The Environment, Employment and Inequality

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Jonathan McLeod

Jonathan McLeod is a writer living in Ottawa, Ontario. (That means Canada.) He spends too much time following local politics and writing about zoning issues. Follow him on Twitter.

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31 Responses

  1. Avatar James K says:

    I’m used to thinking of the environment as an efficiency issue, rather than an equality one, so this was a new perspective for me, thanks Johanthan.Report

    • That’s generally how I’ve looked at it, too. It wasn’t until trying to figure out something to write about for this symposium that the idea of the environmentpoppe up.Report

      • Can Canada afford its lovely Euro-style social democratic perks w/o prosperity?

        Mr. McLeod, thx for a largely unpolemical look at the dynamics of Canada. At least you concede that Conservative Party = Robber Barons is a caricature.

        Pls do disabuse me, but it seems to me that the Tories are tasked with keeping the good times rolling. In fact, they’re credited with keeping Canada out of the economic slump that’s hit the entire Western world including the USA, largely by not monkeying with the economy and market forces much.

        Now then, it seems to me that even though the cynic in you is “sympathetic to charges that the Tories are in the pocket of Big Oil,” I submit that the Tories are the majority party precisely because they are best trusted to safeguard the prosperity [and resulting $$ financial support for social programs] that your system and society have agreed upon are of paramount national importance.

        Now the thought that there are tradeoffs between prosperity and environmental risk may be anathema, but there are tradeoffs. The closer you aim to zero-risk, the more the returns diminish. The only zero-risk proposition in life is to do nothing.

        And in the case of an Air Canada strike, it seems to me that risking the prosperity that feeds your social programs is—according to your political value system— a matter of national security no less than

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Youngstown_Sheet_%26_Tube_Co._v._Sawyer

        was in the US a half-century ago.

        [Taft-Hartley permitted Truman to intervene against the unions, but he went after the robber barons/steel mills instead. And was thumped in the Supreme Court.]

        Jonathan, I don’t devalue prudence, mind you, but it must be acknowledged it comes with a cost, sometimes a great cost. IIRC, the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico couldn’t have happened under Canada law because Canada demands dual drillings in case one blows out. Mebbe that’s the best way, but it sure increases the overhead.

        [We shall not get into the permanent or semi-permanent harm from oil spills, but I must flag it here, the Santa Barbara Oil Spill of 1969.]

        Common folk are, more and more, being viewed as impediments to wealth creation, rather than the only reason we should ever worry about wealth creation.

        If we are not cynical, it seems to me that wealth creation is good precisely because it benefits the “common folk.” I don’t want to drag the Soviets and ChiComs in here Godwin-like, but the environment is secondary to the day-to-day lives and struggles of “the people.”

        In fact, “environmentalism” is possible only where there is wealth.

        But there is an even greater perversion. This inequality of wealth and power leads to an increase in the inequality of value assigned to different segments of the population by our government and, to a lesser extent, our society.

        I hear the argument, but I don’t see it. West Virginia Democrats just gave 40% of their primary votes to a convicted criminal rather than President Obama, and I must posit it’s partly because they want their dirty jobs in the coal industry more than his protection of the environment against—admittedly—the cheap and dirty energy of coal.

        Prosperity vs. environmentalism. It’s a genuine dilemma: in the US, the old Soviet Union, Commie China, Canada today. There is no getting around the fact that there is a dilemma, and that we must make our choices.

        As for the “inequality” part, I dunno. I cannot speak for the people of the states on the Gulf of Mexico, West Virginia, Alberta. I go up to Santa Barbara now and then, and see some scattered oil platforms there off the coast. They don’t bother me, in fact they remind me that I needed gasoline to put in the car that drove me there.

        I mean, really, it does, Jonathan. I’m not fabricating a rhetorical point: The reality of the oil wells intrudes on my idyllic appreciation of nature and those incredible California sunsets, but I’m OK with that. Doesn’t make me angry, it makes me grateful, because without petrol for my car, I wouldn’t be seeing this sunset at all. That’s real.Report

        • Thanks for the thorough response, Tom. A few thoughts:

          Can Canada afford its lovely Euro-style social democratic perks w/o prosperity?

