T130. Climate as War

 

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Project Save the World Podcast / Talk Show Episode Number:  130
Panelists: Seth Klein
Host: Metta Spencer

Date Aired:  21 September 2020
Date Transcribed and Verified:  14 May 2021
Transcription: Otter.ai
Transcription Review and Edits:  David Millar

 

Metta Spencer  

Hi, I’m Metta Spencer, today I have a real treat, I get to have a conversation with an old friend that I haven’t really had a good talk with for 25 years, has it been, something like that. And this is Seth Klein. And when I knew Seth, he was a high school kid traveling around Canada, trying to tell high school students why they should oppose nuclear weapons. Boy, he did a great job of it, and with three of his high school friends, and I one time I had to go away and I was teaching at the university had a course, which I thought would be fun for him. So, he pitched it for me. When I went away, he taught my course for a while. And I got good reports on how it was that this high school teacher, high school kid! was teaching my undergraduate class. And really, they were lapping it up. Anyway, hello, Seth Klein.

Seth Klein  

Hi, Metta. Nice to see you. After all this time,

Metta Spencer  

it is wonderful to see you. And this is a time for us to get caught up. If you the audience don’t mind a little bit. I want to find out what’s happened to the last 25 or so years? Because I do know what you’ve been doing for something like 22 of those years. You were the director of what is it called the

Seth Klein  

Canadian Center for Policy alternatives in British Columbia?

Metta Spencer  

Yes, it has to be one of the great if not the greatest Canadian think-tank, right?

Seth Klein  

Well, I think so. Yeah, I finished up school University in Toronto, when you and I knew each other. And I very, very briefly taught high school in Toronto, and then I moved out here. And I I was a teacher fleetingly… and then went back to grad school. And I was hired to open up the BC office of the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives in the mid-90s. And I spent 22 years there, until I decided to leave a year and a half ago… and write a book.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah. Well, I’ve had a good look at your book. I can’t say pretty long book.

Seth Klein  

Did… here’s the book.

Metta Spencer  

Yes. That’s great. It’s wonderful. Love the title “A Good War”.

Seth Klein  

…I was nervous that you’d hate it. 

Metta Spencer  

Oh, no, I almost, I was going to write a book called the good fight.

Seth Klein  

Oh, here we go. Okay.

Metta Spencer  

But I never, I don’t think I ever did any of it. I was just thinking about it. But anyway, that’s a good title. And, yeah, because, you know, they, they talk about World War Two, as the “good war”. And you have to say, if there ever was a good war, a justifiable war, and we could spend our rest of our life talking about that World War II, it has to be one that is pretty hard to see how you could escape that.

Seth Klein  

Yeah. Well, and so I’m an unlikely person, as we both know, to have written a war story. And because as you said, in the intro, I, as a kid, I cut my political teeth in the peace and disarmament movement. I’m actually the child of Vietnam War resisters, that that’s why I’m Canadian, my parents moved to Montreal, pregnant with me when my dad was drafted. So I, I’m as surprised as anyone that I’ve written a war story. And I should say, I didn’t initially intend to, I left the CCPA intending to write a book on the climate crisis, increasingly alarmed about the climate crisis, and increasingly alarmed by this persistent harrowing gap between what the science says we have to do, and what our politics seems prepared to entertain. And what can we do about that? And how can we close that gap? I had always intended to include a chapter on World War Two. Because I’ve always just been intrigued by the fact that we retooled the whole economy so quickly during World War Two. And to me, you know, all of us who wonder, you know, can we really do this in time? You know, the answer is, yeah, we can, because we’ve done it before. In fact, we did it twice in six years, once to ramp up more… production and another time to reconvert. The peace time. But the more I delved into that research, the more I kept seeing these parallels all over the place, and not just with respect to that economic conversion, and ultimately decided to structure the whole book around lessons from the Second World War. So hence, the title, the good war, “a good war” mobilizing Canada for the climate emergency

Metta Spencer  

Well, a person actually could… get pretty good history, just you know, if you only read the book for the history, it would be an interesting thing.

Seth Klein  

Yeah, I enjoyed the history part of it. And so, every chapter jumps back and forth in time. It’s each chapter is really kind of one-third history book and two-thirds present climate emergency… but tries to pull out these lessons. And so as a structure, you know, how did we mobilize public opinion, for the second world war, lessons for today? How did we forge unity across Confederation, lessons for today? How did we organize the economy, lessons for today? How do we mobilize labor, lessons for today? What did we do for returning soldiers? …is that a model for just transition for fossil fuel workers today? How did we pay for it then, lessons for today? What was the role of civil society and indigenous people and youth, then and now, and importantly, because it is a war story, one of the cautionary tales? So… I spend the bulk of the book lauding what we did, and the speed and scale of it, we also have to go eyes wide open into this, about the things that happened that caused a [unclear audio – potentially ‘schism’] and that we wouldn’t want to repeat. And so, the book deals with that, too.

Metta Spencer  

But you know, because I am American, also. And I still have dual citizenship. By the way, I don’t know, what do your parents,

Seth Klein  

My parents are dual citizens…  I used to have dual citizenship. But I gave up my US citizenship some time ago.

