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The Divisive Politics of the Green Transition: Europe's Unmet Challenge – Carnegie Europe

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The climate transition will entail political change as much as technological innovation. This is an undervalued but important lesson from both the Glasgow Climate Change Conference (COP26) and the current crisis unleashed by rising energy prices across Europe. Democratic governments will inevitably face increasing stresses, with far-reaching social and political effects. Yet they appear ill-prepared to manage them.

The climate agenda is still being defined in ways that underplay the political challenges—even as European democratic systems are now moving into the thorniest political thickets of the ecological transition. Governments need to widen democratic buy-in for the difficult decisions that lie ahead: national conferences on the political and social elements of the transition could help them do so.

Turbulence Ahead

It is often said that democracies have a better record than autocracies on climate policy, that democracies have made more ambitious climate change commitments, and that the energy transition requires more not less democracy. This may be true, but the focus on democracy’s advantages over other systems diverts attention from the impending turbulence almost certain to hit Europe’s democratic systems.

To date, the climate debate has been couched in a binary for-or-against way: whether one supports ambitious climate action or not. The ecologically committed present themselves as championing the right side of the argument against so-called deniers. In Europe, a broad consensus has emerged that serious climate action is necessary. Many European leaders have succeeded in generating public support for climate action, with polls showing that most voters now want firm action against climate disruption.

But while this general battle has been at least partially won in most European countries, difficult debates and divergences lie ahead. Relevant issues include the desired political steps to advance the transition, the types of necessary climate actions, and particularly their likely social and political effects. COP26 showed once again how the political debate tends to be framed by a general imperative for the energy transition and macro-level emissions targets. Yet more micro-level issues will soon shift the focus to the transition’s relative costs and benefits—especially who pays for what and how these decisions are to be made within democratic political systems.

The deep problem here is that politics is still functioning on the assumption that core political and economic models will stay the same and that low-carbon energy sources will simply replace high-carbon ones. Historically, however, no move from one production mode to another has happened without profound, even systemic, political and social transformations. This political framing leans heavily on the power attributed to green growth and presents a highly sanitized vision of an ecological transition while underplaying the costly social and political disruptions likely to hit many parts of society. The gap between energy demand and supply will almost certainly widen, as the generation of renewable energy is unlikely to keep up with increasing demand—and this growing gap will have significant social and political consequences

Governments and EU leaders routinely promise a “just transition,” but so far they have done little to conceptualize this as a systemic change. Far more attention has been paid to strengthening climate justice between states rather than within individual national political systems. Crucially, piloting a fair transition will not just be about allocating funds to help poorer residents pay for insulation, hydrogen boilers, and the like. At its height, the transition will shake the social contracts that have undergirded democratic systems and will have profoundly political effects. The whole political economy of European democracy will undergo fundamental reform. With governments no longer able to promise or pursue economic growth as their main deliverable to voters in the same way as before, there will be implications for the sustainability of welfare states and hence for the social legitimacy of democratic institutions.

In this context, the middle ground of consensual catch-all politics across Europe may collapse. Layers of political restructuring could ensue. Power will shift in fundamental ways as and when vested interests are tackled to unblock the road toward a green transition. Members of social and class alliances will be pulled in different directions. Existing social divides are likely to be replaced or at least complemented by new ones. The foundations of current divides between political parties will begin to make less sense: in countries like Germany and the UK, differences over the costs of the energy transition are already cutting across traditional left-right divides.

Since the summer of 2021, the energy crisis across Europe has shone an additional, unforgiving spotlight on governments’ failure to pay attention to these political dimensions of the climate transition. The Economist suggests that the surge in electricity prices may be the “first crisis of the energy transition.” The unrest triggered in recent months—including protests against rising energy prices, as well as fractious parliamentary debates—has raised more searching questions about how the costs of the transition will be managed.

While such transition pains have long been foretold, governments have done little to preempt them. Instead, they have scrambled to put together ad hoc subsidy packages to offset price rises and have moved to classify gas as a green energy source in the EU’s so-called taxonomy rules. Pushed through in haste to placate voters, these measures incentivize more carbon consumption. The juxtaposition has been striking: during the COP26 summit, the EU pressed other powers to move away from carbon consumption, while it offered subsidies to its own citizens to maintain such consumption.

Democratic Buy-In

So what kinds of democratic realignments and strategies are needed to correct Europe’s overly narrow political approach to the climate transition? A shift in the debate is certainly overdue—particularly regarding how democratic processes should deal with new social and economic arrangements. A common refrain is that leaders need to rise above politics to steer the climate transition. But this is exactly the wrong way of thinking about the challenge: instead, the political sphere must take center stage because this is where changes need to be hashed out and legitimized.

