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Canada's Left Shouldn't Abandon Electoral Politics – Jacobin magazine

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Canada’s Left Shouldn’t Abandon Electoral Politics

In Canada, the Left is still searching for the wins it needs and is exasperated with the New Democratic Party. However justified these frustrations may be, abandoning the ballot would be a disaster. Electoral politics are a vital part of class struggle.

Voters arrive to cast their ballots at a polling station in Vancouver, British Columbia. (Mert Alper Dervis / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A survey of the Canadian political landscape reveals a foreboding terrain. Across the country, right-wing governments lead most provinces with centrists making up all the rest, save for one New Democratic government in British Columbia. Even there, the New Democratic Party (NDP) is constrained by state and electoral orthodoxy. Their governance is better than the typical alternatives, but far from ideal.

In Ontario, after four disastrous years of pandemic mismanagement, market orthodoxy, and underspending, Progressive Conservative premier Doug Ford appears to be sailing toward reelection, perhaps with a majority of seats in the legislature once more. The NDP Official Opposition may drop to third place as the Liberals rebound in the polls. The Liberal government in Ottawa, with support of the federal New Democrats, looks likely to remain in power at least until 2025.

At a time when we are routinely reminded that the old ways are insufficient for dealing with the problems we face, the Left appears to be MIA. The federal NDP bought themselves some policy influence by way of their supply and confidence agreement to support the Liberal minority government. Nonetheless the political agenda in Canada remains fundamentally conventional and devoid of energy. The programs that follow, federally, provincially, and locally, are anemic half-measures that are barely capable of forestalling angry populist requital.

When they do exist, these programs are typically means-tested and often underfunded, from the upcoming dental care to disability supports. Austerity, the watchword of 1990s retrenchment, remains standing as a lighthouse in the distance, a point on the horizon to guide the ship of state. Wages and worker rights are decoupled from productivity and little is happening to transform relations of power in industry — including the essential need to transfer ownership from bosses to workers, despite a new employee ownership model for the country. Climate action is insufficient, resource extraction and export are nearly always a given.

Reviewing this state of affairs in Canada — and, more broadly, in the electoral history of the Left — it’s tempting to wish to abandon electoralism as a strategy for change. Such talk comes up in breathless critiques of the NDP, hands thrown up in the air, heads hung low and shaken slowly from side to side. The urge to flip the table and walk out of the room is strong. And understandable. Nothing seems to be working. The focus-grouped, TikTok-brushed, consultant class–led strategy isn’t working. What is to be done?

A Sober Theory of Change

The twentieth-century left had a revolutionary impulse that, to whatever extent it existed in Canada, has been dampened to near silence. The Bolshevism — and even the more moderate socialism — of movement and party leftists has disappeared or gone underground. Some have joined the Communist Party. Others have given up. Many have fallen into the NDP machine. Some hang on, driven to the sidelines of the party. The pervasive discontent creates a counter-impulse that counsels the abandonment of the ballot box. But this impulse should be thought through carefully. In the absence of electoral politics, what is our theory of change? Do we then rely on revolution? On mass struggle through civil society? One thing is for sure: decamping from the electoral milieu is to entirely relinquish the field to capital’s most canny operators.

A theory of change that rests on revolution in a twenty-first-century democracy trapped by the comforts of its liberalism, next door to the global capitalist hegemon, is not a theory of change. Likewise, relying on extant infrastructures of opposition outside the ballot line — unions, associations, organizations — is insufficient for the needs of the moment.

If, at present, this infrastructure is incapable of moving the party left, why would it do better in the absence of the party? Some will answer that such a move will short-circuit the ossifying forces of bureaucratization. But bureaucratization is an outgrowth of complex society. It isn’t going anywhere. Of course, at its worse, bureaucratization can create calcified forms of organization. But we should be careful about priorities here. The most effective way to battle against capital is the thing that matters. Handwringing about the bureaucracy required by the complexity of the modern state is less important than using the power of the state to beat back the market’s encroachment into all aspects of our lives.