Metta Spencer  

But you know, I was brought up during the war, I remember forward, I remember Pearl Harbor very well. And I remember moving around and working in the… army camps, and so on. So World War Two is very vivid for me, but it’s the American experience, and not the Canadian experience. And I think both countries were amazing in the mobilization, the rapidity of this extraordinary capacity that we built in no time. But then I learned a few things about Mackenzie King and CD Howe, who was unknown to me. So, I appreciate having this kind of little history lesson, which I never got, because we didn’t go school here.

Seth Klein  

Right… the book is very much written for Canadians and rooted in our history, and the realities of Canadian Confederation and realities of indigenous rights and title here, and, and the realities of our current political context. But you’re right too that there are … similarities and important differences around the US and Canadian mobilization… what they have in common, I think… — because in the context of climate… so many people think like our politicians, just seem to be in denial about this, and nothing ever seems to happen. And so, I took some solace from the fact that in both Canada in the US, our leaders then too were not keen to do this. And were really blind to the threat before them until the 11th hour. And even more so in the US. So… people will often, when I would tell them, I was writing this book, they would say, Oh, well, back then everyone understood the threat to be clear and present. Well, no, actually, they didn’t, especially not if you were in North America and — Canada, interestingly, didn’t wait on the United States. So, Canada declared war two years before the United States, and for a long time was the only country in the Western Hemisphere to have declared war. The US did require an attack on its soil… before they did, I think… that we, the US would not have entered the war except for Pearl Harbor. Well… who’s to know in hindsight, it I do in the chapter on how we mobilize public opinion. I note that, that, you know, there’s a section in there about the role of the media and the US media, particularly the CBS news crew with Edward R. Murrow, certainly played an important role in shifting us opinion about entry into the war, even before Pearl Harbor. They are… largely credited with a 20% shift in public opinion about entering the war, even before Pearl Harbor. And that helped lay the ground — 

Metta Spencer  

no one news channel or broadcast. —

Seth Klein  

— CBS News. And you know, because back when you were a kid, everyone listened to the same news, right, and would gather around the radio and would hear those reports. And, in fact, throughout the book, I tried to make a point of these amazing people who, in the face of a crisis, decided to break the rules. And there’s an interesting story about Edward R. Murrow in that regard, which is that on the eve of the Nazi invasion of Poland… the bosses at CBS headquarters in New York had decided there had been too much bad news. And so, they cabled Edward R. Murrow who is the CBS man in London, and they say look, all the European bureau chiefs… you’re gonna have a big song and dance show… highlighting all of the popular music across Europe, you know, liven things up a little. And Murrow calls his counterpart at CBS office in Berlin, and he says, look, we’ve just been told by headquarters that this is what we’re going to do, and we’re not going to do it. And instead, they were there on the ground, covering the Nazi invasion of Poland, and then spent the next two years shifting American public opinion. But also, the US, you know, it’s I’m sorry to spend so much time on the US, but they were planning all through those two years. And so, when you think about the speed of the change, consider this. Pearl Harbor happened in December of ’41. And the US declared war in February of 42… two months later, the last civilian automobile, came off the assembly line in Detroit. And for the next five, four years, the production and sale of the private automobile in the US, the center of car culture, was effectively illegal. Now, those plants were all busy. And all those workers were busy doing something else. But that’s… what I’m trying to get out of the book… what does it look and feel like when we actually treat an emergency as an emergency?

Metta Spencer  

Well, already, you’ve given the answer. There was already work for them, there was something for them to do, you didn’t just lay off. That’s right. I think maybe that’s, that’s something we’d better think about it… it can’t be done in a haphazard way. You can’t just lay off people and hope somebody else thinks to hire them. 

Seth Klein  

That’s right, you got to plan, you got to plan. Now, the good news with the climate emergency is that there’s a great deal of work that’s going to need to be done. But it needs to be coordinated, needs to be planned. And we need to make sure that… it’s not all the same jobs in the same places, and so that people are supported through that transition. But again, let me come back to Canada to give a sense of why I think we can do this. In World War Two, Canada was a population of a little over 11 million people –of that base, over a million people enlisted. And more than that were directly involved in military production. And they all had to be trained up, and they all had to be reconverted back to peacetime afterwards. That is far, far more people than are currently employed in fossil fuel production in Canada today, with a population more than three times larger. So, we need to approach it with the same level of ambition, but actually, it’s not as big a job. Hmm.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, talk about the money too. By the way, did you major in economics or some because your work has always been, at least at the [CCPA] you’ve been dealing with economic issues more than anything else, right?

Seth Klein  

Yeah, well, my undergrad was in International Relations at your university, and so that was partly economics. And I did my MA in political economy. So… it was a major focus of my work at the CCPA.

Metta Spencer  

Good, because you can actually add and subtract, and I have a little trouble with that. But I do have some questions about cost, you know, if we are wanting to make this emergency… react to it as an emergency, which I we’re not going to have any argument about that… And I think that public opinion now is coming around to seeing that, Oh, my God, the forest fires are going to get us if nothing else, or the floods or whatever.

