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Canada can’t fight climate change and continue with the Alberta oil sands project, says David Bleakney of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, speaking from the COP23 in Bonn, Germany
DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News Network. The climate conference taking place in Bonn, Germany. The US has emerged as a rogue nation, standing alone as the one country on earth that has chosen to exclude itself from the Paris Climate Agreement. What makes the US decision all the more remarkable is that the Paris Climate Accord is a weak agreement. It does not legally oblige states to adopt targets that are sufficient to keep the global temperature increase to less than two degrees Celsius, it imposes no penalties on states for failing to honor their emission reduction targets, even inadequate emission reduction targets and it does not provide adequate financing to the most vulnerable states to mitigate the impacts of climate change. And yet, even this weak climate accord is a bridge too far for the Trump administration. Meanwhile, warnings from the scientific community have become increasingly dire. Recent data from a massive scientific US congressional report found that, quote, “With significant reductions in the emissions of greenhouse gases, the global annually average temperature rise could be limited to 3.6 Fahrenheit or two degrees Celsius or less. Without major reductions in these emissions, the increase in annual average global temperatures relative to pre-industrial times could reach nine degrees Fahrenheit or five degrees Celsius or more by the end of this century.” One country that environmental critics say can’t possibly meet their proposed submission of emissions reductions is Canada because of the highly-polluting Alberta tar sands. So, is Canada a responsible actor in the fight against climate change, or is it, too, a rogue nation? Joining us from COP23 in Bonn, Germany, is David Bleakney. David is the second national vice president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers or CUPW. In Canada’s labor movement, CUPW has emerged as a leader in the fight against climate change. Its climate change initiatives include participation in the Work in a Warming World effort, which is an initiative in the labor movement with researchers at York University who apply climate change science in action to bring work in workplaces into focus as we act on climate change. And Dave, thank you very much for joining us today. DAVID BLEAKNEY: You’re welcome, my pleasure. DIMITRI LASCARIS: So, Dave, I understand that at this COP there has been a lot of discussion about market-based initiatives and cooperation between the public and private sector, and I also understand that at least some labor groups including the International Trade Union Confederation, have expressed an interest in exploring market-based mechanisms in concert with big business, with the objective of tackling the climate crisis. Can you tell us what is being said at COP23 about these market-based initiatives in cooperation between the public and private sector, and is this the way we have to go in order to tackle the climate crisis in your view? DAVID BLEAKNEY: Well, I think firstly we have to understand that there are some things that are left off the table at COP. Some things that aren’t said. For example, the whole nature of our system of buying and selling and growth, constant growth, constant consumption, constant production and we’re not addressing those issues. We’re really, in some respects, like hamsters on a wheel, just debating how fast the wheel is moving or wanting a piece of the pie without questioning the nature of it. I do think that indigenous peoples probably have a better perspective on what needs to happen in terms of our relationship with the earth and each other but unfortunately, I think those voices are often buried or put in a side way so that we have this so-called inclusion without a whole lot of meat. So, when we appeal to major corporations, let’s face it, a handful of men own 50% of the planet. If we’re not really serious about undoing that, I don’t really know what the incentive is for the large polluters. And we see this in Canada, of course, where the tar sands are still a growing concern and where profit is made off using the atmosphere as a chemical sink. These are things that we have to really address meaningfully and practically. The hard part is, of course, transferring language into reality and enforcement. And I think these are the things that are really missing. And the same is true today as always has been true. Power only understands power, and so when we talk about convincing those who are the world’s greatest polluters and extortionists of wealth and punishing, certainly, developing countries, poor people, indigenous people in order to achieve those aims, we have to be very clear about addressing that power. And that power comes from below, it comes from engagement of communities, it comes from a real and meaningful shift. It’s not about window dressing. Now, this isn’t to say that there’s been some modest success, but let’s take the Canadian context, for example, which I think is an important one, as an energy-producing country. And that is, take for example, Alberta. So, Alberta in Canadian context is really the oil exporting province. It’s not the only one, but it’s the major one. And recently, the Notley government has, to their credit, embraced a just transition. They’ve imposed a carbon tax; no other province has done that, and they’re looking at support from the feds in order to wean themselves off of coal. Now, still doesn’t address the oil, and still doesn’t address the natural gas production, but it’s certainly a start in a better direction. I think Gil McGowan of the Alberta Federation of Labor could talk more about this. But what’s interesting is that, in this door that’s open a crack, the feds, and in particular, the environment minister, Catherine McKenna, have really been noncommittal in terms of meeting folks halfway to try to kick that door open a little further. And as a postal worker, I can say that we’ve had a plan for two years, a vision for two years, a workable, plausible, positive vision, for postal services, who have the largest vehicle fleet in Canada and huge