The already apparent risk is that governments will seek to push through climate policies in a top-down fashion to circumvent increasingly acute political difficulties. In their haste to implement renewable energy projects, governments are now often bypassing channels of democratic accountability. This is happening, for example, under the European Green Deal. The EU’s Rapid Recovery Fund will have billions of euros to spend on green projects, but no inclusive political process has been set up to decide who gets the funds.

While the desire to get climate action moving is understandable, this technocratic approach to the ecological transition could simply generate more popular frustration and provoke deeper political crises in Europe. The new funds could easily become a source of even more severe polarization and political discontent if they are not managed transparently and with meaningful citizen participation.

To give people a say over the transition to net-zero carbon emissions, many European governments and local authorities have begun running climate assemblies. These assemblies offer randomly selected groups of 100 to 150 citizens the chance to suggest ways for making progress toward the net-zero target. But, while enormously valuable, they cannot deal with all the major political disputes, tensions, and cleavages that will complicate the energy transition. These forums do not engage enough people or address the power relations between different collective groups in society and the economy.

Reports from these assemblies commonly read like a shopping list of all the ideal and general features of a green transition. They typically say little about the tensions between policy goals—for example, the juxtaposition between speeding up the green transition and redressing existing (fossil) fuel poverty. For their part, governments tend to respond that they are supportive and have already committed to many of the proposed steps—leaving one wondering why so many problems and political tensions have grown if it were really so easy for all actors to agree on all measures. Climate assemblies are certainly a necessary and exciting innovation, but other reforms to democratic practices are also needed to broach the macro-level politics of who pays for the transition and how societies can push beyond the superficial focus on technological fixes toward full-scale adjustments to economic and political models.

The vital political metric will be democratic buy-in, especially from those set to lose their jobs or pay disproportionately for measures related to the transition. Democracy in this context must mean more than loose assertions about giving citizens a say. A deeper and broader framework of inclusion is required concerning the sharing of costs and the containment of vested interests. A crucial step will be for governments and EU institutions to move away from tempting technocratic approaches. As state capacities increase massively to inject the necessary funding for the transition, new and strengthened means of democratic control will be needed. Democratic systems must achieve buy-in that is much more all-embracing and that matches the scale of transformations ahead.

One option may be to establish national conferences that involve all stakeholders and incorporate multiple perspectives on the energy transition. Inclusive national conferences have been used effectively before, such as during democratic transitions across Africa. Such national conferences can convene many actors, including political parties, state bodies, organized civil society, select individuals, local administrations, and climate activists—with the express purpose of gaining broader buy-in.

Green national conferences would need to focus specifically on the likely social and political ramifications of the energy transition—and the resulting new arrangements—rather than simply reiterate the general case for climate action. The conferences could feed into the work of climate assemblies but should go well beyond the latter in breadth and politicization. Climate activists could play a vital role but would need to find common ground with those set to pay the heaviest price of social change associated with the climate transition. Activist groups with contrasting approaches, including, say, the international Fridays for Future movement and France’s more confrontational Yellow Vests movement, each have a legitimate standpoint but so far have been at odds with each other on issues such as energy taxes: national conferences could help bring them together to discuss such divergences. Meanwhile, political parties, expert bodies, and local authorities involved in environmental and social issues would need to help to bridge the political and technocratic aspects of challenges related to the ecological transition.

Such national conferences could help promote active and inclusive dialogue while simultaneously legitimizing governments’ difficult decisions on the political and social effects of the green transition. As democratic mechanisms in and of themselves, the conferences could preemptively protect democracy by mitigating future backlash against technocratic and top-down solutions as well as help prepare governments for necessary changes to existing democratic systems.

In sum, governments, political parties, and activists need to begin considering and preparing for the scale of change needed to navigate the climate transition, and they must offer a more detailed sociopolitical mapping of this challenge and its aftermath. They need to pay equal attention to both the hardware of the transition (such as new types of renewable energy sources) and the software (like the kinds of political processes capable of generating the broader legitimacy and inclusiveness required to sustain the energy transition over the long term). A series of national conferences across European countries could be one way to move the politics of the climate transition in this direction.

Carnegie Europe is grateful to the Open Society Foundations for their support of this work.

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New documents show census officials concerned about political interference from Trump's Commerce Department – CNN

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(CNN)Newly released documents appear to show top career officials at the Census Bureau had drafted a memo of concerns during the Trump administration’s attempts to exert political pressure on the bureau during the 2020 population count.