SK]  

I don’t know… I did some polling as part of my book research, which affirms what you’re saying, the terrain has shifted in the last two years in public opinion in Canada, and a majority of Canadians do see climate as an emergency. And I actually think are ahead of our politicians on this front.

Metta Spencer  

I tend to agree, I don’t know why that happens. I mean, we live in a democracy. And yet sometimes it sure doesn’t look like it. You know, the responsiveness of our government…  usually leaves much to be desired, I think somehow. But I also was talking to, by the way, last week, I did an interview with two people about Project Drawdown. So, I’m very much thinking about these days about climate change and about things like the various things that need to be done to get us there, to the point where we have this inflection point and start having less carbon in the air.

Seth Klein  

You were asking about cost?

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, the first thing I asked them, I knew the answer, but I asked them anyway, at to tell me how much this is going to cost if we actually do this stupendous effort. Now, let me ask you.

SK]  

Well, I have a figure that I proposed in the book, Nicholas Stern has said that what we need to spend is something on the order of 2% of GDP, specifically on climate mitigation measures and infrastructure. I think we should be spending more than that, because I actually think we should be embracing something like the Green New Deal for Canada. And that’s not just climate infrastructure, it’s also the social infrastructure. It’s also the… childcare and the housing that tackle inequality. So, let’s double that. Let’s say it was 4% of GDP. In the Canadian context, that’s about $100 billion a year. And we can absolutely do that for a number of years. Interestingly, in it, all of this pales, again, in comparison to what we had to do in the Second World War. In the Second World War, Canada’s GDP doubled out of… that spending, and Canada’s debt-to-GDP ratio at the end of the Second World War was 108%. So… that remains an historic high, and yet it… presaged this 30-year period of record economic performance. So let me compare it to COVID. Right. So, in response to COVID, we are seeing… the government acting like it’s an emergency. And what happens in an emergency is you spend what you have to spend — CD Howe famously said in World War Two, when pressed about the spending, if we lose, nothing will matter. And so the government is spending what they need to spend… the federal deficit this year is going to be over $300 billion, the debt-to-GDP ratio is going to increase about 15%, from about 35% to 50%. But that’s still half what it was at the end of the Second World War. But the other thing that’s happening now, in response to COVID, which we haven’t seen since the Second World War, the role of the Bank of Canada: the Bank of Canada has been buying up $5 billion in government securities a week, since the start of the pandemic. And their holdings of Canadian government debt have increased in just the last few months from about 15% of the total to almost 35% of the total.

Metta Spencer  

Alright, so don’t leave here. I hear you. But I really don’t know what that means. Why would they what it means is we’re

Seth Klein  

well, what it means is that the Bank of Canada is effectively creating money hand over fist, and that all of this government deficit spending, we’re seeing in response to COVID is effectively us borrowing from ourselves — the Bank of Canada is our own crown Corporation, which will mean inflation. Well, so the risk of it, of creating money in that way is that it would produce inflation, or that it would collapse.

Metta Spencer  

What I’d heard, that’s almost the definition of how you get inflation.

Seth Klein  

Yes… except that no economist right now believes inflation is a threat. Because… the other parts of the economy are battered so badly. It only becomes a risk of inflation, if the creation of money exceeds the capacity of the economy. But there’s so much slack in the economy right now, because everyone’s been so battered by COVID, that there’s no risk at all, the only other risk would be that your currency becomes devalued… but the good news is because everyone’s in the same boat, that’s not happening either. So … they’re able to issue bonds and securities at incredibly low interest rates that we haven’t seen since the Second World War. All of which means there’s actually zero reason not to be spending like gangbusters right now. And I would say the good news, actually, is that as we turn our attention to COVID recovery, I think there’s actually fairly wide agreement across the political spectrum and among economists, that the recovery is going to have to be state-led for the simple reason that the private sector is going to be in no position to do so. They’ve been too whacked. And the only real debate is going to be what form will that government investment take? Will it be investment to rebuild or restore the old, or will it be to catapult us into the new? That’s really the only debate.

Metta Spencer  

Well, let me move back and answer the question that I left dangling what they said about, you know what Drawdown? And his answer was, it won’t cost a cent, we’ll make money from it.

Seth Klein  

Well, these private sector —

Metta Spencer  

He… acknowledges, of course, that there’s money upfront, but that the long-term effect of all of these 100 interventions, or almost all of them, I think there are one or two exceptions, refrigeration being one. But almost all of the things that can be done… to solve the drawdown situation will actually save us money in the long run. And… they’ve got numbers, you know, for what it’s worth… I can’t calculate with them. But they do … make an effort to estimate how much the cost will be, and what the long-term effects will be.

