Editorial on Election 2015: A Green I Can Support

19 10 2015

Note to Readers: It has been a tremendous challenge to work through the issues in the 2015 campaign. I wrote the following as a way to work out my own feelings and concerns about the election. Because it’s so personal, I debated whether I should even publish it. If Dr. Trappenberg or MP Megan Leslie are offended by statements in this article, my sincere apologies. I don’t want to offend anyone. I’m just trying to work out a very difficult decision

I’m voting for a Green I can support.

I’ve been active in the Green Party since 1998, when I joined the Massachusetts Green Party. I campaigned for the Green Party, and even ran as the Green Party candidate from my state district in western Massachusetts (2d Hampshire, 2002). I have voted for every Green Presidential candidate that ran in the US. After I moved to Canada in 2008, and became a Canadian Citizen in 2014, I voted for the first time in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and I voted Green.

This year, I am a resident of Halifax and a registered voter in Nova Scotia. I was faced with a very difficult situation: should I vote for the Green Party candidate in Halifax? It’s been a drawn out and difficult choice between NDP incumbent Megan Leslie, and the new Green Party candidate, Thomas Trappenberg. Megan Leslie has a long career of working for social justice, universal health care, and environmental protection. My only objection was that her party, Tom Mulcair’s NDP, were determined to build the Energy East pipeline, and other fossil fuel projects, so long as environmental regulations were “in place” and products were refined in Canada, a dubious policy of “sustainable resource development.”

I met Dr. Trappenberg when Green Party Leader Liz May came to town in August. I love Elizabeth May. She is the extraordinary leader of a visionary party and global green movement. As for Trappenberg, I found him likeable and engaging. Trappenberg fully stands behind the Green Party platform, which most closely represents my views and which I fully support. I want immediate, effective global action on climate change now. I want college tuition to be abolished, and to limit student back debt to no more than $10,000. I want a national pharmacare program. I want a guaranteed liveable income and more public housing. I want a fossil fuel-free economy and to put people to work on the transition to a fossil fuel-free society. I want to stop the Energy East Pipeline, and have been working with a direct action group for the last two years to do just that. Trappenberg fully supports all these initiatives.

However, I have difficulty with Trappenberg’s background in robotics and artificial intelligence. This kind of technology ultimately benefits the One Percent because it displaces workers and renders them obsolete. I know what it’s like to be displaced by technology. Thirty years ago I took a one-year course in Secretarial Studies. I could type and do shorthand at 200 words-per-minute, no errors. I worked my way through my undergraduate degree as a secretary. Then came the micro-computer revolution in the mid-80s, and my job was wiped out. Everyone got their own computer and scheduled their own appointments, and phones answered themselves. Not only me, but millions of workers world wide, mostly female, were rendered “obsolete” in a few years. I don’t begrudge the computer revolution. I’m not a Luddite, I’m an avid user of computer technology. But I have a personal experience of what it’s like to be replaced by technology, to become “excess labour.”

In a few years, robotics will replace most of the jobs that are now done by factory workers in industrial centres of the world. They will even replace most workers in big box stores, replacing clerks and stock workers. These aren’t great jobs and I’m also glad to see them go, along with the whole big box retail industry. But what do you do with billions of obsolete workers world-wide? I know what happens to excess labour: you spend the rest of your life scraping by, trying to survive on part-time temporary jobs in cafés, or like me, you become a professional student. My situation as a white person in a rich western nation isn’t so bad. A person of colour living in the same world as “excess labour” could end up in prison. In developing nations, “excess labour” is caught in civil war or starves to death. Moreover, robotics and information technologies only concentrate productive power among the already powerful. It replaces workers with technology and puts control of all productive activity, and thus all wealth, in the hands of the One Percent, while the rest of us go begging.

Trappenberg wants us to “send another scientist” to Canada’s Parliament. But my question is “what kind of science?” We already have all the science and technology we need to produce and run everything in the world. We already have all the science and technology we need to de-carbonize our economy and slow global warming. We have all the science we need to help us understand climate change and advocate for environmental regulation. And we can always use more and better science. But all of that science and technology hasn’t changed a thing. We are still going full-steam on the path to eco-suicide. All the information, technology and science in the world is not going to save us. Because what we really need is a change of consciousness and political will, and that on a global scale.

Robotics and technology, while it informs us of our environment, also alienates us from nature and from each other. It seals us off from the effects of the damage that we inflict on each other and all other species. It creates an artificial world that blinds us to the organic reality of the biosphere, numbs us to the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world. We don’t need more robotics and technology.

I got my undergraduate degree in Sociology, then got an MSW. I was a social worker for 30 years, specializing in community organizing, development and planning. In 1998, I started teaching as a part-time instructor in the social sciences. I was told that I had to have an MA in Sociology to teach beyond the introductory level. So I got my MA in Sociology at the New School for Social Research. I taught as a part-time college instructor for several years. Then I was told I had to have a Ph.D to teach even as a part-time instructor. So I am now most of the way through a doctorate degree in Sociology. I taught Sociology at UNB in Fredericton and most recently at Dalhousie, in the School of Social Work. Currently, I’m working as a union organizer for CUPE 3912, which represents part-time faculty at universities in Halifax.

