The decisions we make reflect our values and our priorities. The release of the National Ocean and Atmospheric Agency’s (NOAA) annual “Report Card on the Arctic” last week has tremendous bearing on where our society’s ethos is taking us. And that has even more bearing on what the greed and the incompetence of the BC Liberals under Christy Clark, and what the lies and fecklessness of the NDP over the Site C decision will mean for future generations of British Columbians – if we make it beyond 2100. Personally speaking – that is increasingly doubtful, because we increasingly seem to elect the most shady and morally bankrupt individuals into office. And I also think that the time for gentility is fleeting – it just leads to exploitation and abuse, as experience and now scholarly research shows.
The stunning part is that just as some of us pretend that climate change is not a real or immediate problem, we also pretend that the people we elect to represent us actually have the minimal integrity to represent their electors, and have the interests of the population at heart.
There is solid scholarly research on both questions, and the data prove the contrary on both counts.
First, the graph below sums up what is known about political decision-making.
Figure 1: Data on correlations between public opinion/economic elites’ preferences and odds of a policy being implemented, from Gilens & Page (2014). Illustration: Lewandowski et al. (2017), Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition
As the political science study by M. Gilens and B. Page shows, the same system which clamours for vindication every 4 years by the people through the electoral process, has in fact consistently dis-enfranchised the average voter for decades.1 Just to quote: “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.” The follow-up on the Gilens and Page study carried out in 2017 by Lewandosky, Cook and Ecker is even more damning. Aptly called: Letting the Gorilla Emerge From the Mist: Getting Past Post-Truth it indicates that there is an over 90% probability that on policy decisions elected officials will disregard the public opinion that elected them and support policies favoured by a minority economic elite. “Public preference has little or no influence on policy outcomes.”
Although this report is based exclusively on US data, the application is global. Political disregard for public opinion is a rampant global problem. It crosses political divides, and can be found at municipal, provincial and federal levels. This is a broken political system that needs to find more robust mechanisms to either hold politicians more accountable, or make decision-making more direct.
There are no surprises here with regards to the Site C decision. John Horgan’s swift rejection of “activism” as a part of the NDP platform and back to the “status quo” of government as usual, with renewed support for LNG and bitumen exports3is consistent with standard political practice and ethos of catering to the interests of an economic elite. In other words, in spite of a resounding rejection of Christy Clark’s policies, British Columbians are now discovering that they have voted in the NDP only to endorse Christy Clark’s policies under another name. As all contemporary governments, the NDP government is not really interested in public opinion – except at election time. It is only interested in “governing”, that is it is only interested in power and economics. As the research shows, only the interests of “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests” matter to politicians, left or right. And that is legitimized as “normal” by the economic elites who own the media that shapes public opinion to accept status quo. To govern is therefore to be given power by a few and protect the interests of the economic elite.
It therefore comes as no surprise that , like his precedessor, John Horgan is now embarking on a trade mission to China to sell… LNG and heavy oil. So in keeping with this economic logic, it should come as no surprise that natural gas liquifaction and heavy oil extraction require energy for extraction and processing, and that Site C can provide that energy, was intended for the purpose by Christy Clark and continues to be by John Horgan. And that therefore, this trade mission, together with all that it implies was well in the works as soon as this government came into power.4 Even in August, when he expected the BCUC report on Site C to be favourable to rejecting stopping construction of Site C, Horgan’s economic plans were to continue “business as usual,” regardless of the public trust and interests that brought him into power. That the BCUC report confirmed public opinion upon its release – became just a technical setback for “elite economic interests.” Any illusion that Site C is a source of “green energy” collapses immediately when we factor in its actual intended use for the development of LNG and Heavy oil. Development of Site C is synonymous with an increase in BC’s carbon footprint by 40%, by developing LNG and selling heavy oil.