Giving the Boot to Technocrats

For those who look to the years of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation, the radical prairie socialist NDP forebear, a return to previous form holds some promise. So does a more coherent two-track approach that commits electoral politics to an agonistic relationship with grassroots movements. It is crucial that these grassroots movements are separate from but sympathetic to the party.

We should double down on our efforts to force the NDP to stay abreast of the moment. The latent energy that is not being applied to electoral politics should be applied to ensuring that the NDP embraces socialist politics — and is unapologetic about it. The party should be forced to adopt a more democratized apparatus that ensures that radicals have a place to speak, to be heard, and to be listened to, from the convention floor to the riding association board room. That means less time for the consultants and the ad engineers. It means less time strategizing around social media quick-hits that produce plenty of adrenaline and staffer high-fives but next to no votes.

The party needs to be supported by a more robust external apparatus, too. This will require more cooperation with unions, tenant’s associations, academic support, think tank scaffolding, as well as international cooperation. These structures and relationships exist already, but they are insufficient and restrained.

Furthermore, they are confused and confounded by a politics that is caught between technocratic contemporary social democracy and grassroots democratic socialism. The two forces sometimes pull in the same direction, but oftentimes in opposite directions — and when they pull at cross-purposes, they fail to pull at all. The NDP needs to mobilize democratic socialists, bringing them inside the party and putting them to work.

Re-Radicalizing Party Politics

Outside the party, the NDP needs to listen to and better leverage grassroots organizations to both respond to and help shape a true mass politics. On worker rights, drug policy, housing policy, environmental policy, health care policy, Indigenous reconciliation, and plenty more, left movements are charting a course the party ought to champion. Instead, far too often, because of its commitment to technocratic tinkering, the NDP de-radicalizes its politics ahead of time.

The party prefers to rely on muscle memory that tends toward incrementalism, or a naïve belief that Canadians simply aren’t ready for more and better. But this presupposes that the big wins and structural shifts we need will come without a fight. The Left needs to remake the country, reset its agenda, and reframe how we talk about politics. It needs to do so while raising a generation of Canadians committed to building a new world. The party, because it is instrumental in raising expectations as to what is possible, is key to the success of this endeavor.

In the absence of electoral politics, no force implements change at the state level. Elector politics is the connective tissue between desire and outcome. But electoralism is insufficient on its own and no party, left or otherwise, is to be trusted without an external series of forces. It requires that labor, civil society, and intellectual apparatuses work to keep it honest. By the same token, insurgent popular actions are important, but they can’t replace the party.

We must criticize the NDP. We must demand that the party do better. The party must be forced to commit to a radical politics that is unabashedly, unapologetically socialist and grassroots. The alternative is more of the same: more disappointment, more half-measures, more waiting. It is a chicken and egg scenario: the longer we fail to leverage the party’s potential, the less appealing electoral politics will be and the more inclined we will be to squander one of the most important quivers in our bow. The challenges we face must be met — we cannot settle into decline and hopelessness. So, best to get moving now.

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Politics Podcast: Does DeSantis’s Strength Spell Trouble For Trump? – FiveThirtyEight

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FiveThirtyEight

 

In last week’s Jan. 6 congressional hearing, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson outlined the days leading up to the attack on the U.S. Capitol and testified that then-President Donald Trump and some people in his administration were aware of the threat of violence. In this installment of the FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast, the crew discusses how this hearing could affect Americans’ views of Trump and the Republican nominees running in the midterm who support Trump’s “Big Lie.”

The crew also analyzes a new poll from the University of New Hampshire that garnered quite a bit of media attention for complicating the 2024 Republican presidential primaries. And Kaleigh Rogers and Nate Silver compete in an Independence Day-inspired statistics game where they guess how many Americans know the country’s national anthem and how many prefer burgers over hot dogs.