Seth Klein  

So it depends…  there’s truth to parts of this. But I also think that we shouldn’t try to, you know, sell a false bill of goods to people, it is going to cost up front, we are going to have to spend, and our governments are going to have to spend, to expedite the transition, just as they did in the Second World War. Am I worried about that? No, I’m not worried about that at all. Now, it’s also true that a bunch of the spending has to be at the private level… whether it’s businesses or households spending themselves, to change how to electrify everything, basically. And it is true that some of that actually saves you money down the road. And so you know, I’ll give you personal… examples. I don’t drive a fossil fuel car anymore. I have an electric car, an electric bike. And I’ve gotten all the natural gas out of my house and replaced it with electric heat pumps. And with solar panels. Now the solar panels were pricey upfront, but to your point, they will save me money over time. They’ll pay for themselves three times over in reduced electricity costs. The switch off of natural gas to the electric heat pumps, is not going to save me money. Because electricity is pretty cheap relative to natural gas, and it was expensive to get it done. The car costs money upfront, but it definitely saves money over time, and savings from having to buy gas and maintenance. So, are there savings… over time? Yes. — The bigger picture at a societal level, the argument I’m trying to make in the book, is that it’s a better life. You know, when… we build communities where you don’t even need cars, because everything that you need is closer by and… you save on insurance and all of those things. When… your health is better, when you’re eating better. The savings to the healthcare system are better. And… it’s a good life. But I don’t want to be an ingenue about the fact that we do require billions of dollars up-front investment. And where I get a little worried about, you know, some there’s definitely a school within the climate movement that basically says it’s a money-making opportunity, and the private sector is going to lead us out of this. And I disagree with that strongly… this is going to have to be state-led. And again, that was the key lesson out of the Second World War, the private sector had a big role to play in military production in the Second World War. But what it wasn’t allowed to do is to determine the allocation of scarce resources, because we don’t do that in an emergency. CD Howe, who you mentioned off the top who was no lefty… I mean, he was on the right wing of the Liberal Party. But he created 28 crown corporations to get the job done. He was carefully controlling and coordinating all the necessary supply chains to… prioritize military production,

Metta Spencer  

I noticed that… you recommend the creation of at least one crown Corporation in each sector. Explain what you would mean by that. And… how many sectors are there. And what would these crown corporations do for us? Why do we need?

Seth Klein  

Well, so let’s go back to what CD Howe did… a private sector guy. He’s happy to give contracts to his private sector friends, but he’s an engineer in a hurry, and he’s seized with the emergency of the Second World War. And so anytime the private sector couldn’t quickly do what he needed done, he created another crown corporation. But… also remember there was nothing in the way of military production to speak of in Canada before the Second World War. And so, he’s letting all these contracts out to the private sector and nobody actually knows what it costs. Now, the risk when no one knows what it costs, is that these private sector contractors are going to bilk you. So, what does he do? He creates a crown basis. In each major defense sector, in airplanes and ships… in arms production, in vehicles, so that he has a public sector comparator and knows what it actually costs. And you know, that was the same logic behind the government’s creation of Petro Canada… in the 70s, you want to have a public competitor to kind of keep an eye on these things. And make sure some of the returns go to the public. So, when I looked at… how it was done in the Second World War, I kind of went through this exercise of saying, okay, by the same logic, what would those new- generation crown corporations be today. And I think we should do what CD Howe did, we should first of all take an inventory of everything we’re going to need to decarbonize our society, how many electric buses, how many electric heat pumps, how many solar arrays, how many wind farms, and then you do a survey of what production capacity exists. And then you figure out how to fill the gap. And… often that will, that should take the form of a crown Corporation — to maximize the benefit. I’ll give you another personal example. I mentioned before that we just went through the process my wife and I have of getting the natural gas out of our house and getting electric heat pumps. Now it was expensive. And it was, frankly, more expensive than it should have been. I had lots of contractors in the house giving me prices and this kind of thing. And you kind of feel the same way you do, every time you try to take a car to a mechanic and you never know what you can believe. So, what-if, and it’s all expensive, because it’s all important. So what if we had a crown Corporation, that was mass producing HFC-free electric heat pumps in Canada, get the profit margin out, get the economies of scale, have an army of installers who go to your house and tell you how to do it, where you can have confidence that nobody’s trying to pull the wool over your eyes, you could shave 1000s of dollars off the cost of making this switch, at a household level?

Metta Spencer  

It’s gonna be hard to sell.

Seth Klein  

You think?

Metta Spencer  

Well, in the capitalist society,

Seth Klein  

Yeah. Well… it’s interesting, you should say that… one of the barriers to change, I think we face… (I spend a section of the book talking about it) is the legacy of neoliberalism that has sapped our imagination and our ambition. And so, when you think well, why isn’t the government spending what it needs to spend? Why aren’t they investing? Why is it that even NDP governments in Alberta until recently, and here in British Columbia where I am, aren’t creating new crown corporations like they used to, to tackle this emergency? And it’s because, you know, neoliberalism is hard. And… it’s there, like a shadow over all across the political spectrum, telling these governments that the only thing they can do is incentivize change. But here’s the point about an emergency, we’ve all just experienced it with the pandemic, in an emergency, you’re liberated, you spend what you have to spend, you create whole new institutions like the CERB. And that’s what we need to do for climate.