Political contempt for the electorate’s intelligence rarely gets more blatant. It is not a simple case of politicians getting, or operating with the wrong information.5 No matter how untrustworthy mainstream media has proven itself to be, as excellently analysed by DeSmog’s Emma Gilchrist,6 the implications of this economic model were well known to anybody who followed the charades of Christy Clark’s: “Climate Action Team.” Even the paltry recommendations of their 2015 report, made all that amply clear. This is a case of politicians choosing to believe what they want to believe to promote their personal interests which become indistinguishable from the interests of the economic elite.
What does this means for the environment? Proof in the pudding came last week with a video of a polar bear starving in the arctic.7 (If you have not seen it, the url is below, please take the time out to view it.) No matter how much the mainstream media subsequently tried to downplay the source of the bear’s condition, what is observed is consistent with what is expected, and has been expected for some time, to develop in warming ice-free arctic conditions.
These conditions – whose probability has been the object of climate scenarios for over thirty years are now clearly playing themselves out. That is what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency has confirmed in its “Arctic Report Card” last week. While the scientific community’s opinion represented by the NOAA may be at odds with that of the economic elite, the long-term future depends on the state of the environment, not on the economic interests of a relatively small affluent group of people. Scientists who have been studying it for decades like the NOAA’s director of the Arctic programme, James Mathis, are unequivocal – the arctic has changed forever:
“The Arctic is going through the most unprecedented transition in human history, and we need better observations to understand and predict how these changes will affect everyone, not just the people of the north.”8
That is synonymous with: all climate now is changed and represents “a new normal.”
The stability and predictability of the arctic acts as a thermostat which controls everything from ocean and jet stream circulation whose behaviour have made agriculture and civilization possible for over 60,000 years, even through ice ages, as witnessed by the duration of Australian aborigine cultures. Cultural survival depends on our ability to adapt to and respect the land. A culture that floods its prime agricultural reserves, such as Site C, with no forethought as to climate change adaptation, or respect for First Nations knowledge of that land, endangers its offsprings in exchange for the advantages of an economic elite’s short-lived interests.
And that cannot be considered responsible leadership. It is betrayal of public trust.
Climate change with no investment in the cultural productivity and continuity of the land is the future you and I hand to our children and grandchildren after 2050. Imagine Australia without the 60,000 year cultural heritage experience facing climate change? We, and our politicians mainly, have been talking – nothing but talk – about this since 1965 when Lyndon B Johnson got a scientific report informing him and the US Congress that climate change was a real developing problem, and that something should be done about it.
After that in 1992, nearly 30 years later, at Rio we set targets for 2100. All the while the only priority has been that of the economic elite, and it remains so 50 years later. This election which was meant to herald change – is simply a confirmation of a generalized intellectual and cultural paralysis. Note that climate change is like an avalanche – there are no scenarios and no real plans for after 2100 – it is moving steadily and irrevocably. For 25 years we have been struggling just to figure out how to slow down a train wreck by 2100 – and we have not really made much progress, because we have elected pathetic politicians incapable of effective leadership – and the reason why is in Figure 1.
Essentially, humanity is sitting like an expedition up Mount Everest – when the avalanche comes – as it must- the best your grandchildren will be able to do will be hunker down, turn on the beacon, and hope that their fellow human beings care to save them. And especially hope that those human beings will not be politicians prioritizing the interests of the economic elites. Leadership – real leadership- requires tackling the bull by the horns in the public interest.
What we need now, and what our children will need, are politicians who prioritize human beings who vote for change, and all the other species endangered by the interests of economic elites. When John Horgan and all the “Horgan’s heroes” of his government tell us that “to govern we must set aside our activism and start being better administrators”9, I suggest we understand that what he means is “be better administrators of elite economic interests”. Given the NDP’s abdication of leadership, in 2018 as taxpayers and voters we should renew our commitment to activism in the public interest of the environment.
Where leaders fail the public must lead.Loys Maingon
- Martin Gilens and Benjamin I. Page (2014). Testing Theories of American Politics:
Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens. https://morph.is/v0.8/princeton-this_democracy_is_a_fraud.pdf