You can listen to the episode by clicking the “play” button in the audio player above or by downloading it in iTunes, the ESPN App or your favorite podcast platform. If you are new to podcasts, learn how to listen.

The FiveThirtyEight Politics podcast is recorded Mondays and Thursdays. Help new listeners discover the show by leaving us a rating and review on iTunes. Have a comment, question or suggestion for “good polling vs. bad polling”? Get in touch by email, on Twitter or in the comments.

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St. John's MP 'grateful' for political panic buttons amid rising safety concerns – CBC.ca

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St. John’s East MP Joanne Thompson is one of several politicians who have used a panic button due to personal safety concerns. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

A federal MP from Newfoundland and Labrador says she’s grateful she carries a government-issued panic button as threats and harassment directed at politicians rises in Canada.

St. John’s East MP Joanne Thompson is one of several members who have used the buttons, also called mobile duress alarms, in recent months. The buttons alert the Parliamentary Protective Service or local police of a safety concern when pressed.

While Thompson said she hasn’t had to use the button while working in St. John’s, she often carries it while in Ottawa.

“Early in the fall, not long after the election, I did have a worrying encounter with a constituent in the riding. And it was at that point I did see the panic button and I was quite grateful for that,” Thompson told CBC News Thursday. 

“I was in Ottawa was when I used it the most often. You know, walking to work in the dark, returning in the dark. It was an extra precaution, so I’m grateful for that.”

Thompson said most of her concerns come from emails and social media, saying the rhetoric of others has intensified in recent months. Other MPs have shared stories of harassment, death threats and dangerous messages that caused them to use a panic button.

When asked about how safe she feels in her job, Thompson said she doesn’t allow herself to think that way.

“I don’t engage in back and forth on social media … and I don’t want to really travel the road where I begin to question my safety,” she said. “The people who are sending those messages, I think that’s what they want.”

Police panic buttons like these are used to alert law enforcement when politicians feel they are in imminent danger. (Steve Lawrence/CBC)

Scott Matthews, an associate professor of Political Science at Memorial University, says increased use of the panic buttons is likely a response to how people are feeling about the current state of Canadian politics as tension rises between parties.

“People who like one party or feel close to one of the parties tend to feel very far away from and very negatively toward the other parties. This is especially the case between Liberals and Conservatives or between New Democrats and Conservatives. They really dislike each other in a way that isn’t the case in the past,” Matthews told CBC News.

Matthews says he’s seen that trend go through waves in recent decades, but adds the politics of COVID-19 have amplified discord in the short-term.

He believes it could continue when it comes to future elections, especially in areas where races are more contentious.

Even if we disagree on policy, there’s a lot that we have in common. A lot that we share.​​​​​– Scott Matthews

Asked about what could be done to tackle the overarching issue of rising threats, Thompson said she believes it begins in the classroom.

“We have to create a shift in how we access news, how we question sources…and also how we speak to each other,” she said. “Respect matters, and personal and public safety matters. How we conduct ourselves has a significant role to play in achieving that.”

MUN associate professor Scott Matthews says panic buttons aren’t a true solution to the problem of increased threats in the political landscape. (Mark Quinn/CBC)

Matthews says things can be done by the politicians at the centre of the issue, especially regarding the use of hateful rhetoric.

It’s one thing to disagree, he said, but it’s another to suggest that disagreement creates enemies in politics.

“Panic buttons, and more generally kind of securing our political system against conflict, is not any kind of solution. That’s the sign of a problem, in fact,” he said. 

“What we kind of need to be doing is finding ways to reduce the heated rhetoric and to depolarize our political system.… Even if we disagree on policy, there’s a lot that we have in common. A lot that we share.”