          We did in the ’90s, without gutting our environmental protections. Sure, now we’re paying for a decades-long war, a silly Economic Action! Plan, mega-prisons and multi-million dollar fighter jets without engines, so I guess we need more revenue (though, if that’s the case, the Tories shouldn’t have cut the GST).

          Nonetheless, I’m not arguing that Canada needs to avoid all development projects, just that the way things are going the costs and ramifications are not being properly shared.

          Now then, it seems to me that even though the cynic in you is “sympathetic to charges that the Tories are in the pocket of Big Oil,” I submit that the Tories are the majority party precisely because they are best trusted to safeguard the prosperity [and resulting $$ financial support for social programs] that your system and society have agreed upon are of paramount national importance.

          The Tories have a majority because Michael Ignatieff was the worst choice of leader any major party has made in a long time – and considering he followed Stephane Dion, that’s saying a lot. If we look at the crazy surge by the NDP in the last election, we can see that much of Canada is looking for something different. Had the Liberals had any competence, I don’t think we would have seen a majority.

          And in the case of an Air Canada strike, it seems to me that risking the prosperity that feeds your social programs is—according to your political value system— a matter of national security no less than

          Lisa Raitt, the Minister of Labour, admitted that they were forcing Air Canada back in the air so that people wouldn’t be inconvenienced when they traveled during March Break (Spring Break, if you will). It was purely political; seeking favour from a preferred segment of voters.

          Jonathan, I don’t devalue prudence, mind you, but it must be acknowledged it comes with a cost, sometimes a great cost. IIRC, the BP blowout in the Gulf of Mexico couldn’t have happened under Canada law because Canada demands dual drillings in case one blows out. Mebbe that’s the best way, but it sure increases the overhead.

          It does increase overhead, most definitely, however there’s little evidence that the Oil & Gas sector in Canada had been hurting in the last few years. The point, though, that I was making was that current decisions by our government are being made with far more consideration being given to business and those who can make GDP increase (and money vs. other interests), the environmental angle was just a particularly pertinent one in Canada, with the spill.

          In fact, “environmentalism” is possible only where there is wealth.

          Definitely! And if the Conservatives are the wonderful stewards of the economy they claim to be, they should be able to offer some environmental protections while they make us all wealthier!

          I hear the argument, but I don’t see it. West Virginia Democrats just gave 40% of their primary votes to a convicted criminal rather than President Obama, and I must posit it’s partly because they want their dirty jobs in the coal industry more than his protection of the environment against—admittedly—the cheap and dirty energy of coal.

          And I imagine that most of those working in the Oil & Gas sector want lower environmental standards. It’s all about competing demands and how governments decide to balance those demands. The Tories lean more towards GDP than people.

          I mean, really, it does, Jonathan. I’m not fabricating a rhetorical point: The reality of the oil wells intrudes on my idyllic appreciation of nature and those incredible California sunsets, but I’m OK with that. Doesn’t make me angry, it makes me grateful, because without petrol for my car, I wouldn’t be seeing this sunset at all. That’s real.

          That’s valid, TVD, but our government is tweaking the rules to benefit companies working in the oil sands (and that is a far more intrusive and ugly form of extraction than oil wells). Through changes in laws and favourable tax policies, the Tories are, essentially, subsidizing (or making the rest of us subsidize) these businesses. That’s not something conservatives usually support.Report

  2. Avatar Rod says:

    Outstanding post, Jonathon. It seems like everyone and everything is just grist for the mill, doesn’t it?Report

  3. “We have become so obsessed with economics and money, that we devalue the experiences and lives of people.”

    Bingo.Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    The chemists would tell us water is the most potent solvent. But when it comes to the human conscience, there is no more erosive force than petroleum.Report

  5. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I talked to Maribou about this a little and she shared some insight.

    When she was a kid, Canada had more of a “we’re all in this together” kinda thing going on. Now, today, there is less of one.

    Has this been lost, do you think?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

        Why?

        Edit: a hair abrupt, I’ll throw out some of my own personal theories and you can shoot them down or say yeah or point out how that’s only a small fraction of what’s going on.

        Alberta is responsible for more revenues than ever before, giving the people on the prairie a voice that they never had when the majority of revenue came from metropolitan areas like Ottowa, Montreal, and so on.

        Not only is Quebec primarily French, it’s pretty Catholic. This creates tension between itself and the more socially liberal Labor party above and beyond that created by the whole secession thing.