In September of this year, Japan’s Education Minister announced that the government would shut down all humanities and social science programs at the 86 government-funded universities. No more history, arts, literature, languages, or geography. No more anthropology, psychology or sociology, not even economics or law. What’s left for the neoliberal university? More science and technology. More robotics. Once again, my job skills are “obsolete.” I am working for peanuts as a part-time instructor in the social sciences, about to complete a doctorate degree in a discipline that will disappear from universities in the high-tech world in a less than a decade. Once again, I am “excess labour.”

The kind of science that we need to send to Parliament is social science, the kind of science that explains complex human behaviour, the promotes inter-cultural understanding in a globalized world. We don’t need more technology—we already have more than enough. Green technology won’t change anything if we don’t have a change of consciousness and culture. We need a Green movement that promotes a cultural transition to an ecological and compassionate world view. Green Tech might help us transition to a low-carbon economy, but ultimately Green Tech won’t save us. If this is the kind of “green” that Trappenberg represents, I can’t support that kind of green.

We need more humanists and social scientists who are keenly aware of the economic trap of the 99%, the suffering of people in developing nations and the mass extinction of all other species. We need people in Parliament who perceive, who feel and who care. We need people who have a highly developed sense of empathy, justice and compassion. We need people who have the guts and fortitude to fight the One Percent, not empower them with more technology and control. We need someone who will fight for a life of dignity for the dispossessed. We need someone who will fight for democracy, health care, climate justice, environmental regulation, education, housing, and daycare for children. That’s why I was ready to go against my party and vote for Megan Leslie. Because I thought she was the kind of green that I could support.

But in the last week of the campaign, I heard a report from Dr. Peter Waldhams of Cambridge University, UK. He’s an ocean physicist and expert on Arctic sea ice. His prediction is that, because of the rapid acceleration of global warming, sea ice will disappear from the summer Arctic ocean in less than five years. This has potentially catastrophic impacts on climate in the near future, including a sea level rise of 4 metres by 2030. He said that a group of Russian and American scientists had recently observed huge methane plumes in the Arctic sea. This signifies potent feedback loops that could spur runaway climate change, which would be virtually unstoppable.

On Saturday, October 17, after I wrote this article, I woke up feeling different. I came back to the crisis that threatens humanity and all species: global warming. I had worked with the Stop Energy East Halifax group to confront Megan Leslie about the dangers of the pipeline. In July, we had staged a protest outside of her office on Gottingen St. Leslie had sent out cards saying that the NDP were the leaders on climate and environmental justice. We wrote on those cards: ‘You can’t be a leader on climate and support Energy East.’ We marked up several hundred of those cards and brought them to her office. Outside her office, a group of us held up a long banner that showed a map of the Energy East pipeline across Canada. She met with the group, they gave her the cards, and asked her to oppose the pipeline. They took pictures of her receiving those cards. She was clearly shocked by the confrontation, but had little to say on behalf of the NDP and their support of the pipeline. She never came out and said that she was against the pipeline. She only repeated the NDP party line: “We will make sure there are proper environmental regulations in place and a thorough review of its potential impacts.” Right there, she had a chance to break away from the party line and show that she was an MP who represented her district, and not her party. But she didn’t; she stuck with the party line, and held the party line until election day. That’s not the kind of “green” that I can support.

In August, I went to see Mulcair when he came to Halifax to rally the NDP. I went with two people from our Stop Energy East group. When Mulcair mentioned “marine environment”, we  held up signs against the pipeline for the rest of his speech. Other than this one remark, he never said anything about climate change, energy, or even “environment.” He said “Not handing on our debts to future generations; that’s what I call ‘sustainable development.’”

Later, in a CBC interview on The House, Mulcair reiterated the NDP platform. They would support the Energy East pipeline so long as environmental regulations were “in place” and oil from the tar sands was refined in Canada, preserving jobs for Canadians. It was clear that, if they won, they were going to build the pipeline, whatever it took. Essentially, Mulcair was supporting a 40% increase in production from the tar sands, a policy that many climate scientists have said would be “game over” for the climate.

I woke up on Monday, October 19 and finally knew what I had to do. I really wanted to vote for Megan Leslie, and I really didn’t want to vote for Thomas Trappenberg, for all the reasons I said. But I had to put personality and party aside. I had to vote for the policy that, were it enacted at national and international levels, would slow down climate change and possibly pull us back from the brink of disaster: I voted for “no pipelines, no expansion of the tar sands.” I voted for effective climate change regulations, and the rapid transition to a fossil-fuel free society, powered by renewable energy. I didn’t vote for the Green Party. I voted for a green policy that I can support.

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