Just a month ago, experts were predicting that the American economy would be slow to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Unemployment remains at record highs, but, as the country begins to reopen, federal policies that have bolstered small businesses and bailed out big ones seem to have helped avoid another Great Depression. John Cassidy joins Dorothy Wickenden to discuss how good news about the economy complicates Joe Biden’s campaign against Donald Trump.
2019 was the year of Greta Thunberg, Extinction Rebellion and an uptick in climate action pledges by governments across the globe.
From Britain to Germany, Europe’s mainstream party leaders scrambled to respond to a surge in electoral support for Green parties — and to growing public anxiety about the possible impact of climate change.
During European Parliament elections in June, 48 percent of voters identified climate change as their top worry. Opinion polls in Germany for some weeks of 2019 put the Greens ahead of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s storied Christian Democratic Party, which, along with its junior partner in the country’s governing coalition, has been racing to sharpen climate policies.
In Britain, the ruling Conservatives announced a hugely ambitious carbon reduction plan, enshrining into law a pledge to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, making Britain the first major economy to do so. Some smaller countries, including Finland and Norway, are earmarking dates earlier than 2050 to become net-zero greenhouse gas producers, but so far have not made their goals legally binding.
In America, an alliance of 24 states and Puerto Rico promised to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate action, despite the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the international pact.
Shouldn’t all these plans and pledges be music to ears of climate action activists and scientists?
Apparently not. On the eve of Christmas, Thunberg tweeted: “I hear many say 2019 was the year when the public woke up to the climate crisis. This is a misconception. A small but rapidly growing number of people have started to wake up to the climate crisis. This has only just begun. We’re still only scratching the surface.”
For Thunberg, her guardians and loyalists, change can’t come fast enough, however wrenching and dislocating it might be. Governments aren’t doing enough and are failing to count their emissions accurately, they complain, and corporations are dragging their feet.
For activists, December’s Madrid climate change conference epitomized the foot-dragging and a failure to be truly aspirational in cutting emissions. For Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion activists in Britain and Australia, the key task for the Madrid gathering was to unveil ambitious new goals — and fossil-fuel-dependent countries, notably Brazil and Australia, flunked it, they say.
Rich vs. poor
The rift between wealthy, developed nations and poorer, developing nations over who is going to pay for reducing greenhouse gas emissions also remained as wide as ever. And governments in Madrid stalled on agreeing on new regulations for carbon markets and the trading of carbon permits between countries for the offsetting of emissions, one of the most critical and contentious issues at the climate change conference.
“In Madrid, the key polluting countries responsible for 80 percent of the world’s climate-wrecking emissions stood mute, while smaller countries announced they’ll work to drive down harmful emissions in the coming year,” said Jake Schmidt of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S.-based climate action advocacy group. “World leaders dithered instead of taking stronger, critical action soon to reduce the global climate threat. They ignored dire scientific reports, worsening evidence of climate destruction and demands from millions of young people to protect their future.”
For others, though, the Madrid conference symbolized how politically complicated it will be to deliver climate action — a complexity activists ignore and glide over, some analysts warn. The venue for the conference itself spoke to that. The meeting was scheduled to be held in Chile, but it had to be switched to Spain because of riots in the Latin American country over a “Green” hike in transit fares.
And it wasn’t only in Chile that protesters were taking to the streets to complain about expensive Green policies that could make living standards plunge. In France, the Yellow Vests, drawn mainly from small towns, persisted with their demonstrations against the government of French President Emmanuel Macron, an agitation triggered initially by the imposition of higher eco-taxes on fuel.
The year 2019 also saw strong resistance in Germany from motorists, as a well as automakers, to planned higher fuel prices and an abrupt shift to electric cars — yet another front in a political backlash to climate action.
For governments, even environmentally friendly ones, climate change poses a massive political dilemma, and 2019 brought that home. Impose the tax hikes and costly regulations scientists say are needed to lower emissions and move economies away from dependency on fossil fuels, and governments risk prompting a backlash, largely from lower-income workers and pensioners, who can ill afford to bear the expense.