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The Nightmare Politics and Sticky Science of Hacking the Climate – Canada's National Observer

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This story was originally published by Wired and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration

One way to fight climate change may be to … do more climate change. “Geoengineering” is a broad term encompassing distinct techniques for hacking the climate, split into two main groups: There’s carbon dioxide removal (CDR), which could mean sucking carbon out of the atmosphere with machines, or simply encouraging more vegetation to grow. And there’s solar radiation management (SRM), which might include brightening clouds or spraying aerosols in the atmosphere to bounce the sun’s energy back into space.

These two methods are sort of like different approaches to battling a seasonal flu.

Carbon removal is like taking an antiviral, which helps your immune system banish the virus from your body; deleting carbon from the atmosphere similarly targets the root cause of the climate change problem. On the other hand, solar radiation management is more like taking an aspirin to reduce the fever the flu is causing. It doesn’t obliterate the problem-causing agent, and only treats symptoms.

Each technique comes with huge risks—be they political or planetary, obvious or hidden—that scientists are just beginning to explore. But they’re worth thinking about now, because some scientists are taking geoengineering seriously and urging more studies to consider it as a way to bring down global temperatures while governments tackle decarbonizing the world economy.

Risks All the Way Down

Let’s take solar radiation management first, specifically stratospheric aerosol injection, or SAI. The idea is to introduce sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere, which would generate aerosols that would cool the planet by wrapping around it like an energy-reflecting blanket. (Volcanic plumes do the same thing naturally.) At least theoretically, SAI would immediately bring down temperatures, exposing fewer people, animals, and plants (including crops) to heat stress.

You might think you’d need vast squadrons of planes to spray every inch of the sky, but the atmosphere actually does this dispersal itself. The neat thing about the stratosphere is that you can inject it with something—let’s say pink glitter—and it’ll spread all over the world, turning the skies shiny and rosy. If that’s the kind of thing you’re into.

The nightmare politics and sticky science of hacking the climate. #ClimateChange #Geoengineering

But who would be desperate enough to take this chance? It probably depends on where people live. How badly a region is suffering from climate change—and is projected to suffer in the future—will define its politics regarding geoengineering. As world governments drag their feet on reducing emissions, some nations might grow desperate to try SAI as a stop-gap measure.

“It’s in general called ‘the thermostat problem,’ the problem that countries actually have different preferences over where the hypothetical global thermostat would be set,” says Duke University political scientist Tyler Felgenhauer, who studies the risks of SAI.

Climate risks like supercharged hurricanes, flooding, and sea-level rise have disproportionately affected coastal nations. “There are indications that people, for example, in small island states, which are more threatened by climate change, might be more willing to accept risks from SAI,” says Christine Merk, deputy director of the Research Center Global Commons and Climate Policy at the Kiel Institute, who researches public perceptions of geoengineering. And that might mean they are willing to take risks with consequences that may be borne elsewhere. “What do you weigh higher: the lives of people threatened by climate change, or the lives threatened by SAI?” she asks. “That’s in the end a moral judgment.”

How governments make that judgment will likely have to do with whether citizens and their legislators are convinced there is a climate emergency. “If you’re afraid of the breakdown of the climate system, you might accept this fix,” says Merck.

And, says Janos Pasztor, executive director of the Carnegie Climate Governance Initiative, leaders will have to be convinced that taking drastic but risky action is better than doing nothing. “You cannot look at the risks of [solar radiation management] in isolation—you have to look at the risk of doing versus not doing, and then compare which world is going to be better or worse,” he says.

Altering the climate will affect every nation on Earth. We all share one atmosphere. So who gets to make such a momentous decision? “One has to include the key different stakeholders that will be impacted in different ways. It is very easy to say this—it’s extremely difficult to do it,” Pasztor says. “But that’s what we need to do. And so the international community needs to start serious conversations about how one actually does that.”

Yet it’s hard to imagine (ideally) getting buy-in from all the nations of the world, much less the competing political and cultural factions within those nations. The United Nations tried in 2019 with a resolution calling for more research of geoengineering, but the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil blocked it. Even within a single country, this idea can be contentious. For example, last year Sweden rejected a small-scale test of stratospheric aerosols. It is, perhaps alarmingly, easier to imagine a rogue state from going it alone, or an eccentric billionaire taking it upon themselves.