        Labor *REALLY* screwed things up. Really, really bad. Not only has not enough time passed to make you forget that, the Labor party itself goes out of its way to remind you that it hasn’t learned anything since last time.

        Enough time has gone past since Mulroney that he’s been brightened by nostalgia.

        Immigration, Immigration, Immigration. This changes a culture. Which has resulted in there being a real undercurrent of, put kindly, “National Identity” in discussions of immigration that just weren’t there 20 years ago.Report

        • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

          Same shit, different country.

          http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_hb009/is_2_36/ai_n29295022/

          Chapter seventeen concludes that, while Canada’s social fabric is generally strong, it is experiencing some “disquieting trends.” The authors suggest six issues that need addressing (p. 183):

          1) encouraging countervailing forces to the dominant individualism of the market culture;

          2) eliminating unfairness in the distribution of opportunities and in institutional practices;

          3) achieving fairness in social recognition;

          4) bridging social boundaries;

          5) narrowing the gap between citizens and institutional leaders; and

          6) fostering community entrepreneurship and involvement.

          Etc.Report

          • I’ll have to find time to read that link, Tom, before I fully comment, but I want to note that I find point (1) interesting. For the first half or so of Canada’s existence (as a nation unto itself, so from, say, 1867 to 1940/1950ish) Canada tended to consider itself (accurately, I would argue) far more in the mold of “rugged individualism” than the U.S. (and that’s not a slight or value judgement, I think a lot of it stems from our relative youth as a nation). It’s more recently that Canada has become the Euro-style social democratic nation (to borrow a phrase) that we know and (sometimes) love. So I find it difficult to suggest that the dominant individualism of the free market is super corrosive to the sense of unity of the country. There’s probably some truth to it, but I doubt it’s a #1 issue.Report

        • I agree with Maribou and Kazzy. There are a number of things that, off the top of my head, help to account for this, including:

          – the kitchen accord and the exclusion of Quebec from the ratification of the Charter
          – the NEB
          – the PC patchwork majority of Western populists, So-cons, Red Tories, and soft-nationalists from Quebec (which, then, brought us Meech Lake, the Charlottetown Accord and a lot of animosity towards apparent political favours to Quebec) and the ensuing implosion of that coalition
          – equalization payments and the accounting methods used, especially when factoring in the effects of natural resource development on those accounting methods
          – official multiculturalism
          – federal/provincial battles over resource development
          – disparate economic expansion (there’s that inequality thing again!)
          – clash of preferred economic policies of various regions
          – Federal parties becoming more regional (Libs and NDP out East, Libs in Ontario, Reform/Alliance/Conservatives out West and in rural Ontario, and until last election Libs and Bloc in Quebec). No party appeared to have a national perspective.
          – Resource depletion and dying industries (esp. fisheries out East) coupled with a need for tighter economic policies that limited EI/welfare (broadly speaking) benefits.

          This could easily become a post unto itself. Keep your eyes on the 49th for further thoughts!Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:

          My apologies. I read your comment completely out of context and was referring, more broadly, to the US.

          By and large, there seems to be much less a sense of community now than I’ve been told existed in the past. Of course, I’m not old enough to have experienced much of the past.Report

          • Avatar Pyre in reply to Kazzy says:

            When I was young, I had several hardcover volumes that collected the adventures of various superheroes from the 30-40s to the 70s. One of the issues in the Superman volume from the WWII era had a brief one-panel coversation at the beginning that has always stayed with me.

            (Clark Kent and Lois Lane are at a subway station.)

            Clark: I’m sorry I can’t drive you home as usual, Lois, but I’m taking this tire rationing crisis very seriously.
            Lois: As you should. Rationing is the duty of every patriotic American.

            Can you imagine that conversation happening today? People denying themselves convenience so we can pull together for a communal goal. When people write about Penny4NASA, they often write that we should take the funding from someone/thing else and not “I would gladly pay a little more in taxes for this to happen.” Somewhere along the way, we lost the ability to say “I would be willing to give up X so all of us can achieve Y” in favor of “I would be willing for someone else to give up X so all of us can achieve Y”.Report

  6. Avatar dexter says:

    Another way to end the wars is to raise taxes enough to pay for them.Report