The alternative is to move slowly and risk blowback from climate action activists and their supporters among largely middle class and higher-income groups able to adapt with less hardship. Squaring the circle between those who demand fast-track climate-friendly measures and those who want to slow down and mitigate the impact of moving toward a low-carbon future isn’t going to be easy, say analysts.
In Europe, Central European governments sense the acute political danger to them and have been resisting a European Union plan to join Britain in earmarking 2050 as the year the bloc has to be “net zero.”
Poland has been especially vociferous in opposition. The country is heavily dependent on coal for its energy needs and more than a quarter-million Polish jobs are tied to the fossil fuel industry. Without coal, many towns in Poland will have no economic raison d’être. “You can’t expect Poland to leap to zero carbon in 30 years,” according to Marchin Nowak, a coal industry executive.
While smaller developing countries fret that they will bear too much of the burden of climate action compared with richer nations, so, too, do those who already feel left behind in developed countries, fearing the costs and benefits of climate action will be unfairly placed on their shoulders. 2019 saw the opening salvos in this new political war over environmentalism.
Liberals' ability to avoid Parliamentary scrutiny plays into system of 'image politics,' critics say – National Post
OTTAWA — The Liberal government has avoided months of parliamentary scrutiny during the COVID-19 pandemic, instead using televised daily briefings with the prime minister to further its system of “image politics,” an expert in democratic process says.
The Liberals and New Democratic Party agreed earlier this week to suspend parliamentary proceedings until September 21, equipping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau with a “tremendous amount of power over the summer,” said Kathy Brock, professor at Queen’s University.
The decision comes after Trudeau has for months appeared in the House of Commons on a limited basis, instead using his daily briefings outside Rideau Cottage to announce major new spending measures and take questions from the media.
He for sure prefers the Rideau Cottage model
“This government is very focused on messaging and image politics and that meant that it wanted to respond to the needs of Canadians when the pandemic came up,” said Brock, who has served in various advisory roles to all three major political parties over the last 30 years.
“But when they started to face criticism for not acting as quickly as possible, the prime minister turned to the easiest tool, which is having briefings with the media outside Rideau Cottage,” she said.
The approach has been met with criticism by opposition parties and parliamentary experts, who say politicians have not had adequate time to press the Trudeau government on some of its largest spending measures, which now top an estimated $150 billion. They also say the government overreached in an earlier attempt to equip itself with the authority to tax, spend and loan money with almost no parliamentary oversight for nearly two years, well beyond the expected timeframe of the pandemic.
Other observers point out that Parliament would typically rise for the summer months regardless, and that “hybrid” forms of Question Period, which include virtual questions and answer sessions, have continued for the past few months.
“The cut-off in June is not an aberration,” said Lori Turnbull, professor of political science at Dalhousie University. However, she questioned “why there’s such a desire” to close off access to other forms of scrutiny, like private members bills or written questions to Parliament.
Turnbull, like others, has been surprised by the Liberals’ ability to secure the support of opposition parties to restrict in-person sittings of Commons.
“Sometimes I forget that this is a minority government,” she said, “It’s incredible what this government has done. We usually see more push and pull between the opposition and the government.”
The NDP has faced criticism for making an agreement with the Liberal party to suspend Parliament because it allows for the government to sidestep proper scrutiny.
NDP House leader Peter Julian pushed back against those claims in an interview Thursday, saying the deal secured four sitting days in the House of Commons during the summer — a provision that other parties were not pushing for.
“There’s been a lot of exaggeration,” Julian said.
Sometimes I forget that this is a minority government
The NDP opposed a Conservative proposal that would have had regular in-person sittings in the Commons well into June, in which a select group of roughly 50 people would attend in order to maintain social distancing measures. The proposal would have allowed Parliament to exert its full powers before summer break, but Julian argued it would have needlessly excluded the majority of MPs in Canada.
“I think it’s a very Ottawa-centric interpretation,” he said.
A spokesperson for Liberal House leader Pablo Rodriguez reiterated that all parties agreed to the March 13 motion to suspend Parliament until April 20. The agreement with the NDP allows for the continuation of a special COVID-19 committee that meets several times a week, but is not afforded the regular powers of the House.
