With support for and opposition to climate action breaking down along ideological lines, British Columbia researcher and author Seth Klein is out with an important public service message for small-c conservative voters.
Klein, an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University whose forthcoming book focuses on climate mobilization lessons from the Second World War, points to a disconnect between traditional conservative values and the behaviour of self-styled conservative political leaders.
“You, who take pride in your country and are committed to protecting your children and grandchildren. You, who have faith in our innovative capacity. You, who treasure good governance and care about national security. Yeah, you,” he writes, in a recent opinion piece for The Tyee.
“I’m afraid it is time to abandon your so-called conservative ‘leaders’. These deniers who throw temper tantrums when told we need to take urgent action in the face of the climate emergency. These people don’t deserve you, and they don’t hold a candle to the conservative leaders of the Second World War—the last time our nation faced an existential threat.”
Klein recalls the national leaders of the day, from Canada’s Mackenzie King to Britain’s Neville Chamberlain, who initially dismissed the Nazi threat and avidly advocating appeasement with Hitler. “Consider it all an early form of threat denial,” he writes.
“Yet, despite the early reticence of Canada’s leaders, we did declare war in September 1939 and then set about the task of galvanizing public support, marshalling the armed services, and completely retooling the economy to meet the production needs of the wartime effort. And in the following five years, we did something extraordinary.”
That mobilization got off to a slow start, in what historians came to call the “Phoney War”, until Winston Churchill replaced Chamberlain’s “rudderless” leadership in the spring of 1940. “As with the Second World War,” Klein adds, “our Phoney War on climate change is about to end.”
And there’s another important parallel: when the war began, the outcome was not at all certain, and “similarly, we live today in an ambiguous time. We don’t know if we will win the climate fight, or that we will meaningfully act in time. But like those who sought to defeat fascism in the Second World War, we have to rally to the cause regardless.”
And rally we did: while Canadians today are being encouraged to think a small population can’t have much impact against the scale of the climate crisis, our ancestors took a different tack. “Canada was just a small country of 11.5 million people at the start of the Second World War. Yet, by war’s end, no one doubted the import of either our military or economic contributions.”
Which is the starting point for small-c conservatives to question politicians who “say we can’t transition our economy to meet the greatest existential threat of our time,” Klein writes. “Where is the courage and imagination of their predecessors?” Compared to a former Progressive Conservative party that once had climate leaders in its top ranks, “today’s Conservatives have chosen to opportunistically campaign against genuine climate policies, and to conspire with those who would block real action. They are scoundrels who would put your children at risk for electoral gain.”
He cites National Post columnist Andrew Coyne calling Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s climate plan “a prop” and “a work, essentially, of mischief—an intentionally pointless bit of misdirection,” while Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason writes it off as “a sad joke”. Environmental economist Mark Jaccard concluded the Conservative plan would deliver an increase in emissions.
“When crises, such as a war, call for real plans, we see clear actions and timelines and expected outcomes. Conservative leader Andrew Scheer’s climate document contains no such thing,” Klein tells small-c conservatives. “Your grandparents’ Conservative leaders, in the face of an ominous existential threat, rallied us and declared, ‘We can do this!’ In the face of today’s clear and present emergency, these man-baby Conservative leaders whine, ‘Don’t make me do it!’ You’re better than them.”