infrastructure, could really be players in meaningfully addressing climate change. But there to date has been no interest from the environment ministry on this positive initiative for reasons we cannot understand. So when you mentioned public and private, in terms of the Canadian context, what we hear and what we experience, it’s all about private. We hear things like, “Grow the economy”, “Tackle climate change”, but we don’t see anything with meaning and substance from the feds. And I think this is a real shame and a lost opportunity, and I would caution people as Canada promotes themselves as some sort of climate leader that this really isn’t the case. I would say more a climate avoider, using flowery language to appear to be actually doing something and, in fact, doing very little but serving the oil lobby, resource extraction lobby … And really, it’s a situation of business as usual, I would say. DIMITRI LASCARIS: So let’s talk a little more about the commitments that Canada’s put on the table. Under the Paris accord, the Trudeau government has set a nationally determined contribution, NDC and COP parliaments of a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. Canada’s NDC and the Trudeau government’s efforts to achieve it have come under increasing criticism from environmental leaders, and let’s listen for example to what 350.org’s Bill McKibben had to say about this. BILL MCKIBBEN: … to Houston three weeks ago, and told the oil industry that he was gonna dig up 173 billion barrels of oil in the Alberta tar sands. That’s 30% of the planet’s carbon budget to get us to 1.5 degrees. Canada’s one-half percent of the world’s population. They don’t get a third of the planet’s atmosphere. Trudeau exemplifies the kind of politician who says all the right things, which is better than our guy, who won’t say anything, says all the right things and does the wrong things. DIMITRI LASCARIS: And there, Bill McKibben was talking a few months about an oil industry conference at which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had spoken,I believe it was in Houston, Texas and he got a standing ovation at that event from a bunch of oil executives. Dave, at COP23, has the Trudeau government given any indication that it’s going to strengthen its NDC, in other words, its commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or that it’s going to impose real limits on the tar sands industry so that it can have a serious shot at achieving its current NDC? DAVID BLEAKNEY: No, of course not, and this is highly unfortunate and a lost opportunity. And I think you’re right on and Bill McKibben’s right on in his assessment of what’s really happening. For example, our environment minister, McKenna, and maybe correct me if I’m wrong but I’ve seen no really profound announcements on meaningfully tackling climate change, although we will see her on the podium and we do see her on the podium when there are pipeline announcements. So this raises the question, “Is she the environment minister responsible for climate change or is she an oil industry lobbyist and cheerleader”. And I would say it’s the latter. All the evidence points to that and it’s a real shame, but I think we have to be clear about this, that we can’t depend on the current government to deliver the promises made. And it’s not only just about oil. Let’s talk about the fact that transport and airlines, if they were a country, they’d be the seventh-largest CO2 producer, and that’s growing higher. There’s nothing here to rein any of that in, and so again, these economic systems that don’t make sense where goods are manufactured and sent long distances really unnecessarily just contribute to the global climate. And it brings me back to really what I said earlier. It’s really about, “Buy and be happy, buy and be happy” without really questioning what the consequences of that are. And this is what really meaningfully has to be addressed by our government and isn’t. I don’t hear those conversations here. I hear conversations about opening the tent to everybody, having indigenous voices, a just transition … And of course, we’re all for a just transition for humanity, but what does that mean and how is it gonna be delivered? It will take initiatives far more than what’s just been introduced in the Alberta government to do that, and I don’t hear that conversation. I think we’re sleepwalking to disaster and we have to be very clear about that, and it’s gonna require massive grassroots initiatives to really meaningfully challenge power because we can’t just continue to go shopping and pretending that this is gonna take care of our future. DIMITRI LASCARIS: You mentioned earlier indigenous communities and their attitude towards these issues. The Trudeau government has talked a great deal about respecting indigenous rights, but yet it seems determined to allow the expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain tar sands pipeline, which is going to have a detrimental impact on numerous First Nations and has been vigorously opposed by a number of First Nations. Have indigenous groups raised this issue at COP23 particularly Kinder Morgan — and if so, how has the Trudeau government responded to their arguments? DAVID BLEAKNEY: I haven’t been at those sessions and really spent a lot of time. I’ve been more in the labor tent, but from what I understand, enforcement’s a huge issue. Let’s even take the Global Climate Fund. I heard from some folks there the other day from the indigenous table, from the women’s table and from the social development, and all say the same thing: that enforcement is really the key, and putting a lens on all these things throughout these climate agreements and these climate initiatives is absolutely essential. And that’s not what’s happening. And Canada really is not the best country to be talking about these things. A colonial country, of course; it’s been built on colonial power and theft of indigenous lands and territories and their destruction. Further, we don’t really see anything to take that on. Canada was the last country, either the second last or last country on earth to sign the UN declaration on indigenous rights. Great, we should all celebrate that. But now, here comes the real test. Will they actually agree to pre-informed prior consent, which I’d agree which is binding in that agreement, will