Russell Brand defends his decision not to vote

As we learned in class today, voting is the most conventional form of political activity. Although an ever-increasing number of citizens in advanced industrial economies refuses to vote, still a majority of citizens gets out and votes during national elections. But, for a majority of these voters, voting is the extent of their political activity.

What can we say about most non-voters and the reasons that they don’t vote? Well, fortunately, pollsters and academics have tried to answer this question. Let’s take a look at the Canadian federal election from 2011. In that election, only 61.1% of eligible voters bothered to vote. To determine why Canadians were not voting, Elections Canada, in conjunction with the monthly Labour Force Survey, asked those who didn’t vote their main reason for not doing so. Here are the results:

Canadian Federal Election 2011

What do you think about these results? Below is an excerpt from an interview of Russell Brand on BBC, in which the actor/comedian explains why it is that he refuses to vote in elections in Great Britain. [By the way, he has since changed his views on voting.]

US Midterm Election Results and Climate Change

Election results in the United States are mostly final and the Republican Party has had a big night, capturing control of the US Senate, which combined with a Republican-controlled House of Representative means that President Barack Obama will face a united (in party name, at least) Republican Congress upon the opening of the new Congressional session–the 114th–which meets for the first time in early January of next year.

The New York Times has a handy graphic, summarizing the disconcerting results (from the perspective of climate change politics) of exit polls earlier today. This seems to be disheartening news to those who wish to see the United States government become more proactive in the are of climate politics and climate change. As you can see, while six in 10 voters said that climate change is a problem, fully 83\% of the partisans of the majority party in Congress believe the same.


Domestic Politics and Climate Change

Last week we discussed the role of domestic politics–institutions, electoral systems, partisanship, etc.,–on national political leaders’ attitudes towards and policies on climate change. We noted that the Canadian federal governments stance toward mitigation and adaptation changed dramatically upon the ascension of the Conservatives to power in 2006 (a minority government). The majority government that Harper was able to win in 2011 signalled the death knell for Canada’s involvement in the Kyoto process as Harper’s government reneged on Canada’s obligations quickly thereafter.

The United States, meanwhile, enters the final week of the biennial “midterm elections”, with most candidates (and the public) focused on issues other than climate change. When climate change is mentioned, however, the candidates responses are not reassuring. Have a look at this video for an impressive compilation of candidates’ responses to whether they believe in the existence of anthropogenic climate change. Incidentally, for a comprehensive debunking of Representative Steve Pearce’s claim that 31,000 scientists signed a petition claiming that there was no global warming, click here.

Climate Policy and Citizen Support

One of the local rags is reporting on a new article (click here for a link to the abstract) in the journal, Global Environmental Change, written jointly by Ekaterina Rhodes, Jonn Axsen, and Mark Jaccard of the School of Resource and Environmental Management at Simon Fraser University.

British Columbians are largely unaware of government climate policies…

An online survey of 475 people found only one in four people could name a single climate policy and among those who could, nearly all of them named the Carbon Tax applied to fossil fuels in B.C.

Only one respondent named the astonishingly effective Renewable & Low Carbon Fuel Requirements Regulation that is responsible for one quarter of our reduction in carbon emissions since 2007. After the policy was explained, 90 per cent of respondents supported the idea.

The study challenges the notion touted by some politicians and most environmental groups that knowledge of climate science and well-informed citizen support are required to implement effective climate policy, said co-author Jonn Axsen, a professor specializing in sustainable energy systems.

In addition to citizens being non-informed about environmental policies, the authors come up with three additional important conclusions:

  • Regulations achieve the highest citizen support, carbon tax the lowest.
  • Citizen awareness and knowledge are not associated with higher policy support.
  • Providing policy information does not increase citizen support.

The second bulleted point above is interesting, implying an inherent tension between what the public prefers–regulation–and what policy-makers prefer–taxation. Policy-makers prefer taxation not only because it is relatively simple policy to implement, but also because it is economically efficient, allowing consumers and producers to place the “correct” value and costs, respectively, on carbon.

By the way, did you know that Canadians are the most scientifically literate people in the world?