Metta Spencer  

But look, in terms of the downfall of neoliberalism, I’m going to predict… I think there are really… two issues that maybe you need to speak to, because it’s becoming conscious in the in the general public, population. One is that corporations are not exactly democratic. Not exactly accountable to anybody, and you know, pretty, pretty too big for their britches. So we have to do something to tame corporations. And I think more and more people are aware of that as a real problem, which they wouldn’t have been 15 years ago. And the other is the question, which I don’t think you’ve addressed yet. Is all of this going to, or is the progress of technology and automation that, kill the jobs that already exist? And what do we need to do to create jobs or at least to create the income that jobs have? There’s… the COVID experience and the government payout for helping unemployed people, or people in feeling the pinch, has demonstrated that there can be there can be something like a universal basic income. And that I think is going to happen. I just predicted something like that will happen. It makes sense. So we have you know what that leaves you with? What do you do about corporations anyway? Regardless of whether it’s an emergency or not, we’ve got a threat to democracy on a lot of fronts. Not just that, but one of them is corporations.

Seth Klein  

Right, we got to do the solution. Well, and it’s interesting… just today, actually, my old friends at the CCPA published a little report that the 20 wealthiest Canadians have seen a jump in their wealth since the beginning of the pandemic, of $37 billion dollars. So, inequality is a theme that runs through all of this, and it is a barrier to mobilization as well as a threat to our democracy. And so, this… is, again, one of the areas where the more I started to learn about that World War II history, the more fascinating I found it. So, let’s go back even further in history. In… the First World War, much like in this pandemic, there had been rampant and grotesque profiteering. And that profiteering had undermined social solidarity and had undermined recruitment efforts in the First World War, and it had led to the government having to bring in conscription. Because what did it mean, to have some people volunteering their lives, while other people are making a killing? Mackenzie King was acutely aware of all of this at the beginning of the Second World War. He had lived through it, he had been in Laurier’s cabinet, he had seen how the conscription crisis had torn apart the country and his party. And so one of his principal political objectives… at the outset of the Second World War, was to avoid mandatory military conscription. So, he has this formidable challenge, then, how do you get hundreds of 1000s of people to voluntarily offer up their lives. And you need social solidarity for that, and he knew it. So, he starts to bring in these incredible measures to tackle inequality. And to prevent profiteering, the corporate tax rate in World War Two went from 18 to 40%. They brought in an excess-profits tax, that was extraordinary. You know what, this is how they did it, they went back to the four years before World War Two. And for every industry, they looked at the profits in those four years, still Depression years, right, they averaged it out. And they said to every business big and small in the land, that’s your annual limit until the end of the war. Really, it was meaning, not only did the corporate income tax rate go from 18, to 40% — but once you hit that average from before the war, your marginal tax rate was 100%. And businessmen at the time, you know, gave speeches to their colleagues about why they had to suck it up and accept this, because this is what it means to confront an emergency. And then on the flip side, World War Two also saw even though we were dealing with all of the spending needs of military production, and all these other things, …. shades of a Green New Deal, they also brought in the first major income transfer programs in Canadian history, unemployment insurance comes in, in 1940. The family allowance comes in, in 1944. The Marsh report, which is really… the report, that is the architecture of the whole postwar Canadian social welfare state is written during the Second World War. And it becomes part of a promise that the King government has to make frankly, or they’re going to lose an election to the CCF… to all of these people who they’re asking to enlist and all of these soldiers overseas, we promise that you will return to a different country than the one that you left. That’s how you mobilize people. So I think we need to do that, again, as part of this, and that means tackling inequality, it means we need excess-profits taxes.

Metta Spencer  

Again, the Green New Deal.

Seth Klein  

… something like a Green New Deal. And by the way, in the opinion poll I referenced before you see the power of this. So not only in the polling I did with Abacus research, do you find very high levels of support for bold climate action in Canada? But when you ask people additionally — well, would you become more or less supportive, if we increased transfers to low-income households? If we offered a good-jobs guarantee to fossil-fuel workers, if we increase taxes on the wealthy and corporations — support for that bold climate action doesn’t go down, it goes through the roof.

Metta Spencer  

Well, my friend, explain Donald Trump to me then,

you know, well,

Metta Spencer  

I mean, my friend Airlie Hochschild… her book “Strangers in their Own Land” was the really the thing that that made me rethink everything I kind of assumed about political allegiance? I mean, yeah, she shows very obviously, she starts off with the point that the red states in the US are the states that need the most government support… and help and they are the most opposed to it. Yeah. And here you have a large proportion of the electorate deciding that they are voting for things that are absolutely diametrically opposed to their own interests. So this is why irrational and it’s based on nothing, but some sort of, you know, joining a, you know, you do you support this baseball club, or the other one,

Seth Klein  

You know… not completely irrational. This is, this is why I think the power, this is the power and importance of the Green New Deal. It’s why tackling the climate emergency has to be linked to inequality. And it speaks to the failure of the US Democratic party establishment. When you fail to link the need for these things to inequality, then you allow climate change, to be presented as an elitist project, which is exactly what Donald Trump did.

Metta Spencer  

yeah, but it’s worse than that. I mean, these are people who know that out in their backyard… people are dumping wastes that have killed the members of their own family, and they know that, that has died because of it. And if you say, don’t you want the EPA to come in and clean this up? They’ll say no. So, this is this has to be irrational, in any sense of the word.

