Last week Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. This came as a surprise to a lot of the media and to those of us who live in our media bunkers on the West and East coasts but was not as much of a surprise to the people who live in the “flyover states” and the “rust belt”. In retrospect, the pundits explain, it should have been obvious. The liberals on the East and West coasts were out-voted (technically out electoral voted) by the people they seldom deign to acknowledge or recognize: the “great unwashed” who form the backbone of the country, growing its food, hewing its wood and feeding its industry. Well as a British Columbian and a pragmatic environmentalist I see some lessons to be learned from the Trump victory. In this blog post I will consider some of these lessons starting with the climate change debate, moving to the upcoming BC election and finally considering a local example of a party being out of touch with the electorate.
Coincidental to Trump’s election COP22 (The twenty-second session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 22) and the twelfth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP 12)) got underway last week. At COP 22 the leaders of the world climate change community are debating how to address our ever-shrinking global carbon budget. Since COP21 there has been a lot of global posturing, a number of countries has submitted their national NDCs and global carbon emissions have continued to increase, admittedly at a lower rate than in previous years. You may ask: but what does this have to do with the US Election? My answer is that like in the US election, we western democracies have been navel-gazing so intently that we have missed the big issue: North American and Europe don’t represent the majority of world greenhouse gas emissions anymore. Like the coastal liberals in the US election; we think we are the big kids on the block but are now revealed to be minor contributors. As a EU report points out:
The top 4 emitting countries/regions, which together account for almost two thirds (61%) of the total global CO2 emissions are China (30%), the United States (15%), the European Union (EU-28) (10%) and India (6.5%).
Look at those numbers again, the US and Europe only represent 25% of global CO2 emissions. Canada meanwhile is down at the 1.6% zone. While we have a moral duty to lead by example and cut our emissions we also need to recognize that our actions alone will not make a whit of difference if we can’t get the rest of the world onside. Consider China; I keep hearing how China is weaning itself off coal and yet according to a report out last week:
in a new five-year plan for electricity released Monday, the [Chinese] National Energy Administration said it would raise coal-fired power capacity from around 900 gigawatts last year to as high as 1,100 gigawatts by 2020. The roughly 200-gigawatt increase alone is more than the total power capacity of Canada.
By comparison, the agency said it would increase non-fossil fuel sources from about 12% to 15% of the country’s energy mix over the same period. Coal would still make up about 55% of the electricity mix by 2020, down from around two-thirds in recent years.
What this tells us is that we can spend billions in Canada to reduce our carbon footprint but we western elites had better pay attention to those flyover continents because that is where the real action is at.
As I pointed out in a previous post, 2.7 billion humans in Africa and Southeast Asia live in energy poverty. Unless we can help them with access to cheap renewable energy sources, nuclear energy, LNG (as a bridge fuel) and grid upgrades; they will go to the easiest and most plentiful base-load energy source out there: coal. If they do that, then all the emission–control work we do in Canada won’t help a bit. We have to remember that we live on a single planet and while the Western elites continue to ignore these poor countries, the planetary atmosphere does not. The best efforts of Canadians can be erased with the flick of a pen in China so we have to recognize that from a global emission perspective maybe the best use of our limited dollars is in foreign energy investment and helping our poorer neighbours with access to lower (or zero) carbon energy sources. My environmental friends who insist that this may risk our meeting our Paris Agreement promises are missing the point. If we meet our Paris Agreement commitments but allow those gains to be overwhelmed elsewhere then we have simply wasted our money.
From a provincial election perspective the Trump victory should come as a serious worry to our friends in the NDP. Before the last election it was readily accepted in the pages of the Tyee, the Georgia Strait and other progressive publications that the Christy Clark government was going to be soundly defeated. Instead she won a resounding victory. The basis of that victory was a lack of support for the NDP in the center and north of the province. Frankly the 2013 BC election map looks a lot like the 2016 US election map. The NDP won on the coast and in the enclaves of Vancouver, Burnaby and Vancouver Island and took a thumping in the communities dependent on natural resource jobs and in the “suburbs” south of the Fraser. Flip-flopping on pipelines, and other topics important to interior resource communities, left the NDP out of luck in the interior and the north and gave the election to the Liberals.
