Brexit, Trump offer lessons for climate change policy

First Posted: Monday, July 11, 2016
BY JASON MACLEAN

SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS

People are sick of experts, evidently. Facts, too, are becoming troublingly unpopular. Brexit and the popularity of U.S. presidential candidate Donald J. Trump are cases in point. A closer look at each offers lessons for the design of an effective and democratically accountable climate change policy.
First, Brexit. Experts hated it. In a poll of 639 British economists, 88 per cent predicted that a vote to leave the EU would decrease economic growth and efficiency. 52 per cent of voters opted to leave anyway.
Why? A revealing geographic analysis of the referendum conducted by the Resolution Foundation found that the parts of Britain most supportive of Brexit were the parts that have historically been the poorest, particularly in the north. Brexit supporters didn’t share the experts’ obsession with economic efficiency. They care more about economic equality. About the affordable houses that aren’t being built. About the good, secure jobs that aren’t being created.
Whether they’re right or wrong is beside the point. Neoliberal globalization has left many in Britain (and elsewhere) feeling alienated, dispossessed and voiceless. Hence the highly effective slogan “vote leave, take back control.” The Brexit plebiscite was the plebs’ chance to make themselves heard. And now the experts are scrambling to figure out what comes next, both in Britain and the EU. Only 38 per cent of the French, for example, view the EU favourably. Alors, Frexit? What about Scotland? Sexit?

Read moreBrexit, Trump offer lessons for climate change policy

What’s the Plan? For Canada’s climate change policy, it’s a leap either way you look

“Forget about what you are escaping from,” the illusionist Harry Houdini used to say. “Reserve your anxiety for what you are escaping to.” When it comes to Canada’s climate change policy, that’s wise counsel. Because whether you look to the left or to the right, it’s a leap either way.

Let’s start with the left, the already infamous Leap Manifesto.

Seldom has a four-page document loosely stringing together a series of disparate ideas—none original or genuinely controversial—generated so much handwringing.

What do the Leapers want? They call for Canada to generate 100% of its energy from renewable resources within 20 years, which is scientifically feasible; an end to fossil fuels subsidies, new oil pipelines, and other fossilized infrastructure investments; no more trade deals that compromise our ability to protect the environment; a universal guaranteed minimum income; recognition and enforcement of existing treaties with Indigenous peoples; and an expansion of low-carbon sectors of the economy, including caregiving, teaching, the arts, and public-interest media.

Above all, the Leapers demand the transition to a low-carbon future begin now.

Read moreWhat’s the Plan? For Canada’s climate change policy, it’s a leap either way you look

Want to fix the climate? Fix the corruption of expertise first

Firs published in the Chronicle Journal Monday April 25, 2016
by Jason MacLean

After the US Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizen United, the corrupting influence of money in politics was supposed to be an exceptionally American problem. But it turns out that it’s very much a Canadian problem, too. Worse still, the corruption of money in politics is trumped by the corruption of expertise. Worst of all, the corruption of expertise is at the root of every important public policy issue, including climate change.

Read moreWant to fix the climate? Fix the corruption of expertise first

The Challenge of Ontario’s New Cap and Trade Regime

First Published in the Toronto Star March 3, 2016

by Jason MacLean

The Ontario government has unveiled its long-awaited cap-and-trade regime. Meanwhile, the federal government is in the early days of establishing its pan-Canadian climate strategy featuring a minimum national carbon price of $15 per tonne. Will these policies help Canada meet its commitments under the Paris climate change agreement to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels?

It depends.

Read moreThe Challenge of Ontario’s New Cap and Trade Regime

How to Evaluate Energy East? Try Evidence

First published in the Toronto Star Feb 7 2016
By Jason MacLean
Environment and Climate Change Minister Catherine McKenna and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr recently announced new interim regulations for oil pipeline projects currently under review by the National Energy Board, including Trans Mountain and Energy East.

The new regulations stipulate that oil pipeline decisions will be based on science and traditional Indigenous knowledge; the views of the public, including affected communities and Indigenous peoples; and the direct and upstream greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that can be linked to pipelines.

During their press conference announcing the new regulations, Ministers McKenna and Carr repeatedly intoned that “Canada needs to get its natural resources to market in a sustainable way.”

According to the ministers, this depends on restoring Canadians’ trust in the government’s regulatory processes. “We believe it is important and, in fact, essential to rebuild Canadians’ trust in our environmental assessment processes,” Minister McKenna said.

But therein lies the problem.

Read moreHow to Evaluate Energy East? Try Evidence

Fracking is a bridge to nowhere

SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS
First published in the Chronicle Journal Jan 11, 2016

BY JASON MACLEAN
For Canada and other parties to the recent Paris climate change agreement to meet their commitment to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, “‘plan A’ must be to immediately and aggressively reduce GHG emissions.”
Why? Because there’s no plan B.
That’s not the cry of crazy environmentalists. That’s the cool-headed conclusion of a recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change entitled “Biophysical and economic limits to negative CO2 emissions” assessing the potential of what are called NETs (negative emissions technologies), which are designed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

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The cruel optimism of Paris

First Posted Monday, December 21, 2015 in the Chronicle Journal
SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS
By Jason MacLean

Cultural critic Lauren Berlant defines cruel optimism as the desire for something that’s an obstacle to our flourishing. We fantasize about a “good life” — of enduring reciprocity in romantic couples, organizations, political systems — despite the evidence of their instability and diminishing returns.
The optimism about the recent Paris climate agreement is a cruel case in point.
According to the world’s leading science journal Nature, “the Paris agreement represents a bet on technological innovation and human ingenuity.”
Why? Because the agreement is a legal and scientific failure.

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Corporate crime pays well, even when it’s punished

First Published in the Chronicle Journal Monday, September 21, 2015

SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS BY JASON MACLEAN
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Corporate crime pays. A lot. So does covering it up. Exhibit A: Healthcare giant Johnson and Johnson develops and markets a drug called Risperdal. Risperdal is a billion-dollar antipsychotic medicine that has both real benefits as well as some serious side effects.
For example, Risperdal increases the risk of strokes among the elderly, and can cause boys to develop breasts, a condition known as gynecomastia. One teenage boy developed a 46DD bust.

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Like a bike – it’ll save you and the planet

First Published in the Chronicle Journal Tuesday, September 8, 2015

SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS by Jason MacLean | 7 comments
Two years. Two years since I moved to Thunder Bay. Two years in Thunder Bay without a car. Or truck. Or monster truck.
How do I get around?
I bike (mostly). And forgive me for saying so, but so should you.
Some background: Every so often I give a public lecture on environmental law and sustainability, and the question I get most often is this: As an ordinary citizen, what can I do to help?

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What is sustainability, anyway?

First Published in the Chronicle Journal Monday, April 20, 2015

SUSTAINABILITY MATTERS
By Jason MacLean
Dear reader, I owe you an apology. I’ve been writing this column on sustainability for nearly two years now and I’ve yet to define what sustainability means, exactly.
A close friend who’s evidently not a regular reader of mine told me how interesting he found a recent column. But he quickly — if a little sheepishly — added that “sustainability” seems to be a bit of a buzz word that gets used in a number of different ways, not all of them reconcilable.
He’s not wrong. Not entirely, anyway.

Read moreWhat is sustainability, anyway?