Seth Klein  

Yeah. Well, if people are hurting, you know, I see these parallels, again, to this pre war period, right? We live in this moment, where things can go either way. And look at the 1930s and the economic despair across the world, then, the economic despair that gave birth, both to the New Deal and Roosevelt in the United States, and elected Hitler. Right, in the same way, that we live in a time that that holds up the promise of a Green New Deal, at the same time as it elects Donald Trump and Duterte and Bolsonaro, and all the rest of these guys, and Modi, and all of the rest of these people… they’re all speaking to the same anxiety. And this same feeling of alienation and rejection that so many people feel — one set of people are offering up scapegoats the other and animating our worst selves, and another set of people are trying to animate our best selves,

Metta Spencer  

I would have to say probably, the Democratic leaders are not completely crazy when they say we can’t try to promote Bernie and or the Green New Deal. We have to go with some moderate, like, Biden, and Biden, as you know, is trying to still win over the folks who voted for Trump.

Seth Klein  

I hope they’re right. I hope they’re right. But I I’m somebody who believes that Bernie could have won four years ago.

Metta Spencer  

I know that he could I’m sure that he could have won against Hillary.

Seth Klein  

I mean, they’re never against Trump. And Trump isn’t the point. If he hadn’t won. If he had won, then

Metta Spencer  

he could have beaten Trump.

Seth Klein  

But that’s the point. Because

Metta Spencer  

now I don’t know. I mean, maybe they’re right in choosing Biden now, rather than —

Seth Klein  

What’s done is done. And I hope you’re right. But… that’s sort of ancient history now four years ago, but partly what made Hillary Clinton an awful candidate, is that the things that were said about her and the elitism and the fact that the Democratic Party didn’t give a hoot about ordinary people, were true… But if it had been Trump and Bernie Sanders, who both were speaking to that feeling of alienation and inequality and corporate power, people could have voted for the real deal.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah. Okay, we’re gonna find out some things. And I don’t know, the other question is whether the pandemic is going to change public opinion in any radical way. And I don’t see it happening yet. Oh, well,

Seth Klein  

This is where, you know, just to bring it back to my book… the timing of all of this has been so weird, Metta. I wrote my book before the pandemic; I had shipped my book off a final copy… three days before the pandemic. And the whole premise of my book was that we needed this historic reminder of how quickly we’re capable of moving when we see crises as the emergency as they are. And then the pandemic hit, and now we’re all living through that reminder in real time, we’re all experiencing it. And it’s been brutal for a lot of people. But I actually think in some ways and it has put… the climate emergency for now, at least off the front burner, I did quickly write a new epilogue to the book about COVID and all the parallels between the climate emergency and the pandemic and the war. And I think there are many. But I think in some ways we can, we will come out of the pandemic, well placed for the fact, that we all come out with a renewed appreciation for the importance of the role of government, we have a level of social solidarity and national unity that we haven’t had in a generation, we see the connections between inequality and these emergencies… and in terms of that government spending and the role of the Bank of Canada that I was talking about before the cat’s out of the bag… now, what we’ve been shown is what was possible all along, f the government had chosen to see these things as emergencies,

Metta Spencer  

well, that people say that about the basic income idea to, guaranteed annual income. But now we see that could have done that, you know, 10 years ago. And I don’t know whether that, but I haven’t seen any poll results showing remarkable changes now. It’s been six months, we’ve had this pandemic, so far. And I don’t know of any dramatic changes in public opinion. I do know that there’s, I’m really happy about the fact that people are actually, I think, instead of a less social interaction, I think there’s more social interaction. Now,

Seth Klein  

I know mic’s better than I ever did.

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, and zoom, I spend two, three hours a day on Zoom. And I’m not alone, you know. So, and, and I think this kind of conversation going on, is really a very important thing. I think too many people until recently have rushed out into the streets. It’s easy, you know, to mobilize people with Twitter or something, I say, come to such as a corner at such and such a time, and people will come, but they don’t know each other. And they don’t get acquainted, really, and they don’t build a movement that way. And the only way you can build a movement is by talking to each other, a long time together. And with these webinars, I think it’s happening. Yeah.

Seth Klein  

Some of that’s happening that way. And, you know, as we’ve seen, with this whole explosion of the Black Lives Matter stuff in the middle of the pandemic, sometimes when these crises intersect, people get out of the house anyway.

Metta Spencer  

I don’t see quite I mean, there’s no particular reason for me to think that the Black Lives Matter movement would have surged exactly when COVID did. 

Seth Klein  

Oh, no, I don’t mean that. I just mean that… when a crisis like that comes to the fore, even though we were all told to stop, shelter at home. 1000s of people came out of their homes to protest anyway. And have that face-to-face contact,

Metta Spencer  

and they can’t, so far, they don’t seem to have caused any upsurge. I think it’s because it was all out of doors.

Seth Klein  

It was outside. And I mean, I went to a couple of these protests and people wore masks, and they were pretty good.

Metta Spencer  

Mm hmm. Tell me what you think is going to happen by about automation? Because I don’t think you’ve really, I don’t remember seeing a lot of discussion about it in your book, that, you know, there’s a real discussion among my friends about whether or not to believe that we’re going to have a huge loss in jobs, or whether as with other changes in technology, and in throughout the period, period of industrialization, there will be new jobs that emerge to fill a teacup, for where the old ones left off. And I wonder what, what you think, are we going to have to find, make work or give people handouts? Or at, which I’m not necessarily opposed to at all. But or…? Do you think that that the economy will actually create conventional sense occupations?

