Only a carbon tax will provide ‘green’ jobs and revitalize the economy.
Listen. Can you hear it?
At the sound of the words “carbon tax”, thousands of oil and coal industry execs begin gnashing their teeth; hundreds of PR flacks start barking out the joys of free enterprise; and Mr. Harper holds a press conference to let us know that his government is “staying the course”.
Forget what the economists say. We are in recession. The jobless rate in America—if you factor in those who have used up their unemployment benefits and stopped looking for work—is close to 20%. 47% of Americans spend 2/3 of their income on food. Homeless tent towns have sprung up all over America (like the “Hoovervilles” of the Great Depression), many of the inhabitants of which number among the one million bankruptcies and six million foreclosures each year.[i] Mr. Harper says Canada is different, that his government is managing the economy and that they will “stay the course.” Because of our incestuous economic ties with Uncle Sam, I doubt that Mr. Harper and Mr. Flaherty will even be able to hold the rudder.
As any intelligent economist will tell you: a healthy economy is entirely dependent on a healthy job market, which in turn is dependent on a healthy environment. Without jobs, the flow of money dries up, resulting in fewer consumers, a shrinking tax base and stagnation—cuts in government jobs only add to the problem. The Finance Department and the Banks can manipulate interest rates endlessly, but without a healthy job market—dependent on a healthy environment—they are endlessly spitting into the wind.
Our 1960’s robust manufacturing sector—apart from the auto industry—has disappeared. Automation has subsumed many workers, and corporations have shipped a staggering number of jobs overseas. Business has ceaselessly ravaged the environment, and these destructive practices—depleting our forest and fishing resources—have resulted in further job losses.
Shouldn’t the private sector be creating jobs? Yes, but corporate boardrooms are fogged in by “fiscal prudence”; and corporations—with the exception of resource industries—are hoarding their cash. There is little or no private stimulus.
In 2009, Mr. Harper put a limited stimulus package in place, informing Canadians that it was up to the private sector to create jobs. He has no long term, comprehensive plan to put people back to work, and his government has been unwilling to take control of the economy in the way that Franklin Roosevelt did, injecting cash into the economy to give people jobs during the Great Depression (building the Hoover dam, Mt. Hood Lodge, etc.). What else is government for if not to manage the country when a large segment of its citizens are in crisis? Our resource industries (subsidized by government) are booming, but at what price? What is the environmental cost of the infamous Tar Sands (a 40-metre-deep gouge in Alberta the size of Delaware)?[ii]
1. Alberta taxpayers have to pony up $15-billion worth of outstanding reclamation liabilities for the Tar Sands—not being paid for by the Oil Industry (some of the world’s wealthiest companies).[iii]
2. 80 per cent of the water used by the Tar Sands is recycled, but recycling concentrates pollutants such as salts and chlorides that foul processing machinery and make it harder to reclaim the landscape.[iv]
3. The Tar Sands fiasco produces 6 billion barrels of mining waste—Bitumen slurry, containing: cyanide, bitumen, toluene, clay, benzene, mercury, hydrogen sulfide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and naphthenic acids (enough toxic material to stretch to the moon and back 15 times).[v]
Should we be paying the oil industry to ravage the landscape, pollute our water supply, and decimate our Boreal forests; all to leave a blackened, toxic Canadian wilderness to our children so that Americans can drive to the mall, and Mr. Harper can pretend to be “staying the course”? The cost of the Tar Sands to the public purse is completely out of whack with the number of jobs created. Returned to office by only 39% of the electorate, you would think Mr. Harper would govern more intelligently.
So what can be done?
We can create ‘green’ jobs. If you have difficulty visualizing ‘green’ jobs, think 20th Century jobs—auto sector assembly line work, logging and fishing industry jobs—and then add sustainability. ‘Green’ jobs require many of the same skills, but are recalibrated to protect the environment. ‘Green’ jobs work within nature, establishing ‘green’ processes, and cyclical rather than vertical structures.
What Do Green Jobs Look Like?
Sustainable Food Industry Jobs:
In the greater Detroit area, people with farming skills feed themselves and others by farming abandoned properties (one young man harvests 1,000 bales of alfalfa per year in back yards). This is as local as farming gets. If it’s possible for people to take this initiative without government aid, imagine what they could do with subsidies—and wouldn’t you rather subsidize food and water than oil?
In a ‘green’ Ontario, for example, we would need to ensure that our fresh food sources are at close proximity to our cities. The unsustainable produce system currently in place (the cost of transporting lettuce from Mexico or California to Ontario is roughly 70¢ on the $1.00) is wasteful and ecologically unsound. Giant factory farms (chickens, pigs, etc.) are not only an environmental minefield but are fundamentally a health risk. The emphasis must be on local, small (organic?) farms to supply our food needs for most of the year. We will need to subsidize, encourage and assist:
1. farmers to grow food;
2. fieldworkers to harvest and move the produce.
3. urban planners to plot the most efficient access of farms to population centres (while restricting rampant unintelligent residential development).