they apply that in the Canadian lands with indigenous people? And the pipelines just prove the opposite of this. We’ve got First Nations like the Secwepemc people in BC building cabins along the pipeline route so they can inhabit this area and prevent these pipelines from being built. I don’t see that the federal government is really listening to indigenous voices. It seems business as usual. “Keep the oil flowing, try to call it clean”. And, again, if we look at the history of environment minister, correct me if I’m wrong, but I can see no real meaningful background in environment. And she likes to tout that she has a background in human rights and human rights law. But any sort of research into her past really doesn’t indicate to me a lot of work in that area. I see a lot of work around lobbying for Real Estate Association of Canada, being affiliated with essentially big business in Canada. And that performance is continuing while she’s in government, masquerading as an environment minister. DIMITRI LASCARIS: I believe probably her most prominent position in the legal profession was a Bay Street lawyer at a firm called Stikeman Elliott, where she was doing competition law for large corporations. You don’t hear the liberal government talking too much about that aspect of her background. You hear them talking about an internship, which involves some human rights work, I believe, in Indonesia many years ago. But I wanna conclude by talking about this vision, which I think this vision about what we actually need to do, which has very much been inspired by indigenous thinking and is embodied within the Leap Manifesto. The Leap Manifesto has attracted some criticism from some elements within the Labor Movement Canada, most particularly Jerry Dias of Unifor at the NDP convention about a year or two ago. How does CUPW feel about the Leap Manifesto? Is this something that the Canadian postal workers have embraced openly? As a representative of the labor movement, do you think that that really represents the vision, a way forward, and what we need to be talking about? DAVID BLEAKNEY: Well, I certainly think it’s a good start, and we certainly support the Leap and we all know we need to make a leap. There’s no question that we have to move and we have to move fast. There’s a certain, I guess, impatience that I’m feeling, and I know my members are feeling around meeting these targets. Letter carriers are out in the street every day. They see the climate changing. They feel it. The increased rainfall, the increased catastrophic weather … And so we don’t really have a lot of time to wait on this. I’m really beside myself. I don’t know what to say. I came here certainly hopeful that we would see some real progress, and I think maybe there’ll be a little bit of progress, a little bit there, but the kind of shift that we need is not happening. The Leap people I think came up with a good initiative. Canadian post workers, we came up with a vision called Delivering Community Power with three practical solutions. But there are other solutions. Let’s look at mangroves. Mangrove swamp trees are being ripped up around the world. I think almost a third of them are now gone for shrimp fishing and tourism. Well, these are protective barriers to people living downwind of catastrophic weather. They grow quickly, they don’t burn, and they absorb an incredible amount of CO2. So why isn’t the federal government funding things like this? Why? Because, well, it may not be good for business. It may not be good for the one percent and it may not be good for the stock market. But it’s good for people. It’s good for communities. And I think what the Leap points to is that there could be a different value system where these things are incorporated into our lives, and indigenous understandings that are thousands of years old in terms of how to behave with the earth, how to live with the earth, how to live with each other — are really the way forward at this point. Not appeals to multi-billionaires who have an interest on obtaining even more profit. I don’t think anybody’s gonna give up that ship without a real fight and without addressing this thing. Power has always understood power, not blind appeals to power. We have to be very cautious about feel-good initiatives that have no teeth and that really, again, benefit the richest on the planet who are really creating this problem and have created this problem. So there’s nowhere to go but initiatives like this. I’m not saying Leap is the only initiative. We have a diverse and multicultural world, but I think there are really strong pointers of where to go that aren’t being discussed here except maybe in some corners. But not certainly on the table in the way that it needs to happen. We hear lip service. We hear, “It’s wonderful having everybody in the tent”. And I think, If I could just go back in terms of the last summit in Marrakech, to point out really how this plays out. Last year at COP-22 in Marrakech, I was invited I don’t think deliberately, but I wound up at a business meeting with the [environment] minister and was shocked in terms of what I witnessed there. A lot of high fives, a lot of delivered civil society. “There are some problems but we could all work this together and grow the economy and everything will be wonderful”, and then the environment minister received an award from the resource lobby. Now, this wasn’t on TV. There were no photographs. But I ask myself, “How does this address climate change?” It seemed to me it addressed certainly profit accumulation and more of the same. So whether the Canadian government is genuine or not, I think it’s been pretty clear that they’re not. And one has to give credit to the more right wing parties because at least they say what they mean; there’s no joking around. But here, we have saying one thing and acting out another, and this is very, very dangerous. DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, David, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us from Bonn, Germany and COP23. This has been Dimitri Lascaris speaking with Dave Bleakney, second national vice president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Thanks again for joining us, Dave. DAVID BLEAKNEY: Thank you very much. My pleasure. DIMITRI LASCARIS: This has been Dimitri Lascaris for The Real News Network.