New Report Claims that British Columbia Has Geo-hermal Energy

The useful DesmogCanada blog has an informative new post up, describing the results of a new report issued by the Canadian Geothermal Energy Association, which claims that there is enough untapped geothermal energy in British Columbia to power the whole province. Although there are some drawbacks to using geothermal power as a dominant energy source, there are many advantages, the most important of which (from an environmental perspective) is that geothermal energy is virtually carbon-free! (For a short demonstration of how geothermal energy is produced and transported, see the video clip below.} From DesmogCanada:

Geothermal power plants provide a firm source of base load power, similar to a hydro dam. Dr. Stephen Grasby, a geochemist with Natural Resources Canada, says the environmental footprint of geothermal energy is smaller than other renewable energy sources, such as wind and hydro.
“For instance, the surface area required to have developments like a wind farm, that takes a large surface area and has other associated issues with things like bird kill,” he said. Geothermal energy requires only a well and a heat exchange system.
“Drilling is relatively low impact,” he said, adding with a laugh, “worst case scenario is you accidentally discover oil or something.”
According to the CanGEA report, BC has “enormous potential to produce geothermal power,” which makes it shameful that Canada is “currently the only major country located along the Pacific Rim’s Ring of Fire not producing geothermal energy”. Why is this? There are many factors, but the political power of oil and gas interests is certainly an important impediment to constructing a carbon-free, environmentally-sustainable source of energy for our province.

Hayley Stevenson talks about who decides to fix climate change

I’m not certain that it’s cause for sustained consternation, but a few of my students (it was more than three) referred to the University of Sheffield’s Hayley Stevenson as a he in their most recent assignments. You may listen to her in the clip below addressing the topic of climate change and democracy. Not surprisingly, Professor Stevenson implicitly rejects my proposal of a global benevolent dictator (take that USA, China, and Stephen Harper) tasked with creating the global climate regime necessary to combat the potential effects of climate change. Stevenson prefers more democracy to less.

Global Civil Society(ies) begins to find its Collective Voice on Climate Change

In this week’s seminar, we had a rather spirited debate on which sector of society–the state, the market, or civil society–is most crucial to restructuring our world in a way that is conducive to protecting the global climate from irreparable damage. I think that most of us agreed that market-based solutions, such as cap-and-trade schemes, are not a panacea. At best, they do nothing and, at worst, they contribute to increasing GHG emissions, increase international injustice (rich countries are able to move pollution from the North to the South), and undermine the sustainable livelihoods of indigenous peoples.

What about the prospects for domestic/international state (i.e., government) regulation and civil society activism? It’s obvious that both will be needed. While governments have taken small steps over the last couple of decades, much more has to be done. The world’s greatest polluters–the USA and China–in particular, have to be much more pro-active.

Civil society groups, on the other hand, have begun to increase their pressure on political and economic leaders. Evidence of this was last Sunday’s climate march, which took place in over 2500 cities in more than 160 countries. Here’s a nice recap of that day’s action from the event’s organizers:

Naomi Klein Interviewed about her new climate politics book

Naomi Klein, who has written extensively about global political issues was recently interviewed on Democracy Now about her new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism versus the Climate. This is one of those books whose content is easily identifiable from the title. In essence, Klein posits that capitalism, at least in its current form as championed by right-wing think tanks world-wide (but especially in the United States of America), is inherently at odds with protecting the climate. This is a sentiment articulated by some of you during our session earlier this week. There can’t simply be tinkering at the margins. The protection of the global environment requires a radical re-thinking of the relationships amongst, civil society, the market, and the state. [Incidentally, Klein’s book promotion tour will hit Vancouver on October 26th (at UBC).]

Here’s part of the transcript from the interview, which you can view below:

NAOMI KLEIN…So the argument I’m making is really quite a hopeful one. I think if we do respond to climate change with the decisiveness that the scientist[s] are telling us we do, if we respond in line with science, we have a chance to remake our economy, the global economy, for the better…

AMY GOODMANNaomi Klein, in your book, This Changes Everything, you… talk about a number of these [right-wing think tanks] groups. You open with them in a chapter called “The Right is Right.”

NAOMI KLEIN: OK, well, let’s be clear: They are not right about the science. They’re wrong about the science. But I think what the right understands, and it’s important to understand, that the climate change denier movement in the United States is entirely a product of the right-wing think tank infrastructure…The Heartland Institute, which people mostly only know in terms of the fact that it hosts these annual conferences of climate change skeptics or deniers, it’s important to know that the Heartland Institute is first and foremost a free market think tank. It’s not a scientific organization. It is—just like the other ones I listed, it exists to push the ideology, the familiar ideology, of deregulation, privatization, cuts to government spending, and sort of triumphant free market, you know, backed with enormous corporate funding, because that’s a very, very profitable ideology.