And if getting political consensus before deployment might be difficult, imagine what would happen afterward if things go wrong. Consider a scenario in which the world somehow agrees on an SAI program, and cooperates on rolling it out. All seems to be going smoothly, until a hurricane or drought strikes a particular country, whose political leadership blames it on geoengineering. “The problem is that as you ramp up a program, there might be some climate catastrophe somewhere in the world that people may blame on solar geoengineering, when in fact it’s actually just climate change,” says Felgenhauer. “Those first few years, it might be hard to distinguish between: Well, was that event climate change, or was that due to the solar geoengineering gone poorly?”

Unintended Consequences

While solar geoengineering research is still preliminary, already there are hints that it might lead to some particularly strange and unexpected side effects. A paper published in April in the journal Nature Communications concluded that the global cooling caused by SAI might actually expose more people to malaria. (Hotter conditions make it harder for mosquitoes to survive and transmit the malaria parasite to humans.)

“Most of the focus has been on: Would it work? Do we have the technology to do it? Do we think we could actually bring down temperatures worldwide?” says Georgetown University global change biologist Colin Carlson, lead author of the study. “There’s been a lot less focus on the kind of questions that we’re asking in this study, which is: OK, well, how would this affect people?”

Malaria transmission won’t go up or down uniformly across the planet as temperatures rise, according to the researchers’ modeling. They found that cooling caused by geoengineering would put millions of additional people in West Africa at risk of contracting malaria, but in East Africa, it would actually shorten the transmission season, putting fewer people at risk. “All of these kinds of generalizations and rules of thumb that we use, all that sort of mental math that’s like, ‘OK, geoengineering will probably save lives’—that may not work at a global scale, and it definitely doesn’t work for a lot of countries,” says Carlson. “What people want to do with the health impacts of this is to say, ‘Well, it probably won’t be that bad.’ I’m not sure the data is going to come out saying that.”

In a separate study, Carlson posited a different X-factor: The possibility that geoengineering might reduce monsoon rainfall in South Asia. That would make less water available for crops and people. Monsoons also dilute the concentration of the bacteria that causes cholera, which is found in drinking water—if the storms are weaker, more people might get sick.

Let’s imagine that something goes wrong enough that world leaders pull the plug on their geoengineering program, or there’s a global recession or a world war, and it becomes impossible to fly the planes. The spraying suddenly stops. What happens next?

Any climate problems that had been suppressed would resurge, because, like an aspirin, SRM only brings down the fever—it doesn’t eliminate the underlying malady. One 2018 modeling study found that the aerosols would persist in the atmosphere for a year or two after abruptly stopping their distribution. After that, surface temperatures would rise almost a degree Celsius each decade. (For reference, the Paris Climate agreement is designed to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming since the dawn of the Industrial Age.)

Plant and animal species have adapted to less severe temperature swings throughout Earth’s history, but nothing like this. The rapid heat rise would kill people and crops, and damage oceans. Particularly sensitive species, like amphibians, wouldn’t stand a chance. “Obviously, if you had a strong SRM program ongoing and then it suddenly stopped,” says Felgenhauer, “that would be catastrophic environmentally.”

Sequestration Questions

Surely carbon removal would be a less controversial method of geoengineering, right? It seems inherently less risky to filter carbon out of the atmosphere with machines or, even better, restore forests to sequester carbon the natural way. But as it turns out, there are plenty of ways this, too, can go wrong.

