The Leap Manifesto, Alberta, and the realities of the demand for oil | What's Left

We need to reduce the demand as well as the supply of fossil fuels to stop catastrophic climate change. This conversation needs to be lead by socialists, not cause division among them.

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For socialists, the response to the Leap Manifesto has been very hard to watch unfold. The promotion of solidarity and democracy should always be paramount in the struggle for a better world, but, unfortunately, the Leap Manifesto has somehow become divisive. The Manifesto provides an opportunity for activists and organizers to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of the proposals, but such “discussion" has been anything but solidaristic and has not advanced understanding of the underlying issues. As such, arguments will have to be reframed in order for either of the entrenched “sides” to engage in constructive (instead of destructive) policy debate.

Democracy, economic and social, is the foundation of socialism. As such, issues need to be examined in this context. While debates about which types of energy and resource extraction are important, it’s also important to recognize the need for these projects to be democratically managed. Energy production and use of any sort will be problematic if left to private, for-profit industry. Empowering Canadians and workers in the industry to make decisions about extraction is critical to making progressive changes to energy production. It is the private market that has driven the problems we face with climate change and it is the lack of democratic control over this part of the energy sector that has stalled the shift to non-carbon intensive solutions.

There is no getting around that Albertans are dealing with the intrinsic contradictions of embracing a progressive government in a province dependent on regressive oil extraction projects. This is not a unique contradiction in the world. Governments in Social Democratic Europe and Latin America face similar challenges.

But, the debate around extraction is only part of a much broader and more difficult conversation. The rest of Canada needs to deal with its contradictions. Its desire to tackle climate change, and at the same time, continuing to demand products made from and dependent on fossil fuels. One legitimate criticism of the Leap Manifesto is that it focuses too much on the supply of energy and not enough on how we make changes to consumption.

The inability to reduce the demand for carbon-intensive products and transport is based in a lack of democratic control. Canada does not have progressive governments willing to make the type of public investments needed to reduce current oil demands. This is a real limitation. It demonstrates the lack of democratic control Canadians have over local economies and thus no ability to push forward a program to quickly and comprehensively shift the country towards non-fossil fuel alternatives.

In this respect, the democratic project in Alberta is arguably working better than outside its borders. The Alberta NDP is forward-thinking enough to realize that changes in the energy economy are (eventually) going to result in a reduction of demand. As such, they are investing in projects to diversify the economy to respond to these realities. They have capped their own emissions and are thinking about how to deal with the inevitable loss of jobs in their economy – all while facing an aggressive and nasty right-wing media. However, because economic democracy – especially when dealing with changes in production – answers to both supply and demand, Alberta can only go so far without demand also subsiding.

We need a massive investment in greening our transport industry (going electric) if we are going to be able to impact production of fossil fuels. This means public charging (or implementing battery swap) stations and public investment in domestic electric car production. It also means investing in alternatives for air travel (public high-speed rail for example), and move back to train transport instead of trucking. These are things the private sector is unable and unwilling to do. In the end, a transition can only happen fast enough if the public sector takes over the transition by responding to the democratic will of the population. The government must invest in the production of necessary green alternatives while directly regulating the industry’s production and their use of carbon-intensive products.

In the case of the “conflict” between the Leap Manifesto and the Alberta NDP government, the problem with this conflation is clear: the pipeline is a red herring.

It is the use of the oil that is central to reduction of carbon emissions in Canada. If those outside of Alberta want to stop a pipeline from being built, there needs to be a serious examination of who is buying that oil and how that demand can be reduced (without just relying on people to vote with their pocket books). The main goal around which progressive Canadians should unite is the democratization of our economic system.

Progressive Canadians (in Alberta and elsewhere) want to be part of the solution but a broader, more positive and constructive debate will be necessary to make this happen. Governments outside of Alberta will need to actually listen to Canadians and embrace their demand for economic democracy (instead of being obsessed with privatization, as is the case with most “progressive” Liberal governments).

In short, those who want real change should stop pointing fingers at each other and start working together to build the democratic power needed to fight climate change.