Seth Klein  

I’m, I don’t pretend to be expert in this area. But I would say this is not an area that I’m hugely worried about, at least not for the next 30 years. Because actually converting our economies and societies for what we need to do, to get off fossil fuels is such a big job. But it’s going to involve a lot of work. I actually think our larger problem, once we get serious about a Green New Deal, our larger problem will be a labor shortage. And at least for a couple of decades. And then the other part of the Green New Deal is to say it isn’t just about electrifying everything and you know, switching technologies. It’s also about the caring economy, and valuing the things we’ve come to value in this pandemic, the care for children, the care for the elderly, all of these forms of work that we traditionally leave to women… immigrant women, we pay crap… but interestingly produce almost no carbon, no GHGs in the service economy that those operate in. And they are by definition, jobs that that that are done by humans. That’s how we care for each other.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, and you put a lot of emphasis out really, it’s important, the question of denial, and how we get people psyched up for this challenge. That’s something that I, I spend a lot of time trying to do. But I wouldn’t say I’m a roaring success in changing public opinion. And I just don’t really think we have a handle on that yet. This is where we need real leadership from our governments. The thing about World War Two is that you have to have a clear and consistent message. Whereas what we’re experiencing with climate is a lot of very confusing message.

Seth Klein  

You know, when Justin Trudeau passes a climate emergency motion in the House of Commons one day, and reapproved the Trans-Mountain pipeline expansion the very next day, that’s confusing to people. In fact, why do we even, you know, one of the points I make in the book, why do we allow advertising for fossil fuel cars and gas stations? We don’t for tobacco, because that’s confusing. What does it mean to tell people that it’s an emergency, and then they see these ads? And… overall, what our federal government and provincial governments have been saying to people, unlike what they said in World War Two, is you don’t have to choose, you don’t have to decide, we can tackle climate. And we can still double down and expand tar sands production and LNG in my province. And that’s not being straight with people. But it’s an attractive message, right? Because nobody wants to make hard choices. And so that perpetuates that sense of denial, and the mainstream media play right along with it. None of which is what happened in World War Two. In World War Two, we were much clearer about it. And the media was clear about… you want the media to be factual and science-based. But when you’re facing a global civilizational threat, the media should pick a damn side. And, and too often they don’t. And too often they look, I mentioned some a poll that I didn’t do, but someone else did in the book. Even though the majority of Canadians say they want bold climate action, only about half of Canadians understand that the principal source of climate change is the combustion of fossil fuels. The level of who knows… often they just go right to plastics or recycling… the the level of basic literacy is atrocious. But that’s on the government and our other public institutions. If that’s true, they have to fix it. Right. In World War Two. We saw maps every night on the news. And on the radio where you saw you saw the battle lines, you knew what the threat was. Every night we gathered around the radio in Canada, you are in the States and Canada, everyone gathered around radio every night to listen to Lorne Greene, before he became a Hollywood actor. You know, in Bonanza and Battlestar Galactica, Lorne Greene was the voice of the CBC. Right through the Second World War, that great deep voice, it was called the voice of doom. And every night, Canadians across the country got the latest update from him. Where is that? Right? That’s how you start to tackle that confusion and that denial.

Metta Spencer  

Okay, now, I have to say there were two, three things that if I were writing your book, I would have done differently. Okay. As you know, I’m much more oriented toward International, doing things that are naturally transnational. I’m very interested in organizing activists around the world and bringing people together. That’s why I have these town halls in these meetings, like you, you know, I interview people in India or Russia all the time, that sort of thing. So I think that I would love to see a future effort to link Canada much more into the world and look at Canadian policies, income, in… the context of global trends. Another thing that I’m I was, I wasn’t opposed to your title for the book a good war, because I think that’s great. But I have to say that neither you nor the Green New Deal people in general, make any major reference to the importance of demilitarization as a, as a component of the kinds of reforms that we have to do. I don’t think we can solve climate change without cutting back on our military. And I think that not only for the reason that that’s where all our money is going. But… it’s a stupid way to waste money. But also, because military production and the maintenance of a military force, it creates a lot of greenhouse gas.

Seth Klein  

Yeah, absolutely do it.

Metta Spencer  

So, I wish that we could hook up, hook your concerns up to some other concerns that I think… form more of a system, I mean, with our Project Save The World, we look at six different global threats, because we think they’re all related. And then we can’t solve any one of them without addressing at least one or usually two or three of the others, war and weapons, militarism being one, global warming being the other biggie. And then we have things like famine, pandemics, radioactive contamination, and cyber-attacks. And all of those together require economic changes of the kind that we’ve just been talking about. So it’s this, our economic issues are not irrelevant, what whatsoever, but they are these things, I think, are causally linked. And we should address them as such. Because there’s the solutions have to be as a system to

