interests of corporations. The government is for the people, it is supposed to represent the people. It is supposed to keep the people safe, by ensuring there are regulations on products and work practices and environmental destruction. It is supposed to protect and maintain the basic infrastructure of our society – roads, bridges, education, phone service, internet, electricity, and yes, banks. It is supposed to do things that are in the best interests of the people. It is not supposed to put corporations first.

Along the way, somehow our capitalism has got mixed up with democracy. Democracy should always be the most important thing. The people, not corporations, must decide what is in their best interests. The people must decide what are the best policies for them. They must decide what regulations protect them the best. It is should be by the people, for the people.

But somehow we have gotten to a place where capitalism is the most important thing. Democracy has been demoted. Now the economy rules supreme. And who runs the economy? Corporations. So what does the government do? It tries to create an environment where companies can thrive. It reduces business taxes, putting more of the tax burden on the middle class. It keeps minimum wage pretty low. It has regulations that are relaxed over time, in the name of competition (look at America’s banking system and how that turned out). It keeps environmental regulations pretty lax.  It disregards what 97% of climate scientists are telling us about climate change.

But is this a race to the bottom?  To have lower minimum wages, lower standards, lower business taxes, and a blatant disregard for climate change?  Are all these things the best thing for people?

Here in Alberta it is about oil. The oil royalties in Alberta are some of the lowest in the world – this is good for corporations, as they can take it out the ground and not have to pay as much to the government for it. This royalty regime has caused rapid development of the oil sands, and so the companies are up there, pulling it out, faster than the environmental agencies can determine the long-term effects, faster than the town of Fort McMurray can grow, and faster than the Woodland Caribou can adapt to their reduced habitat, putting them on the endangered list. Why so fast? There is so much development in Alberta that workers are coming in from other provinces, and foreign workers are streaming in. So why so fast? For the people of Alberta? I don’t think so. To please the oil companies so they keep growing the economy quickly? Now maybe we are on to something…

So how does the Alberta government score on environmental monitoring? Well, for starters, it uses an agency that is self-funded by the oil companies to do the monitoring. Independent scientists like Dr. Schindler’s team have said the monitoring is sorely lacking.  The formal federal environment minister, as well as Canada’s environmental commissioner, have even said it is lacking. So it is definitely lacking. Why? Well tighter regulations make it harder on companies and then the economy doesn’t grow at such a high clip. But the economy is for the people of Alberta, who already have enough jobs. And the people of Alberta, are sick of being the world’s peddlers of dirty oil.

So yeah, you can say that the Occupation Wall Street movement has really got to me. I now can see change more clearly on the horizon.  People are standing up for democracy, putting it ahead of capitalism. They are standing up for each other, for me and for you and for our shared lot in this world.  This is so inspiring and amazing.  It is exciting how fast this has grown. I can’t help but wonder how it will all unfold.

Tomorrow it starts in Canada, in 15 cities. In my own city of Edmonton, they are meeting at noon at Churchill square to march and then settle in for a longer term encampment. Can you believe it? Occupy Edmonton. It is amazing to me really. Camping here is no small feat, with temperatures dipping below freezing at night, and winter quickly upon us. It will be interesting to see how long they can last.

Occupy Wall Street is occupying my mind. As those occupiers chant, all over this continent:

We are the 99%.

We the people will never be defeated.

…I think of them with love, hope, and optimism.  Indeed.

Green Canada?

The landscape of Canadian politics changed last night.

For me, the results are mixed.  As I have said before, my number one issue is the environment, and most specifically – action on climate change.  We have such a limited window of time to reduce our emissions, we have to act now.  We don’t have the luxury of decades to wait, to finish up our squabbling and arguing, we have to get going on this right here right now, today, within the next few years for sure.  Every moment counts.  Every country must participate. Canada is no longer immune.

So far, action on climate change in Canada has been slow, and some might say – nonexistent.  As a result, some municipalities and provinces are taking the bull by the horns and implementing policies and programs on their own.  However, there is no national leadership, no national plan, no national will to act.

In this context, I watched the election results roll in with hope and optimism and anxiety.

First the good news –Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, was elected in her riding on Vancouver Island.  This is a historic achievement for the Green Party, as they will now have a voice in parliament.  It may only be one voice out of 308 seats, but a voice for change and a voice for action on climate change it will be.  I hope that this small foothold will grow, and that more and more people will consider the Green Party as a voice they want to send to parliament.  Change is possible!

Second piece of good news – the candidate in my riding, Linda Duncan of the NDP, won her seat.  Linda is the environmental critic for the NDP, and is a long time defender of the environment.  I know she will work hard, so I voted for her, and even had her sign on my lawn.  She was the only NDP elected in Alberta, amongst a sea of Conservatives.

Thirdly – the NDP won over 100 seats, giving them the title of official opposition, a historical first for the party.  The NDP is the only party other than the Green Party that had a strong position on climate change and transitioning to a clean, green economy.  This boost in seats will give them a bigger base on which to carry out their message.  Hopefully the governing party will listen.

This leads me to the not so great news for the environment.  The Conservatives won their long-coveted majority government.  They have been operating as a minority government for years now, and have often complained that a minority situation makes it difficult to get things done.  With a minority, they have to co-operate with the other parties to get things passed, they have to make concessions.  It is a longer process, and perhaps not as efficient, but at least with a minority, the voices of the other parties are part of the discussion.  They have input into policies and programs, compromises are made. 

With a majority, the voices of the other parties are not worked into new legislation. The governing party can pass every bill it wants, no adjustments are necessary.  It is more efficient, yes.

But it is also scarier.  Stephen Harper’s Conservatives have never had this much power before.  What will they do?  What will they cut? 

By far my biggest concern though, is that it will be 4 long years before there is any hope of action climate change.  We know Stephen Harper’s stance to date – do nothing and hope that the rest of the world does not notice.  How can we expect any change, especially if he does not need to consider the opinions of the other parties, who have a much more reasonable stance on climate change?

All this had me feeling very worried last night.  Worried for the future of my children, worried for our world, worried that nothing will change and nothing will get done, despite the efforts of so many.  I felt deflated.  I felt frustrated.  Everyday I live my life with the hope on reducing my footprint, the hope of inspiring others, the hope that we are moving in the right direction.  This is not just some dream, it is a desperate requirement.  Climate change is coming, it is marching towards us, and we are just standing around picking flowers.  How will we ever wakeup from this ignorant bliss, if climate change is not even an election issue in Canada? 

The situation seems more desperate than ever.  It seems even less likely now, with a Conservative majority that any action on climate change will happen.  I hope that the NDP will have some influence, I hope Elizabeth May’s Green Party voice will be heard.  But I am not sure.

Instead of give up hope, I must press on.  Without hope, we have already lost.  I cannot give up on a bright future for my children; I cannot give up on a sustainable future for the children of this world.  It is so big, so seemingly insurmountable, and I am but one small voice.  Yet I must try.  To look up at this massive problem and do nothing – that would be a greater failure.  I want to be able to look my kids in the eyes one day and say that I tried my best.

And so – the letter writing will continue.  The blog writing will continue.  The eating locally and the growing of vegetables in my own garden will continue.  The measured use of electricity and fuel will continue.  The reduction of the consumption of needless stuff will continue.

I must hold on to hope, for my babies.