Now never a group to learn from past mistakes, the NDP continues to ignore the issues that really matter to people outside of their favoured enclaves north of the Fraser and along the BC Ferry routes. Rather it looks like the NDP is doubling-down on those past mistakes with their stated policies on the Trans-Mountain expansion, Site C and other topics that are critical to interior voters. Instead of broadening their appeal progressive factions in the NDP caucus continue to narrow it and that does not bode well for their election prospects in 2017. Christy Clark doesn’t even need to appeal to the negative populism the way that Trump did in the US election either, because the NDP caucus has been doing her job for her. By ignoring and/or insulting potential voter blocks across the province they are handing her ridings that should really be competitive.
Now for a simple example of where the NDP is getting things wrong and lets have a discussion about Lower Mainland transit priorities (sorry my international friends, I will try to make this quick and relevant to non-Lower Mainland dwellers). There are few topics that will get a Langley taxpayer more upset about the NDP priorities than listening to David Eby demand a subway or Skytrain along the Broadway corridor. To explain to our non-local readers, we have people in Vancouver whining because they get passed by a bus going to UBC and will have to wait a whole 4 minutes for the next one (sometimes the buses can be 6 minutes apart…the horror!!!). I, meanwhile, live in a community where if you miss the bus (in the approximately 25% of the community served by buses) then it will often be an hour or more before the next one shows up. Now this wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for the fact that the voters south of the Fraser, without bus service, don’t see a transit discount on their tax forms. We pay essentially the same amount for our non-existent transit service as the people in Vancouver pay for their frequent service.
To go even more micro into this topic consider that we have a major commercial/warehousing district (Gloucester Industrial Estates) that serves as a hub for literally thousands of lower paid commercial and warehousing jobs (the type of people who would typically rely on transit) but Gloucester is completely unserviced by transit. The only reason Gloucester exists is because all those warehousing facilities were chased out of Vancouver proper when they gentrified Yaletown, False Creek etc.. and put in all those condos. The warehouses in Langley literally feed Vancouver. Trucks from these warehouses cross the Port Mann Bridge daily to supply their stores with supplies. Meanwhile the only thing we hear about that bridge from Vancouverites is that it was too expensive even though it has has eliminated a major bottleneck in our food and services transportation system in the lower mainland. As for Gloucester, I have talked to business owners who simply will not hire people who don’t own cars because it is too hard to ensure their workers get to their jobs absent transit. If you really want to get drivers off the road and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, setting up a bus service to Gloucester will do just that, while providing access to good jobs for the young people in our community. But have we ever heard a single NDP member pushing for better transit outside of their urban enclaves? Not to my memory. Instead we hear more complaints about the Port Mann, demands for more service in areas with already excellent service and more tax bills being paid by people who cannot even access the system their tax dollars pay for.
The old adage goes that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it and in BC, Canada and the world we continue to ignore the lessons of history. In Canadian political history we are reminded former Prime Minister Joe Clark who lost his job because he miscounted how many members he had in parliament. Well Donald Trump won the presidency because the Democrats didn’t bother to count how many people live in the US heartland and so ignored the issues that were most important to those voters. Globally, the only way we are to going to win our fight against climate change is if we do a head count and recognize that huge number of people are living in energy poverty. Unless we can find a low-carbon way to advance their energy needs they will erase all our efforts and climate change is an inevitability. As for Provincially, until the NDP recognizes that voters south of the Fraser and north and east of Coquitlam mean something then we will have another “surprise” election result and another Liberal majority. Not that I will mind as I am one of those people who is sick of having my issues ignored by the provincial NDP.