By Howie Hawkins
February 24, 2021
I was asked by Energy Advisor, a weekly publication of the Inter-American Dialogue, to write a 250 word commentary responding to the following questions. I sent them a shorter version of my response below, but here is a fuller response to their big questions.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in February that he sees Canada and the United States collaborating more closely on the manufacturing of electric vehicles, as well as on the supply of critical minerals used to make batteries for electric cars and other clean technologies, such as solar panels. To what extent and in what ways are Canada and the United States already jointly working on the development of electric vehicles and other clean technologies? How much room is there for further cooperation, and what might that look like? What does each country stand to gain from enhanced collaboration on the green economy?
What Prime Minister Trudeau sees is not enough. Canadian and the US are supporting electric vehicle (EV) production by multinational corporations in Canada and the US with various subsidies, including government EV purchases, tax breaks to consumer who purchase EVs, and direct government subsidies to EV manufacturing. Prime Minister Trudeau also touts Canada’s mineral resources that are critical for EVs, particularly copper, aluminum and nickel.
What is missing are goals and timetables to electrify all of transportation powered by clean renewable energy in the timeframe required by the climate emergency. Both governments should cooperate in directing this transformation like the US government did during the World War II emergency when it took over a quarter of US manufacturing capacity in order to turn industry on a dime into the Arsenal of Democracy to arm the allies to defeat Hitler, Mussolini, and Tojo. We need to do nothing less through the public sector in manufacturing, transportation, and power production to defeat climate change. Government incentives to private enterprise are not direct and coordinated enough to make the rapid transformation we need for climate safety.
With public enterprise and economic planning, Canada and the US should cooperate in replacing freight trucking with freight rails except for the last leg of delivery by electric trucks. They should cooperate in building convenient affordable mass transit to radically reduce the need for personal cars for commuting to work, school, and shopping. Freight rails and mass transit are far more resource and energy efficient, which is what we need for a sustainable green economy.
Prime Minister Trudeau has also promoted Canadian hydropower as a renewable resource to export to the United States. This form of renewable energy should be rejected due to the habitat destruction and encroachment on Indigenous peoples’ lands, the increased release of the potent greenhouse gas methane due to the accelerated decomposition of organic matter in artificial lakes created by the dams, and the fact that power exported could be generated by still existing fossil fuel and nuclear plants in Canada. What the US and Canada should do is bring power generation and distribution under a public energy system that can plan and rapidly expand the reliable availability of clean renewable power in both countries, with reliability strengthened by power storage and stronger and smarter grid interconnections so that power can be sent from where solar and wind power are being produced to where they are not at any given point in time.
We call this approach an Ecosocialist Green New Deal. It seeks to convert all productive sectors, including agriculture and buildings as well as manufacturing, transportation, and power production, to 100% clean energy and zero, heading toward negative, greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. We have to be drawing carbon out of the atmosphere, not just stopping its emission if 350 ppm atmospheric carbon is the threshold of climate safety, as climate scientist James Hansen and others have proposed in the peer-reviewed climate science literature. We are 413 ppm today. This climate emergency calls upon wealthy countries like Canada and the US to cooperate in a global Green New Deal to help other countries build a clean powered green economy and restore forests and other habitat that will draw carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it in the biosphere or geologically in Earth’s crust.
The Green New Deal we propose also includes an Economic Bill of Rights to jobs, income, housing, health care, education, and a secure retirement so the green economy meets everyones’ basic needs within ecological limits. Combining economic security with sustainable production is not only the right thing to do, it creates the political base for carrying through the Green New Deal.