Seth Klein  

Yeah, I mean, well, so maybe I should have spent more time than I did on all of those things. Although I do think I actually spent some time on almost all of them…   — having lauded the creation of these 28 crown corporations — I do talk in one. of my favorite chapters in the book… on indigenous leadership and the climate mobilization. And, and importantly, a number of those crown corporations left this terrible, poisonous legacy on indigenous territory in Sarnia, and (into your point about nuclear radiation for the DNA) people in the Northwest Territories who were poisoned, is part of the… uranium they extracted for the Manhattan Project. And so the book does talk about that. Look, I wrote the book for Canadians, and about how we mobilize our country. But I do speak to the fact that this obviously is a global endeavor. And we have to do it… knowing that millions of good people around the world are doing the same thing in their countries, I was trying to speak directly to this voice that a lot of Canadians have in their head, which is… we’re just a small country, a small population, what we do doesn’t matter. And I want to say, first of all, it does matter. We have the highest per- capita emissions in the world. And that’s not counting what we extract and export to other countries. And to guess what, that’s not what we did in the Second World War, we entered two years before the United States, and before anyone else in the Western Hemisphere, and we were only 11 million people then. And at the end of the war, nobody doubted or questioned the importance of our contribution. So, let’s just do this.

Metta Spencer  

I love that that notion that you know, because in fact, I think Canadians are a little bit parochial. We couldn’t really be the leaders in the world. But we should.

Seth Klein  

But I, but I do want to reinforce what you said before… why is it that this… federal government that claims to get climate, and yet still doubles down on pipelines and tar sands expansion and so on. And they literally basically say, Well, if we don’t do it, if we if someone else is going to do it. And so, they’re all you know, to put this in international relations terms, they’re all caught in this classic prisoner’s dilemma of nobody wanting to be the chump… and doing what should what needs to be done only to be a sucker and have somebody else occupy that space. So, I speak to that in the book. And I actually mention something in the book that I’m now actually working on, you’ll be happy to know. We’re on a little bit of contract work on the side, which is this new initiative for a fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this. You will be hearing more about it. It is modeled on the original nuclear non- proliferation treaty and is an international initiative. And it is trying to speak to the fact that the Paris agreement has a fatal omission, which is that nowhere in the Paris agreement does it mention fossil fuels, oil, gas or coal.

Metta Spencer  

That is the realize that

Seth Klein  

— that’s the result of years of successful lobbying from those industries. And so the Paris Agreement only speaks to the demand side, how do we lower demand, and it doesn’t speak at all to the production side. And so, this initiative is saying we need a new international treaty, a companion treaty to the Paris Agreement. That is about ramping down production in a cooperative way. That gets us out of its a path out of the prisoner’s dilemma, effectively wonderful. And so, people can look, look up fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty online, you can find the web page. And I do also in the book, speak to the fact that one of the key lessons of the Second World War is that Canada is not an island. And we don’t do this alone. And we also have to see these international connections, the biggest of which is as a wealthy well, to really, first of all, is a wealthy country. What does this mean in terms of financial and technology transfers to the poor countries that are hardest hit by climate change? And secondly, you know, when I spoke earlier about the cautionary tales from the Second World War, one of which is how Canada responded to refugees before, during and after World War Two. And it was abysmal, as, as anyone who’s looked at this knows, right, and so what does that mean is we now face down the issue of climate migration? And that will be a defining issue of the next 40-50 years. And will we react? Will we replicate that shameful history again? Or will we act honorably this time?

Metta Spencer  

Yeah, if I hadn’t even gone there. That’s a hard one. a hard one to predict. Yeah. And in I had not heard about this fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty. I love it. But I wonder how it connects with something I have heard about, which is a campaign against subsidies for fossil fuels. And I don’t know whether you link the two but I was told that $5 trillion a year is spent a globally on subsidies for fossil fuels. That is, that is a place where we should publicize that number, you know, we should say this is how much we’re actually paying to keep the damn thing going.

Seth Klein  

Yeah, well, I do speak to that issue in the book. And that is a key piece of it. I mean, like all things you grab hold of this thing wherever you can. So, one piece of it is divestment. And other piece of it is getting rid of subsidies. I mean, whatever it takes to make these companies pay the full cost of the garbage they’re producing and, and make it on economic.

Metta Spencer  

You’re, doing well, my friend, I’m, I’m very, very happy about how you’ve spent your life so far. So, congratulations on your book.

Thanks. Oh, so I shouldn’t say people can go to my website, it’s just sethklein.ca. And you can order the book or just call your local bookstore

Metta Spencer  

In there, says…

Seth Klein

No, just sethklein.ca. And, you know, I think the book endeavors to be realistic about how serious this crisis is. But I also think it’s one of the more hopeful books on the subject. You will read.

Metta Spencer  

It’s one of the most fun to read I’ll tell you I mean, not Ha-ha, fun, but it entertaining in that you find things that you haven’t long before. The lovely, wonderful talking to you. Good. Let’s stay in touch. All right, no, no more 25 years in between. Thanks so much, Seth. Oh, good wishes. Bye bye.

Adam Wynne (Intro/Outro)  

This conversation is one of the weekly series talks about saving the world produced by peace magazine, and project save the world. Please visit our website at to save the world.ca where you can sign the platform for survival. A list of 25 public policy proposals that if enacted, would greatly reduce the risk of six global threats to humankind. Come back next week for another discussion of a serious global issue.