“We believe it is a responsible plan that ensures accountability and transparency, and respects public health advice,” the spokesperson said in a written statement.
Candice Bergen, Conservative House leader, said there has been a push for months by the Liberal government to avoid regular parliamentary sittings. MPs in recent weeks had been sitting in-person on a limited basis once a week.
“I was clear with Pablo that we felt Parliament needed to resume,” Bergen said. “But that was clearly not what the government wanted and they found a dance partner in the NDP.”
She said Trudeau has instead opted to convey the Liberals approach to COVID-19 through the televised briefings at his official residence, where media ask daily questions.
“He for sure prefers the Rideau Cottage model,” Bergen said, adding that media “is not a substitute for the official Opposition.”
Brock, at Queen’s University, said the Rideau Cottage meetings give Trudeau more time to craft his own message on a daily basis, unimpeded, while taking only a select number of questions from journalists.
“It certainly operates in the Liberals’ favour, because they’re receiving media attention and it seems very positive because they’re responding to a crisis,” she said. “But it means that they aren’t getting tough questions to the same extent on other, lesser known files.”
A Guide to the Economics and Politics of the Coronavirus Recovery – The New Yorker
Keep Politics Out of Reopening Houses of Worship – The New York Times
More from our inbox:
To the Editor:
Re “Firing Salvo in Culture Wars, Trump Wants Churches Open” (front page, May 23):
Last Friday was not the first time we have witnessed a politician attempting to ingratiate himself with faith communities. Through the years, leaders from both major political parties have sought the support of houses of worship in their electoral campaigns.
Certainly those of us who devote our lives to religious leadership would like to consider our work “essential.” And we eagerly await the day when we can welcome our congregants back to their spiritual homes. While we can pray to God anywhere at any time alone or with others, and while the internet has provided a viable and meaningful vehicle for gathering our members in this time of physical distancing, nothing could ever replace the power of in-person congregational worship.
But religious communities must not become political pawns for a president seeking to placate his evangelical base. In Judaism, the saving of life supersedes all other religious responsibilities. The decision whether or not to reopen houses of worship belongs in the hands of local authorities alone, guided by health concerns, not political ones.
Joshua M. Davidson
The writer is the senior rabbi at Temple Emanu-El.
To the Editor:
The cynicism of President Trump’s call to governors to open the churches is staggering. I am a Catholic who attends Mass every day. I have always loved the ritual of the Mass, and I rejoice and celebrate as I gather with friends old and new who enrich my life. I will return joyfully to my church when our governor deems it safe to do so, not when it is politically expedient for our president.
John T. Dillon
West Caldwell, N.J.
To the Editor:
President Trump asks all governors to immediately open up churches and allow in-person worship — without testing. Yet everyone who meets with Mr. Trump must first be tested.
So, what’s good for the gander ain’t good for the goose. If he truly believes that in-person worship is safe, let’s see him go to these churches (or restaurants or theaters) without testing — and let’s see him mingle with the folks not wearing masks.
Marc R. Stanley
Which Is the Better Bridge: The Brooklyn or the George Washington?
To the Editor:
Re “The Star of the City Sells Itself,” by Michael Kimmelman (Critic’s Notebook, Arts pages, May 7):
OK, the Brooklyn Bridge is wholly in New York City and joins two of its boroughs. And it was something of an engineering achievement. Book after book has been written about it; it appears in a wealth of movies.
But the great bridge in the New York area is the George Washington.
When I sought to read a book on the George, I discovered that there were none. Participating in a symposium at Columbia University on American icons, and listening to others drone on about the Brooklyn, I asked “What about the George?” There was complete silence. Then one participant said, to almost universal laughter, “But look where it goes,” the suggestion being that since the George crosses to New Jersey, it couldn’t possibly be important.
The George is also the gateway to Interstate 80, on which one may travel in a straight line to San Francisco. New Yorkers think of themselves as sophisticated compared with New Jerseyans, but they can often be decidedly parochial.
Michael Aaron Rockland
The writer is the author of “The George Washington Bridge: Poetry in Steel” and a professor of American studies at Rutgers.
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