Other records show career officials alarmed by pressure from political appointees to alter processes for tallying undocumented immigrants and citizenship data that would likely result in GOP gains in the US House of Representatives. The records are among hundreds of documents that the liberal-leaning Brennan Center for Justice at New York University’s law school obtained in a lawsuit filed in September 2020.
The New York Times was the first to report on the Census Bureau records.
An email among senior officials at the Census Bureau from September 2020 discusses the Commerce Department, which oversees the bureau, and what the officials considered to be an “unusually high degree of engagement in technical matters, which is unprecedented.”
The email and other documents came out as a result of a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit between the Brennan Center and the Department of Commerce, as well as eight other federal agencies. The email shows that the officials drafted a memo and planned to discuss with then-Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross his apparent interest in areas the Census Bureau officials perceived to be under the bureau’s independent jurisdiction, separate from its parent agency. The issues involved technical aspects of the population count including the privacy of census participants, the use of estimates to fill in missing population data, pressure to take shortcuts to produce population totals and political pressure for a last-minute push to identify and count undocumented immigrants.
In an email to CNN, Ross said he had no recognition of seeing the memo at any meeting in which the set of topics was discussed with him. The Census Bureau did not return CNN’s multiple requests for comment.
The Census Bureau’s population estimates are used for reapportionment, the process of reallocating House districts among the 50 states. But the Trump administration also wanted the bureau to separately tally the number of undocumented immigrants in each state. Then-President Donald Trump had ordered the tally in a July 2020 presidential memorandum, saying he wanted to subtract them from House reapportionment population estimates, CNN reported at the time.
Trump had already sought to use the census as a way to advance his immigration priorities as President. In June 2019, the Supreme Court rejected his administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census.
The FOIA suit ended in October 2020, when the trial court granted the Brennan Center’s motion for a preliminary injunction, forcing the agencies, including the Commerce Department, to produce most of the requested documents to the Brennan Center on a rolling basis. All of the documents were made public last week, revealing for the first time new details about the struggle that senior census officials had faced when counteracting the Trump administration’s political influence at the agency.
Other undated records released as part of the same suit suggest that the Commerce Department planned to have Ross make personal calls to 10 Republican governors in order to lobby them to provide state records to “enhance the frame from which citizenship status is determined.” There was no evidence to suggest that similar calls were made to Democratic governors, according to the Brennan Center’s analysis of the FOIA documents it received.
The records also show that Census Bureau officials tasked with carrying out Trump’s July 2020 memo did not think it was achievable due to timing and technical restraints. In August 2020, emails addressed to then-Bureau Director Steven Dillingham, appointed by Trump, and political appointee Nathaniel Cogley said the bureau “has been consistently pessimistic” about the feasibility of determining undocumented populations and that “under the best, most legally defensible methodology, we are at great risk of not being able to carry out the policy outlined in the Presidential Memorandum by December 31, 2020.”
Another email suggests that political appointees joined the 2020 census count process late in the game when Dillingham introduced two of them to career officials at the bureau in August 2020 “to accomplish much work in a short period of time.” The email states that the two appointees, Cogley and Benjamin Overholt, were “interested in” efforts to produce citizenship data. An internal watchdog report in 2021 cited the two appointees for leading the administration’s efforts to produce a last-minute report on undocumented populations in the final days of the Trump administration.
Soon after the inspector general report revealed the push to produce a tally of noncitizens that career officials said could not be assembled, Dillingham, who denied the accusations of partisan interference at the bureau, resigned nearly a year before his term had been scheduled to end, dashing the possibility of being fired by the then-incoming Biden administration.
Dillingham and Cogley did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment. Attempts to reach Overholt have been unsuccessful.
In addition to Ross’ apparent interest in Census Bureau affairs, other FOIA records show the Commerce Department under the Trump administration was in close contact with anti-immigration groups leading up to the 2020 census count.
Records show Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a group that advocates for reduced immigration, emailing directly with Ross in December 2019 about the group’s recent report on “long-term consequences of mass immigration and the apportionment of House seats. … ” The email opens with a reference to a call from Ross.
The FOIA records also reveal a connection between a Commerce Department official and a former Trump adviser known for his work in the administration peddling unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud. An email chain shows a Commerce Department employee putting Cogley in contact with the Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, a member of Trump’s failed voter fraud commission.

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Perspective | Religious opposition to vaccines is rooted in politics, not tradition – The Washington Post

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On Thursday, the Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s coronavirus vaccine mandate for the nation’s largest employers but allowed the policy to stand for health-care workers at facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding. As a result, only 17 million — rather than 84 million — workers will be required to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

The court questioned President Biden’s legal authority to impose a mandate, placing decisions in the hands of businesses, individuals and state governments rather than the federal government. But the court notably avoided adjudicating the claim that vaccine mandates violate religious liberty — an assertion passionately deployed by religious opponents of vaccines.

