Newly elected congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has become a visible face of progressive politics in the United States. She is using her position to advocate for a “Green New Deal,” an ambitious effort to confront both climate change and social inequality. Canada can either lead or follow these efforts.
But rather than expressing the limitations of markets for managing social transformation, the argument suggests Canada should abandon carbon pricing.
Over-reliance on fossil fuels
For centuries, markets failed to account for the costs of emissions. Now, societies are overly dependent on fossil fuels and unsustainable. Transition from fossil fuel societies will be a massive, disruptive undertaking.
The U.S. bears an extraordinary responsibility to respond to the climate crisis. It produces an excessive amount of emissions and has an unequal share of resources.
However, the U.S. shirks its responsibility.
The success by newly elected Democrats to establish the Select Committee for a Green New Deal points to a hopeful change. The purpose of the committee is to develop a plan for the United States to transition to a sustainable future.
The U.S. effort at a Green New Deal is led by young women of colour like Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib. Contrast this with the recent Macleans‘ magazine cover featuring five middle-aged, white Canadian men opposed to carbon pricing.
Macleans labelled these men “The Resistance.” What they’re resisting, of course, is an extremely modest, market-based approach. For Canada to become leaders in the necessary transition to a sustainable society, carbon pricing is just the beginning.
Canada has an opportunity to lead in developing sustainable technologies, as well as green business, consumer and community practices.
At US$19.4 trillion, U.S. GDP is more than 11 times the size of Canada’s. With much greater economic clout, a quick transition toward a carbon-neutral economy by the U.S. would shape the path of innovation for the rest of the World.
The Green New Deal is about more than cutting emissions. At a climate change town hall, Ocasio-Cortez declared:
“We can use the transition to 100 per cent renewable energy as the vehicle to truly deliver and establish economic, social and racial justice.”
Canada should be just as ambitious with its approach to climate change.
General Motors recently announced that it’s closing its plant in Oshawa, Ont., along with four other North American operations. The reasons for the closures are myriad, but one identified by GM is its focus on zero-emissions vehicles.
Toronto Star columnist David Olive suggested that the Oshawa plant be nationalized and turned into a “truly Canadian automaker.” Imagine if this was done in the context of a Green New Deal.
Former GM plant as sustainability experiment
The plant could become a development and production facility for zero-emission transit technology. It could prioritize hiring people from disadvantaged groups. It could operate as a workers’ cooperative.
The plant could simply be an exercise in sustainable manufacturing. However, it could also be an experiment for the kinds of social and technological transformation needed to achieve a just, sustainable economy.
Of course, concerns exist about the cost of ambitious plans to deal with climate change. However, among the supporters of a Green New Deal is economist Stephanie Kelton, a proponent of modern monetary theory. She argues that barrier to a Green New Deal is not affordability, but political ignorance.
The Canadian government does not need to borrow Canadian dollars and it can never run out of Canadian dollars. Therefore, it’s uniquely positioned to transform its economy in ways markets never could.
It can fund training for unemployed oil workers. It can nationalize the Oshawa auto plant. It can develop sustainable energy technology. It can connect remote communities through low-emission transportation options.
Protests in France
A just transition approach to climate change could avoid rioting like the “yellow vest” protests in France. The protests are ostensibly in response to carbon pricing. However, they are rooted in social inequality, a point passionately, if unexpectedly, made by former Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson.
A criticism of France’s carbon price on diesel gasoline is that it disproportionately hurts the poor. In Canada, there have been suggestions that people in rural and remote areas will also suffer disproportionate harmed.
The solution to this harm is not to eliminate carbon pricing. Instead, carbon pricing must be coupled with assistance for rural and remote communities. A Green New Deal could provide the resources to develop local mechanisms of adaptation and mitigation.
The struggle for a Green New deal in the U.S. may fail. A U.S. that does not take seriously its climate responsibilities is a global danger. However, Canada will still be better off preparing for climate disintegration by transforming its economy into one that is just and sustainable.