Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Tuesday Morning Links

This and that for your Tuesday reading.

- Jessica McDiarmid reports on the hazardous materials being shipped by rail across North America - and it's particularly sad that Canadians can only learn about the risks being imposed on us through a U.S. guide. But lest we be under any illusions that our neighbours have an enviable record in managing their own risks, Claire Moser reports that even identified high-risk oil and gas wells in the U.S. aren't being inspected.

- And of course, that figures to have much to do with the fossil fuel industry's domination of politics on both sides of the border. Which brings us to Murray Dobbin's take on the need to challenge petropolitics and the oil barons who control them:
One of the major political factors preventing serious consideration of major and rapid policy changes is the sheer power of the fossil fuel industry. Unimaginable wealth translates into unimaginable power worldwide. To imagine bringing the industry to heel in a serious effort to slow climate change, we have to imagine treating the industry like we eventually treated the tobacco industry: as an existential threat to human health. For decades the tobacco giants exerted so much political influence they were virtually untouchable. To the extent that this changed (it is obviously still a health scourge especially in the developing world), it changed because the notion of corporate "rights" was successfully challenged.

Multiply the impact of the tobacco industry by 1,000 and you have some idea of how difficult it will be to escape the political and social conventional thinking that protects the oil "industry" from rational policy. Indeed part of that conventional thinking is seeing the giant corporations involved as just another industry. This actually serves to protect this sociopathic monster because we have rules governing industries and the individual companies that make them up. Companies are "citizens" with rights (thanks to our Charter) and they live forever. They have literally unlimited money to lobby governments for continued subsidies ($2 billion yearly from Ottawa), and tax breaks against subsidies for renewables which could save the planet. Even though 97 per cent of climate scientists agree about climate change, these corporations have the power to trash science and sow doubts about global warming.

The energy giants are protected by rogue governments like those in Alberta and Ottawa. They are permitted to take as much of the stuff out of the ground as fast as they can ship it and sell it, regardless of the global consequences. Like no other sector of the economy (except perhaps nuclear power) they are allowed to externalize hundreds of billions -- possibly trillions -- in costs they should be paying: air and water pollution costs, health costs, the costs associated with distorting the rest of the economy, the cost of new roads and bridges and freeways and paved-over farm land. We refuse to tax it to cover those costs, and that means ridiculously low prices and little incentive to wean ourselves from its pernicious and deadly effects.
- And in keeping with Dobbin's proposal for public ownership in the resource sector, Paul Krugman recognizes the absurdity of criticizing ideas merely because they've existed for some time. (Which of course goes doubly for ideas which have proven to be smashing successes when implemented in full.)

- John Oliver suggests that corporations should bear the burdens facing individuals if they expect to share in the rights that properly apply to people:

- Finally, Rick Salutin sees Canada Day as the perfect time to reflect on the importance of citizenship - and to question why the Cons are so eager to grant themselves power to take it away.

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