4. processors to preserve the produce for winter (just like our grandmothers);
5. boilermakers to maintain the canning apparatus and materials (recyclable glass jars?);
6. glaziers to manufacture canning units;
7. engineers to design the preservation systems (using ‘green’ energy), put them in place and run them;
8. botanists and biologists to advise on the ecology of the land and what is grown (e.g. hemp for paper and other products);
9. hydraulic engineers to manage irrigation;
10. transport workers and engineers to maintain and run sustainable transport systems (e.g. trains, rapid transit systems, electric trucks) to move the produce from farms to cities and towns.
11. instructors to teach sustainable growing techniques (e.g. Permaculture, etc.)
Sustainable jobs in the energy sector:
In a photo of a yurt in the middle of a vast Mongolian plain, the only indication of the modern world is the small solar panel on its outside wall. Solar energy is now ubiquitous and represents our first step forward in acknowledging the power of the Sun. We will need to put intelligent, creative engineers to work finding other methods of harnessing its energy.
Wind is not a new technology. In Holland, Britain and many parts of the world, wind has been a source of energy for hundreds of years. During the 1930’s, half the farms in America had small windmills. In building new energy systems, we must not discard tried and true methods.
21st Century sustainable energy will come from many sources—especially conservation—each contributing to the whole, which is why we need to de-centralize our power systems. “Nuclear power plants, like coal-burning power plants, are about retaining the big infrastructure of centralized power production and, often, the habits of obscene consumption that rely on big power.”[vi] We need many sources of power to fill our energy needs: wind, solar, water (whatever became of all those small mills on Ontario streams and rivers?).
Some of the solar jobs we will create include:
1. electricians to make, install and maintain photovoltaic panels.
2. technicians to assist householders in providing excess power to the government.
3. electrical and hydraulic engineers to install and maintain small wind turbines, solar panels, small dams on small creeks and rivers.
4. R&D engineers to invent new sources of energy (i.e. tiny turbines inside our water pipes, high efficiency solar heat collectors, tidal wave energy collectors. etc.);
5. boilermakers to fabricate solar devices to collect the heat and energy;
6. instructors to teach energy producing and conservation practices;
Sustainable Building Industry Jobs:
50% or more of CO² emissions come from buildings. “Green’ jobs in the building trade will include:
1. architects, electrical / mechanical / structural engineers to design zero-carbon, low cost housing and commercial buildings;
2. contractors, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, puttiers, roofers, steam fitters, founders, glazers, machinists, coopers, bricklayers, stonecutters, stonemasons, upholsters, reclaimers, braziers, lathers—all trained in sustainable building practices—to erect zero-carbon, sustainable buildings;
3. a re-made manufacturing sector to supply sustainable building materials to service this new ‘green’ building industry will be necessary, allowing for a mix of ‘green’ technologies (e.g. straw bale, rammed earth, recycled concrete etc.) and for new and rebuilt (upgraded) standing building stock. This sector will provide thousands of manufacturing jobs, all sustainable: product engineers, ceramic engineers, construction engineers, geological engineers, hydraulic engineers, power engineers, railroad engineers, research engineers, textile engineers, transporation engineers, ventilation engineers, water-supply engineers, plus manufacturing tradespeople—all trained in ‘green’ building practices;
4. landscape architects, reclamation engineers, civil engineers, sanitary engineers—all trained in sustainable building practices—to restore brownfield land (industrial sites) on which to rebuild our cities’ infrastructures;
5. gardeners and farmers to create park and farm land in every available corner of our cities and suburbs to grow produce, connecting our urban centres to nature;
6. instructors to teach sustainable building techniques;
7. And above all, thousands of tree planters to plant billions of trees to re-cover Canada. The greater the number of trees, the more we can modify our climate.
A new ‘green’ economy will create jobs, and be benefical—potentially lowering the cost of health care. Yes, it will be expensive, but as Malcolm Wells (Recovering America), the granddaddy of green roofs once observed, “going green is expense, but not as expensive as not doing it.”
Where does the carbon tax come in?
A carbon tax, a rational method of funding a safe method of transporting Canadians into the 21st Century, will be fair and just. The ‘Carbon Folk’ who have made billions from carbon (e.g. oil and coal industries)—who are currently subsidized—should pay for the damage caused by their industries. They will, of course, claim it is ‘unfair’, but how fair is it to will a blackened planet to future generations? Most of us use carbon in one form or another and we all should pay a premium for its use.
A carbon tax would raise a fund of hundreds of millions (possibly billions) a year, and enable any ‘progressive’ and intelligent government to grant, loan, and or fund enterprises to initiate ‘green’ jobs. Such a government will also be able to offer tax incentives to sustainable endeavours (e.g. building low cost sustainable housing on brownfield land).
Many politicians will pooh-pooh a carbon tax. Ignore them. They have jobs, we don’t. Many are retarded by 20th Century ideas. We must move forward. We cannot continue to accept this political malaise (on all government levels), and only by creating a carbon tax can we revitalize our economy, invent a new working society and, by extension, resuscitate our environment.
[i] Chris Hedges
[ii] Andrew Nikiforuk, 10 Jun 2011, TheTyee.ca
[iii] Andrew Nikiforuk, 10 Jun 2011, TheTyee.ca
[iv] Andrew Nikiforuk, 10 Jun 2011, TheTyee.ca
[v] Andrew Nikiforuk, 10 Jun 2011, TheTyee.ca
[vi] Rebecca Solnit July/August 2007 Orion magazine