The right way to use trees to capture carbon is to encourage the regrowth of whole ecosystems, which simultaneously addresses the biodiversity crisis. The wrong way is to grow a monoculture of trees of a single species, which is the approach often used by carbon credit programs. These programs have some allure: They raise money from corporations, which can then boast to the public how much carbon they’re capturing. But tree farms are nowhere near as efficient at capturing carbon as an intact forest, and they don’t save other species in the process. “A lot of the time, it’s assumed that these kinds of biology-based carbon-removal techniques will automatically create co-benefits, and that’s not true at all,” says Cardiff University social psychologist Emily Cox, who studies public attitudes toward carbon removal. “They have the potential for co-benefits, but the co-benefits need to be very, very carefully managed.”

And exactly how much carbon they remove can vary quite a bit based on variables like the health of the vegetation. “One of the major risks of some of these biology-based proposals is that an assumption gets made that you can easily equate X number of trees to X million tons of carbon without actually looking at what kinds of trees they are, and where they’re being planted,” says Cox. The amount of captured carbon might end up being negligible. “You have a lot of trees, which is brilliant. You haven’t necessarily got the climate benefits.”

Another technique known as bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS, also relies on a monocrop, usually fast-growing grasses. In this case, the vegetation is burned to produce energy, and the resulting emissions are sequestered underground. But it also comes with its own set of dubious side effects—it would require vast tracts of crops, and huge amounts of water, to make a dent in atmospheric carbon concentrations: A paper that published last month found that in the US alone, scaling up BECCS would expose 130 million Americans to water stress by 2100.

But in a global climate gone bonkers, there are even risks to restoring forests to their former glory, because that glory is increasingly perilous. Supercharged wildfires are now obliterating forests, instead of gently resetting ecosystems to make way for new growth. If you spend a lot of time and money restoring one of these forests to sequester carbon, and then it burns, all of that carbon goes right back into the atmosphere. Or if a given country’s political regime changes, and goes from supporting reforestation to deforestation, you’d have the same problem. Just look at what’s happening in the Amazon.

“I would argue that many proposals for land-based removals could be risky,” says Cox. “Because you’ve got a very, very high risk that either the carbon removal doesn’t happen in the first place, or that it happens, but then in 10 years’ time is reversed.”

The Dreaded “Moral Hazard”

Researchers have developed a way to mimic natural carbon sequestration with a technique called direct air capture, or DAC. These machines suck in air, pass it over membranes to remove the carbon dioxide, and pump it underground, locking it away forever. The tide may be shifting towards DAC in the US. Last month, the Biden administration threw in $3.5 billion to back direct air capture. (That comes five years after a California congressman introduced a bill that would fund the research of geoengineering, but it never went anywhere.)

But this, too, faces two big issues. The first is that DAC exists at nowhere near the scale needed to make a dent in excess atmospheric carbon. One plant that came online in Iceland last year is only capturing the equivalent emissions of 870 cars. A 2021 study calculated that it would take an investment of 1 to 2 percent of global gross domestic product to capture 2.3 gigatons of CO2 a year by 2050—and that’s only a fraction of current annual emissions, which are around 40 gigatons. “There is the risk that we cannot scale and deploy fast enough,” says Benjamin Sovacool, who studies the risks of geoengineering at Aarhus University in Denmark. “It’s looking like the rate at which we’d have to deploy these is unlike any previous energy transition we’ve had, because the scale is so immense.”

The second issue is one of “moral hazard,” or the temptation to lean on DAC as a crutch, instead of doing what’s necessary: dramatically slashing greenhouse gas emissions. If a nation’s leaders anticipate being able to remove emissions via DAC, they don’t need to worry about cutting those emissions in the first place. It’s like waiting for a miracle antiviral—except the requisite dose doesn’t yet exist.

There’s a chance that the extreme and desperate nature of geoengineering might do the opposite—instead of encouraging complacency or a reliance on last-minute technology fixes, it may alarm the public enough that they’ll start to treat climate change like an emergency. But, says Sovacool, “politicians might be even more susceptible to the moral hazard, because they’re only thinking in the present terms. They’ll gladly push as much to future generations as they can.”

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