And when I interviewed the head of the Heartland Institute, Joe Bast, for this project, he was quite open that it wasn’t that he found a problem with the science first. He said, when he looked at the science and listened to what scientists were saying about how much we need to cut our emissions, he realized that climate change could be—if it were true, it would justify huge amounts of government regulation, which he politically opposes. And so, he said, “So then we looked at the science, and we found these problems,” right? So the issue is, they understand that if the science is true, their whole ideological project falls apart, because, as I said, you can’t respond to a crisis this big, that involves transforming the foundation of our economy—our economy was built on fossil fuels, it is still fueled by fossil fuels. The idea in this—we hear this from a lot of liberal environmental groups, that we can change completely painlessly—just change your light bulbs, or just a gentle market mechanism, tax and relax, no problem. This is what they understand well, that in fact it requires transformative change. That change is abhorrent to them…

…So when I say “the right is right,” I think that they have a better grasp on the political implications of the science, of what it means to how we need to change our economy and what the role of the public sphere is and the role of collective action is, better than some of those sort of big, slick, centrist green groups that are constantly trying to sell climate action as something entirely reconcilable with a booming capitalist economy. And we’re always hearing about green growth and how it’s great for business. You know, yeah, you can—there will be markets in green energy and so on, but other businesses are going to have to contract in ways that requires that strong intervention.

Climate March on NYC Planned for September 21

What organizers are calling the “largest climate march in history” is set to descend upon New York City in less than two weeks’ time (September 21). The event is meant to coincide with a key UN Climate Summit, which UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has organized to not only give global leaders in business, politics, and civil society a chance to discuss this important topic, but also to build momentum in advance of the crucial 2015 Paris 21st COP to the UNFCCC. (Don’t worry, by the end of the semester you’ll know exactly what these acronyms mean.) Amongst the projected crowd of tens-of-thousands of protesters will be the current leader (and Member of Parliament) of the Green Party of Canada, Elizabeth May. “Taking it to the streets” in the hopes of hastening socio-political change is something with which May agrees, if her Twitter account is any indication:

Here is part of the Green Party of Canada press release announcing the climate march and encouraging other Canadians to join May in New York City:

On September 21, tens of thousands of concerned citizens from around the world will gather in New York City for the People’s Climate March. They will be marching to show the world leaders assembled there for the 2014 UN Climate Summit that our planet cannot wait for more negotiations – we need climate action now.

At the Climate Summit, Canada will stand out as having the worst climate policy record in the industrialized world.

From their dismantling of environmental regulations to their rush to expand Canada’s pipeline capacity, no government on earth has worked harder than the Harper Conservatives to speed up catastrophic climate change.

Maybe someday we can get the Honourable Member for Saanich–Gulf Islands to tell us what she really thinks about the Harper government’s climate policies.

Is Canadian government climate policy really the industrialized world’s worst? Worse than the USA and/or China? Will you also be increasing your carbon footprint to join the march in New York City?



Islam, the Koran, and Women’s Rights from the Perspective of Muslim Women

For those of you who are writing on the influence of Islam on the prospects for democratization in predominantly Muslim countries, here is an interesting video, which asks Muslim women about their views on the compatibility of Islam with women’s rights and democracy. This is a nice complement to the Fish article that we read two weeks ago. Here is an illuminating quote from one of the women interviewed in the film:

“First of all I didn’t understand why my brother didn’t have to do housework and I have to do housework…as a little girl it did not make sense to me. Just because he’s a boy he doesn’t have to do housework?!? So for me the questioning was from the family, but the family never used religion to justify why [boys didn’t have to do housework], so I always knew it was culture and tradition.”

“We wanted to break the monopoly, that only the lama, only the religious authorities, have the right to talk about Islam and define what is Islam and what is not Islam.”

Zainah Anwar
Co-founder, Sisters in Islam
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Here is the very interesting video, which is about 26 minutes long. Throughout this film many of the concepts that we have learned this semester are brought into play.