Generational justice and climate change: we can all strike for our future

The constitutional challenge by the government of  Saskatchewan to the Canadian government’s Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act of 2018  is underway – hearings were held in February and a decision is pending, with a similar challenge by Ontario to be heard in April. The main purpose of the court challenges is to nullify the federal government’s national carbon tax program , the signature issue of the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.  But the case has also given youth activists an opportunity to address the intergenerational justice of Canada’s climate change policies, as described in “Canada obliged to protect future generations from climate change, test case on carbon tax hears”   (Feb. 20)  in The Narwhal.

The preamble of the Greenhouse Gas Pollution Pricing Act of 2018  states: “…Parliament recognizes it is the responsibility of the present generation to minimize impacts of climate change on future generations.”   This gave the Intergenerational Climate Coalition, led by  Generation Squeeze ,  a platform, as recognized intervenors, to argue that: “Failure to price pollution discriminates against younger Canadians, because it puts in jeopardy our reasonable aspiration to thrive in 2030 and beyond” and “the health threats to children and future generations are vastly disproportionate to their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions”. A press release in December 2018 describes the coalition and summarizes their arguments – mostly based on health consequences of climate change.

This issue of intergenerational  justice was also addressed by Hadrian Mertins-Kirkwood in “The all too ugly truth: Climate change is generational genocide” , published  in Behind the Numbers in February.  Echoing the strong and direct tone we have come to expect from Greta Thunberg,  Mertins-Kirkwood states: “For the generations poised to inherit our warming world, the complacency and greed of their predecessors is no longer being tolerated. From Autumn Peltier’s presentation to the United Nations to the climate strikes organized by school children across Europe to the Quebec youth suing the government for failing to protect the environment, young people are refusing to sit by while this existential crisis deepens.”  He continues: “The perpetrators of the climate change genocide include the fossil fuel industry and climate-denying politicians, of course, but also the silent majority of fossil fuel consumers who actively ignore the mounting scientific evidence or otherwise take no responsibility for the path we are on. It is this generation’s campaign of destruction that is being inflicted upon all other and future generations.”

Youth are asking for help:  The main point of Mertins-Kirkwood’s article is to urge us all to act:  First, by recognizing and acknowledging how we have contributed to the problem; Second, by making climate change “a central concern for everyone in your life” ; and third, by supporting  those fighting for a better future, through donations, but also by amplifying youth voices “online and beyond”.  Greta Thunberg has also stated:  “If you think that we should be in school instead, then we suggest that you take our place in the streets, striking from your work. Or, better yet, join us, so we can speed up the process.”

How to respond? “Intergenerational” organizations exist to support the actions of youth activists:  for example, in Canada, Canadian Parents for Climate Action, and  For our Grandchildren Canada ; in Australia, Australian Parents for Climate Action and  1 Million Women .   Fridays for Future Canada   is coordinating the school strikes, but there are many more  youth-led activist groups, many of whom are asking for support and donations.   Some Canadian examples:  Canadian Youth Climate Coalition ; ENvironment JEUnesse  (Quebec group for under-35’s suing the government) ; PowerShift Young and Rising  ; Youth Climate Lab ; The 3% Project .

Youth in at least 22 communities in Canada are participating in the Global Fridays for the Future climate Strike on March 15.  As George Monbiot wrote in Resilience,  “Young climate strikes can win their fight. We must all help”.

fridays for future strikes

An excellent example:  At their most recent climate strike, elementary school students in Sudbury were presented with a letter  of support from the faculty members of Laurentian University.

Public opinion polls: on carbon tax, pipelines, and a growing fear of climate change around the world

On February 8, Clean Energy Canada released results from an online survey of 2,500 Canadian adults, conducted by Abacus Data. Across Canada, 35% support a federal carbon tax, 37% say they are open to considering it, and 28% oppose it  – with the highest opposition from Alberta (41%). When told that revenues would be rebated to households (the ford and carbon tax infographicCarbon Incentive Plan),  support climbed by 9 points – and even more in Alberta. Asked if they agreed with  Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s statement that a carbon tax will bring a recession, 64% of Canadians  and 63% of Ontarians disagreed – and when asked a follow-up question asserting that many economists disagree with Premier Ford, 74% of Canadians and 73% of Ontarians stated they would trust the economists over the Premier.

The Angus Reid Institute  has tracked opinion about a carbon tax in Canada since April 2015, and are due to release new survey results in winter 2019 . Their online survey conducted in October 2018 (just after the announcement of the federal Carbon Incentive plan), showed that support for a carbon tax had increased nationally  from 43% in July 2018 to 54% in October.  The leading cause of opposition to the carbon plan is the sense that it is a “tax grab”, followed by the opinion that it will not help reduce emissions. Also notably, “six-in-ten Canadians say they do not trust information about climate change from their provincial government – with  only 24% of Manitobans  trusting their government.  Who do Canadians trust on this issue?  78% trust university scientists; 56% trust “international organizations doing work in this field”.

