A historic climate victory

Canada's recent election provides much-needed hope that truth can prevail over disinformation.

Image credit: Mike Gifford/Flickr

With the exception of cockroaches, rodents, and flesh-eating bacteria, all life on earth is threatened by the climate crisis.

So why don’t voters ever mobilize around large-scale climate action?

Two reasons are most commonly referenced: The fossil fuel industry, and ourselves. The fossil fuel industry has engaged in a 30-year disinformation campaign to discredit climate science, making people doubt whether climate change is really that big a deal. To make matters worse, human brains are inherently bad at grasping long-term threats like climate change, and thus fail to prioritize them. “We’re a medium-term species,” author Nathaniel Rich said on the topic earlier this year. “We plan ahead, but only so far.”

Lately, however, there have been signs that the second obstacle to climate action—ourselves—is falling away. For the first time in history, American Democratic voters consider the climate crisis a top priority, and they’re demanding presidential candidates have detailed, serious, and comprehensive plans to fight it.

Whether Americans will actually prioritize climate change on Election Day next year remains an open question. A lot of people are pessimistic that it will happen, knowing our disappointing history.

But I am less pessimistic than I was yesterday, because I learned about what happened in Canada this week.

Welcome to HEATED, a daily newsletter for people who are pissed off about the climate crisis—written by me, Emily Atkin.

Today’s issue focuses on Canada’s election. Specifically, it examines why the results represent a milestone moment for the climate movement, and what climate-concerned Americans can learn from it.

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Canada’s climate election

Multiple scandals threatened his re-election, but Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau managed to narrowly defeat his Conservative opponent in the country’s federal elections on Monday. However, his Liberal Party—the equivalent to mainstream Democrats in America—lost more than 30 seats and its majority in Parliament.

But Canada isn’t a two-party system, so Canada’s Conservative Party—the Republican party-equivalent—isn’t suddenly in control of Parliament. Indeed, the results simply mean that Liberals in Parliament will have to negotiate with elected members of the smaller, further-left New Democratic Party to gain enough support to pass progressive legislation. (See here for a more specific breakdown of the results).

This is great news for the climate, said Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada—in fact, the whole election was.

“We got a pretty resounding signal that Canadian voters are on board with climate action,” she said. “Sixty-three percent of people voted for parties with very strong climate plans.” At the same time, only two percent of the population voted for the only Canadian party that denies climate change, the right-wing People’s Party of Canada. The PPC failed to elect a single member of Parliament.

And climate change “dominated the election,” reported Canada’s Global News, adding that the issue “occupied a more prominent space in the election discourse than any previous campaign in Canadian history.”

Nearly 30 percent of Canadians said the climate is among their top three issues as they consider who to vote for, polling from Ipsos earlier this month found. The issue was second only to health care, at 35 percent. …

For the Liberals and NDP, plans to tackle climate change were key elements of their pitch to voters.

Voters reject “climate pretending”

Not only did Canadian voters support climate action—they also rejected false solutions, Abreu said.

Canada’s Conservative Party doesn’t outright reject climate change, but it “has a very regressive climate agenda,” Abreu said. “They issued a 60-page document that they called their climate plan, but it didn’t include any real steps to reduce emissions.” In fact, she added, it relied on the expansion of Canadian oil and gas exports overseas. Some experts said the plan would actually increase Canada’s carbon emissions.

“This is a new form of climate denial that I like call climate pretending, where you say you know climate change is a problem, but you don’t do anything about it,” Abreu said. “And voters weren’t fooled by it.”

‘Greater urgency being demanded’

The Canadian voting population has long been more supportive of climate action than Americans. That’s why the country currently already has one of the most ambitious carbon pricing polices in the world. As the New York Times notes, “Under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the Liberal government has enacted a nationwide tax on oil, coal and gas that starts at $15 per ton of carbon dioxide this year and will rise to $38 per ton by 2022.”

But lately, the population as a whole appears even more bullish on aggressive climate action, said Dale Marshall, the national program manager at Environmental Defence Canada.

“Over the last year there’s been a real shift, a fundamental shift, where candidates are talking about the time frame for action in terms of a decade,” he said. “The Liberal party in its last mandate was trying to have an all-of-the-above approach, saying we can develop our oil and gas sector while addressing climate change. And quite frankly, in the last six months at least, that has been repeatedly pointed out as a contradiction. Hypocrisy. Cognitive dissonance. You can’t do both.”

This shifting reality is upending traditional notions about what is politically possible when it comes to climate change.

“To many politicians, promoting a carbon tax sounds like political suicide,” the Washington Post editoral board wrote yesterday. “The question of carbon pricing brought down an Australian government in 2013 and roiled politics even in environmentally conscious Washington state, where two successive ballot initiatives failed.”

“But the narrative of political suicide now has a Canada-sized hole in it.”

Lessons and fights ahead

To be sure, Canada’s political realities are different than America’s.

“We have a greater diversity in our political parties,” Marshall noted. “We have social democratic parties and green parties that play a role … We also don’t have the electoral college, [where] a bunch of quite white rust belt states have a disproportionate effect on the outcome of presidential elections.”

What Canada shares with America, however, is the increasingly undeniable reality unfolding in front of its citizens.

“The last few years in Canada have been really intense in terms of flooding, forest fires, and hurricanes,” Marshall said. "That’s a big factor.”

As climate change rapidly morphs from a long-term threat to a short-term threat in the minds of Canadian voters, Marshall and other activists think the so-called “human nature” problem of voters not prioritizing climate action will solve itself.

But there’s still the problem of moneyed interests, misinformation, and manipulation—which Canada is nowhere near immune to.

Canada, like America, has its fair share of citizens who are deeply opposed to climate action. In the oil-rich western provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan, for example, resentment is brewing.

So Marshall’s advice—both to climate-concerned Canadians and Americans—is to keep their eyes on the ball.

“We know that powerful actors do not just go away,” he said. “There will be strong forces who will have to be dragged kicking and screaming to climate leadership, because climate leadership means phasing out the oil and gas sector.”

For now, though, both Marshall and Abreu said they’re basking in at least a momentary sigh of relief.

HOT ACTION: A petition to Amazon Prime

Remember my story a few weeks ago about Amazon Prime’s non-recyclable freezer bags, and how they contribute to climate change?

Pennsylvania-based reader Sara Hirschler said she’s been been calling her local Whole Foods every few days to complain about it, and “even signed up for LinkedIn premium so I could message some Amazon higher-ups, but to no avail.”

“For now,” she added, “I’m just boycotting that service and willing to pay Instacart a $4.99 delivery fee to deliver from a competitor called Sprouts to avoid those liners. “

Hirschler also pointed me to a petition to have Amazon offer an option for sustainable grocery deliver, so I thought I’d share it with you. It’s here.

OK, that’s all for today—thanks for reading HEATED!

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Questions or comments about today’s issue? E-mail me: emily@heated.world

Suggestions for hot action? E-mail them to: action@heated.world

See ya tomorrow!