Divergent voices offer climate change strategies

Bob McKeon

JOURNEY TO JUSTICE

May 2, 2016

A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual Social Justice Institute (SJI) in Edmonton. The theme was Care for Our Common Home: A Faithful Response to Today's Ecological and Social Crisis.

It was an extended ecumenical reflection on Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si'. The main speaker was Jennifer Henry, the executive director of the KAIROS national ecumenical justice coalition.

Across town, with equal passion, similar concerns of ecological and social justice were being discussed at the NDP national convention. Unlike our SJI deliberations, the NDP discussions and decisions very much caught public interest and made national headlines.

Much of the debate at the NDP convention centered around the LEAP Manifesto, with the subtitle "caring for the earth and one another." This four-page document was drafted and published by a group of environmentalists, indigenous activists, labour union reps and arts and culture leaders from across the country.

FAITH VOICES

Faith organizations are listed among the endorsers of the LEAP Manifesto including the leaders of the Canadian Jesuits, KAIROS and Citizens for Public Justice, two national ecumenical social justice organizations with significant Catholic membership.

One of its most publicized stances is a call for Canada to move quickly to do its part to combat global warming by reducing its greenhouse gas emissions quickly.

Specifically, it calls for Canada to transition away from the use of fossil fuels so Canada can obtain 100 per cent of its electric power from renewable resources within two decades, and to stop the building of new energy "infrastructure projects that would lock us into increased extraction decades into the future."

Alberta Premier Rachel Notley spoke against the LEAP document on the NDP convention floor.

She argued passionately that her government was introducing innovative polices and programs to address global warming including the introduction of a provincial carbon tax, an overall cap in oilsands emissions, a phase out of coal fired power by 2030, and government financial support for expanded green infrastructure.

She argues that support of LEAP by the convention would undermine her government's ability to achieve these green priorities.

PIPELINE FLASHPOINT

One of the major flashpoints in the debate between Notley and the LEAP authors was the issue of new fossil fuel infrastructure, specifically new oil pipelines to the east and west coasts which Notley supports and LEAP opposes.

Many in the media highlighted these two stances as opposed, conflictual positions. However, that weekend, I tried to look at this unfolding debate from the perspective of Pope Francis and Laudato Si'.

The pope writes, "We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels - especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree gas - needs to be progressively replaced without delay.

"Until greater progress is made in developing widely available sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the lesser of two evils or to find short-term solutions" (165).

Pope Francis is identifying two poles for the dialogue - the long term goal and the initial starting steps. Both are necessary; neither can be neglected.

The LEAP activists are looking ahead, at what has to be accomplished in the next generation by 2050 to keep global warming below 2.0 degrees C.

The LEAP document says relatively little about specific political strategies at the level of federal, provincial and municipal governments to achieve these goals.

PRACTICAL STEPS

Notley has worked hard to build public support for taking doable, achievable, practical steps in a difficult political and economic environment.

These initial steps are important even though many scientists are saying the present government plans, on their own, are likely not enough to get to the greenhouse gas reductions urgently needed by 2050.

At several points in the encyclical, Pope Francis calls for a wide ranging dialogue that is to include everyone from different perspectives, including spiritual, scientific, cultural, economic and community. He sees that indigenous communities have a special role in this dialogue (146).

The NDP convention decided to study and discuss the LEAP document in constituency associations and report back in two years. Hopefully, these local discussions will extend far beyond the boundaries of one political party.

It is not that LEAP or the present Alberta government necessarily has all the right answers at this point, but that they are asking many of the right questions.

(Bob McKeon: rmckeon55@gmail.com)