Angus ReidI can help cc

From Angus Reid Institute, “Duelling realities” poll

Other recent Angus Reid analysis of Canadians’ overall attitudes on climate change was released on November 30 in “Dueling realities? Age, political ideology divide Canadians over cause & threat of climate change”.   Only 9% of Canadians do NOT perceive climate change as a threat, with 55% of 18 to 34-year-olds  said they believe climate change to be a very serious threat.  Yet  a survey  released in January 2019, “Six-in-ten Canadians say lack of new pipeline capacity represents a crisis in this country” details the polarized opinions about oil pipelines, showing that 53% of Canadians surveyed support both the Energy East and TransMountain pipeline projects, and  six-in-ten say the lack of new pipeline capacity constitutes a “crisis”. Opinions are divided by region, ranging from 87% in Alberta and 74% in Saskatchewan seeing a crisis, versus 40% in Quebec.

Opinion in the United States:  Results from the December 2018 national survey, Climate Change in the American Mind ,  reveal that 46% of Americans polled have personally experienced the effects of global warming, and a majority are worried about harm from extreme events in their local area –  including extreme heat (61%), flooding (61%), droughts (58%), and/or water shortages (51%).  This longstanding survey (since 2013) is conducted by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. It also updates the results in the series, “Global Warming’s Six Americas” , which categorizes attitudes from  “Alarmed”, to “Concerned”, all the way to “Doubtful” and “Dismissive” –  showing that in December 2018, the “Alarmed” segment is at an all-time high of 29% , while the “Dismissive” and “Doubtful” responses have declined to only 9%.  The full report   also includes responses concerning emotional responses to global warming, perceived risks, and personal and  social engagement – which includes such questions as “How much of an effort do your family and friends make to reduce global warming?”

Australian women are re-considering having children:  A survey released in February by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the  1 Million Women organization reports on climate change attitudes of Australian women, in the lead-up to the country’s federal election in 2019.  Of the 6514 Australian women who responded to the survey between September – October 2018, nearly 90% are extremely concerned about climate change.  Again, concern is highest in the under-30 bracket, where  one in three are so worried about what global warming that they are reconsidering having children.  A four page summary of survey results is here 

Finally, international attitudes are reflected in a survey published in February by Pew Research Center:  “Climate Change Still Seen as the Top Global Threat, but Cyberattacks a Rising Concern”.   This top-level survey of 26 countries shows that climate change was perceived as the most important threat in 13 countries:  including Canada,   Germany, Greece, Hungary, Spain, Sweden, U.K., Australia, South Korea, Kenya, Argentina, Brazil, and Mexico.  In the U.S., the top threat was seen to be cyberattacks from other countries (74%), followed by attacks from ISIS (62%). Global climate change was the third-ranked threat at 59% .

ILO report: “It is not action against climate change and environmental degradation that will destroy jobs, it is inaction that will destroy jobs”

ilo2019workforabrighterfutureTo mark its centenary in 2019, the International Labour Organization (ILO) commissioned a Global Commission on the Future of Work in 2015. On January 22, the Centenary was launched with the release of the Commission’s report : Work for a Brighter Future , an aspirational document with  recommendations for government policies to address the “ unprecedented transformational change in the world of work.”   The ten recommendations in the report call for a universal labour guarantee that protects fundamental workers’ rights, an adequate living wage, limits on hours of work and safe and healthy workplaces, a universal entitlement to lifelong learning , managing technological change to boost decent work, and greater investments in the care economy, green economy, and rural economy. The Executive Summary is here ; the full 66-page Report is here  .

Work for a Brighter Future is a broad and visionary document, but its arguments and proposals are supported by a series of more detailed research papers, including The Future of work in a Changing Natural Environment: Climate change, degradation and sustainability (August 2018) . The Research Paper argues that “… on the one hand, environmental degradation destroys work opportunities and worsens working conditions. On the other hand, any efforts to achieve sustainability will entail a structural transformation. Crucially, this transformation can result in more and better jobs.”

The paper calls for a new development model that acknowledges that the economy, including the world of work, is a subsystem of the global ecosystem, and cannot expand beyond the confines of ecological limits. It concludes: “….For developing economies, it means adopting a development strategy based on sustainable principles in energy, transport, construction, resource-intensive manufacturing, agriculture, forestry, fisheries and waste management. For developed economies, it means restructuring these industries so they become sustainable … In advanced economies, it means, potentially, embracing zero growth… For both developed and developing economies, it means developing a service sector that is decoupled from material extraction or carbon emissions in addition to progress towards resource efficiency and low carbon intensity….….At a global level, if a tax on CO2 emissions were imposed and the resulting revenues were used to cut labour taxes, then up to 14 million net new jobs could be created.”