Religious exemptions to vaccinations, however, have generally lacked a coherent basis, and those seeking them for coronavirus vaccination face an uphill battle. Religious beliefs have not historically been used as a justification to avoid vaccination, and the recent emergence of religious-based exemptions — animated by partisan politics, fear and debunked scientific studies — is an anomaly. This is not surprising, given that getting vaccinated (to protect yourself and others, especially the most vulnerable) fits neatly into the moral logic of the world’s major religions. This is one reason Pope Francis has called getting vaccinated against the coronavirus an “act of love.”

Mandated public health measures date to the beginning of American history. During the Revolutionary War, Gen. George Washington required his troops to be inoculated against smallpox, a process that involved exposing people to the smallpox virus itself. The goal was to produce a mild infection to build immunity, but it carried a non-trivial risk of serious illness or death. Where people objected to inoculation, their concerns were rooted in the potential physical risks.

The first official vaccine mandate in the United States was an 1809 Massachusetts law that granted local health officials the authority to require vaccination against smallpox. Vaccination was safer than inoculation — it consisted of cowpox, a related but less dangerous virus that conferred cross-immunity for smallpox — but it was not without risk, either, and again this inspired some wariness toward it.

Early vaccine hesitancy was thus largely animated by fear of immunization itself. Opposition centered on the claim that the state was forcing individuals to undertake a treatment that was potentially dangerous or, at least, ineffective. And though there were early and small pockets of religious hostility to vaccines, the concept of a “religious exemption” effectively did not exist, and it wouldn’t for some time.

Religious support for vaccinations began to build in the 20th century. After Jonas Salk developed a polio vaccine in 1955, many religious believers viewed vaccinations as a gift from God. John Fea, a historian at Messiah University, recently marveled over how newspapers from the 1950s and 1960s chronicled religious leaders of all faiths and denominations, “including evangelical Christians,” talking about the polio vaccine “as a special gift” from God to fight disease.

And this made sense. Before the development of the vaccine, polio ravaged the United States, killing 3,000 children and paralyzing thousands more in 1952 alone. If you were a parent living in the 1950s who viewed the world through a religious prism, it was hard to interpret Salk’s medical innovation in any other way.

But by the 1990s, widespread vaccine hesitancy grounded in religious reasons emerged, growing out of popular anti-vaccine movements that were not religious in nature. Spearheaded by disgraced former physician Andrew Wakefield and endorsed by B-list celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, these movements emphasized the supposed “impurity” of vaccines and the imagined (and sometimes fabricated) risks they posed to children.

The message resonated with some religious communities. Among these groups, vaccine ingredients were objects of particular scrutiny, and anything “unnatural” was seen as a threat to the sacredness of the human body: If your “body is a temple,” everything that enters it needs to be aboveboard.

In the face of this worrying trend, religious authorities of various faiths continue to encourage vaccination, but evidently to limited effect. Today, as we struggle through the worst pandemic in a hundred years, the reality we face is as grim as ever. The people who are vaccine-hesitant no longer constitute a small minority, and more and more are claiming religious exemptions.

As soon as coronavirus vaccine mandates were announced this past summer, affected people petitioned their employers for religious exemptions in droves. A recent survey suggests that as many as 3 in 10 unvaccinated Americans have sought a religious exemption from the coronavirus vaccines. White evangelicals have proved particularly resistant. A Pew Research Center survey from September indicated that up to 40 percent had declined the shot, the highest of any religious group surveyed.

White evangelicals also exemplify the growing politicization of religious identity. They are among the most steadfast supporters of the Republican Party, and around 80 percent voted for Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. This makes it difficult to discern whether individuals are seeking a coronavirus vaccine exemption for a “sincerely held” religious or philosophical belief or oppose vaccination for political or ideological reasons. There is already emerging evidence that flu vaccine uptake has become a partisan issue, indicating that the blending of religious and political beliefs could create serious public health problems in the future.

The trend may be reversible if religious conservatives begin to dissociate their views on vaccines from their political identity. If they look to the moral reasoning and sources of authority within their traditions, they will hear a message on vaccines that differs considerably from those on offer by many Republican leaders. Building on a long history of religious support for vaccination, the message might go something like this: “For the love of God, don’t seek religious exemptions from vaccines.”

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Trailblazer for Women in Canadian Politics, Alexa McDonough, Passes Away at Age 77 – VOCM

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A trailblazer for women in Canadian politics has passed away.

Alexa McDonough died this morning at the age of 77 after battling Alzheimer’s Disease.

McDonough made history in 1980, becoming the first female to lead a major political party when she became the leader of the Nova Scotia New Democrat Party, a position she would hold for 14 years.

She would go on to lead the Federal New Democrats in 1995, helping the NDP grow to 21 seats in the House of Commons during her tenure.

She was the recipient of the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia.

McDonough will be remembered as a champion for gender equality and social development and programs, as well as a relentless optimist, earning her the nickname, “Iron Angel”.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, a celebration of life will occur at a later date.

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