Reflections on the mandates, from COVID to the climate

Mandates. It’s hard to think of a more tense word these days.

Last January, COVID vaccine and mask mandates led to a weeks-long occupation of the nation’s capital, or at the very least, were used by far-right petro-defenders as a pretext for the “freedom” protest that besieged Ottawa. . And while the majority of Canadians opposed the so-called trucker convoy, almost two and a half years into the pandemic, there is no doubt that most of the public is tired of the COVID rules. Our governments have also grown wary of them, fearful that their continued invocation will provoke a backlash they would rather avoid.

But given the pushback against COVID mandates, here’s what has me nervous: As we finally get serious about escalating the climate crisis, one truth is crystal clear: We’re going to need climate mandates.

I have written many times about genuine emergency mode markers, the basic indicators that a government receives an emergency, be it a war, a natural disaster, a health crisis, and is ready to respond accordingly. One of the central markers is that the government “changes from voluntary and incentive-based policies to mandatory measures”. The curse of our climate policies to date is that they are mired in a voluntary, incentive-based approach that assumes we can tackle this crisis by cajoling enough households and businesses to decarbonize and electrify. This approach will fry us and condemn our children to hell. We simply cannot incentivize our way to victory in this fight for our lives.

Rather, in the face of an understood emergency, leaders do not limit themselves to to encourage certain actions with moral suasion, tax incentives, discounts or other forms of monetary incentive: require it’s.

But let’s be clear: when a government invokes mandatory measures in response to a crisis, public acceptance of these rules and regulations is never unanimous. Whether these measures have been instituted in times of war, in the face of a disaster, or in the context of a pandemic, there is always an antisocial mob seeking to ignore or violate rules and mandates designed to protect the collective good.

The good news is that unanimity is not necessary and this backlash against the mandate is almost always in the minority. In general, most of us support such measures. We want to do the right thing for our family, friends, and neighbors.

Here is an example from our experience in World War II.

As Eleanor Boyle details in her book, Mobilize Food! Wartime Inspiration for Environmental Victory TodayAt the start of World War II, the leaders of Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States were highly wary of rationing key products and foods, fearing that such compulsory measures would result in popular revolt. However, as the war progressed, they felt compelled to institute domestic rationing regardless. And defying expectations, these policies ended up being very popular. Rationing became a means by which everyone could “do their bit” in a common effort, and do so knowing that their efforts were proceeding fairly and equitably (impacting the rich as much as the poor). poor).

Boyle write:

Opinion: There are similarities when it comes to COVID and climate mandates. Both require listening to scientists and health experts, and both face a misinformation attack, writes @SethDKlein for @NatObserver. #Climate crisis

“Justice is what rationing is all about. This is why so many citizens approved of it during World War II. Surveys in Canada in 1945 showed that more than 90 percent of adults felt that rationing had done a good or fair job during the conflict in distributing food equitably, Ian Mosby writes in his 2014 book, food will win the war. Even in Britain, where wartime rationing was most extensive, opinion polls showed that the majority of citizens agreed with government policies aimed at ensuring ‘Fair Portions for All’. At first, people weren’t crazy about the limitations, but they soon realized that the system guaranteed everyone (even low-income citizens who had been malnourished) adequate supplies of eggs, sugar, butter, meat, and sweets, as well as clothing. . and fuel.”

Fast forward to the first few months of the pandemic and remember that it was the public, ahead of our politicians, demanding mandatory measures, calling for vaccine and mask requirements.

This is why. As noted, in the face of a crisis, most of us want to do the right thing (antisocial fringe notwithstanding). But it bothers us, because nobody wants to be a fool, that we can do the right thing only to have our antisocial neighbor reject and undo our good work. And therein lies the beauty of mandates; you don’t have to worry about your neighbor. His neighbor will be forced to extend his best efforts to do what is right for his fellow citizens.

Renewal of climate mandates

I am convinced that the same dynamic will play out with respect to climate.

When it comes to electrifying our homes and vehicles, for example, or reducing our air travel and meat consumption, many of us are kicking the dirt at the starting line of the race to decarbonize our lives. We want to do our part, but we want to know that everyone else (households and businesses) is also involved and won’t undermine our best efforts.

Governments are beginning to implement climate mandates: zero emission vehicle (ZEV) mandates for new car sales, zero emission construction mandates, emission reduction mandates for certain industries. These mandates are having an impact. For example, the two Canadian provinces that lead in ZEV sales are Quebec and BC, the same two that have instituted legislated mandates.

The problem, however, is that, to date, the timeframes for existing climate mandates are too long and effectively communicate the opposite of an emergency. Provincial and federal construction and industrial mandates are due at the end of this decade, long after most current politicians have moved on to other things. (A notable exception regarding new construction mandates is the city of Vancouver, which has mandated that no new buildings may use fossil fuels for space and water heating.) from this year.) The mandate for 100 percent of ZEV sales is 2035, much longer than the crisis demands.

And industry mandates, especially the emissions cap now under development for the oil and gas sector, need to be more ambitious and compelling. More than a quarter of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions come from that sector, and if Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hopes to leave a positive legacy in this lifetime task, he will have to put us on track to significantly turn off the spigot of fossil fuels. .

Mandate development needs to be collaborative. The public deserves an opinion. Most importantly, climate mandates must be designed and implemented in true partnership with indigenous communities because Canada has a long history of imposing “emergency” mandates on indigenous nations in ways that caused great harm. In the future, this should be about who invokes emergency commands.

In the summer of 2017, for example, devastating wildfires swept through interior BC. The province declared a state of emergency and ordered people to leave their homes. But the Tsilhqot’in Nation near Williams Lake defied the evacuation order. Not having been properly consulted, they rightly refused to hand over their homes in their own unceded territory. It was a complicated and dangerous situation, but it also turned out to be a learning experience.

The following spring, in anticipation of more summers to come, the tsilhqot’in signed a “first of its kind” agreement with the provincial and federal governments recognizing the First Nation as a full partner in responding to the wildfires. The nation has trained its own firefighters, they now have extensive experience with wildfires and now, they It will decide if and when to declare an emergency in its territory and how to respond.

The summer of 2018 was another terrible wildfire season, but this time, the local response was much smoother. This new joint emergency protocol is very different from the state heavy-handedness that many First Nations have historically experienced. Perhaps here lies a model of how to reconcile climate emergency response plans with indigenous title and rights.

COVID and climate: similarities and differences

There are similarities when it comes to COVID and climate mandates. Both require listening to scientists and health experts, and both face an onslaught of misinformation.

Both require us to make changes, including some sacrifices and limits on our absolute freedoms for the sake of collective and social well-being, and to protect the safety of others, be it the vulnerable and the elderly in the case of COVID, or our children and future generations or communities that are more vulnerable today in the case of the climate.

But there are also some important differences, and they should provide some comfort for the road ahead.

Climate mandates are different from many pandemic health orders in that climate regulations primarily target businesses, not individuals. Where COVID orders required people to roll up sleeves, wear face coverings and, in some cases, forego income, climate requirements will be directed at automakers and sellers, building developers and heating installers, and the industry itself. All of that provides less fodder for widespread popular resistance.

And this is possibly the most important difference between the pandemic and climate emergency mandates: people talk about COVID fatigue, and that’s real. The things we have been asked to do in response to the pandemic are anathema to all of our social instincts: isolate ourselves, stay home, keep our distance, mask up. That is hard. No wonder most of us desperately want to end it all.

The good news about climate mobilization is that it calls us to do the exact opposite: get out there and do something great together! Surely the vast majority of us are ready to embark on that.

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