ILO Director-General Guy Ryder summed up some of these themes in his address to the Ministerial Conference of the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), held on January 10 – 11 2019 in South Africa. He stated:  “It is not action against climate change and environmental degradation that will destroy jobs, it is inaction that will destroy jobs. …Economic activity and jobs depend on ecosystem services and a safeguarding of the natural environment. Around 1.2 billion jobs, or 40 per cent of world employment in 2014, were in industries that depend heavily on natural processes.… ultimately, environmental degradation will compromise livelihoods and magnify inequality. We must work around these highly interconnected challenges to devise workable solutions in specific country contexts. “

Climate change and health: a new call to action for doctors

Two new articles appeared in the January issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, recognizing the health impacts of climate change and the gap in environmental justice. Most frequently cited, sometimes with alarmist headlines, is  “The Imperative for Climate Action to Protect Health” (Jan. 17)  (registration required). The authors state that the World Health Organization may have underestimated the health effects of climate cop24_health_climate_change_reportchange when it predicted in a 2018 report that climate change will kill 250,000 people per year between 2030 and 2050.  The NEJM authors Haines and Ebi state: “We think the impact is more difficult to quantify because there is also population displacement and a range of additional factors like food production and crop yields, and the increase in heat that will limit labour productivity from farmers in tropical regions that wasn’t taken into account, among other factors. ”  They point to the need for investment and policies to promote adaptation to reduce health risks.

The other article in January’s New England Journal of Medicine is an overview of the issue and a more direct call to action for doctors.  ” Climate Change: A health emergency ”   by Drs. Caren G. Solomon and Regina C. LaRocque states:    “Disruption of our climate system, once a theoretical concern, is now occurring in plain view — with a growing human toll brought by powerful storms, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and rising numbers of insect borne diseases. Psychological stress, political instability, forced migration, and conflict are other unsettling consequences. In addition, particulate air pollutants released by burning fossil fuels are shortening human life in many regions of the world. These effects of climate disruption are fundamentally health issues, and they pose existential risks to all of us. People who are sick or poor will suffer the most….As physicians, we have a special responsibility to safeguard health and alleviate suffering. Working to rapidly curtail greenhouse gas emissions is now essential to our healing mission….  The authors’ call to action includes: “working with medical students on climate action, supporting the undergraduate divestment movement, joining forces with like-minded health professionals, and speaking with our legislators. “

In Canada, the Canadian Association for Physicians and the Environment (CAPE)   is leading the way on such education and advocacy – a compilation of their press releases  reveals the broad range of their actions. Most recently, on January 15, CAPE announced  that the Ontario Court of Appeal has granted intervenor status to the Intergenerational Climate Coalition, of which  CAPE is a member, to defend the constitutionality of the federal pricing of climate emissions, challenged by the Ontario provincial government in a case to be heard in April 2019.  Other members of the Intergenerational Climate Coalition are Generation Squeeze,  Saskatchewan Public Health Association, the Public Health Association of BC, the Canadian Coalition for the Rights of Children , and the Youth Climate Lab.  The same group announced in December 2018  that it has intervenor status in the Saskatchewan government’s challenge to the federal carbon tax plan.

UPDATE: 

A February 5 press release states: “Together, representatives from the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE) , the Canadian Medical Association (CMA)  , the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA), the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA) and the Urban Public Health Network (UPHN) are calling for action: asking federal parties to recognize that climate change is the greatest public health challenge of the 21st century, and to make climate solutions a priority in the 2019 federal election.”

Dr. Gigi Osler, President of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is quoted  : “Climate change is no longer some abstract idea that may harm future generations or people on the other side of the globe; it’s a reality that’s already harming the physical and mental health of Canadians. We cannot afford to treat climate change as a wedge issue. We must treat it as the public health crisis that it is.”

Economists weigh in on deceptive carbon pricing messages

Economist Brenda Frank contributes to the ongoing battle of ideas about carbon pricing in Canada with his  January 9 blog : “Carbon pricing works even when emissions are rising”. Frank begins:  “An old, debunked argument against carbon taxes has flared up recently: If total emissions aren’t falling, the tax must not be working. Let’s quash that myth.”  Continuing the arguments he published in a 2017 blog, “The curious case of counterfactuals”, his central question is, “if emissions are still rising, how fast would they have been rising without a carbon price?”  He cites recent studies, such as “The Impact of British Columbia’s Carbon Tax on Residential Natural Gas Consumption” (in  Energy Economics, Dec. 2018), as well as  the extensive carbon pricing reports produced by the Ecofiscal Commission, most recently Clearing the Air: How carbon pricing helps Canada fight climate change (April 2018).  The  conclusion: carbon pricing is more “complicated than something you can fit in a tweet”, and  complex analysis demonstrates that it does work.

Marc Hafstead , U.S. economist and Director of the Carbon Pricing Initiative pursues a similar theme in  “Buyer Beware: An Analysis of the Latest Flawed Carbon Tax Report” ( November 28).   Hafstead contends that “some papers can introduce confusion and misinformation”, and demonstrates how this is done in  The Carbon Tax: Analysis of Six Potential Scenarios , a study commissioned by the Institute for Energy Research and conducted by Capital Alpha Partners.  Hafstead critiques the modelling assumptions and concludes they are flawed ; he also charges that the paper fails to explain its differences from the prevailing academic literature.

Even without Hafstead’s economic skills, one might be wary of the U.S. paper after a check of the DeSmog’s  Global Warming Disinformation Database , which provides mind-blowing detail about the financial and personnel connections between the Institute for Energy Research and  Koch Industries . DeSmog maintains records on organizations and individuals engaged in “climate change disinformation” in the U.S. and the United Kingdom.