And We Will Transform Our Values – Ourselves Alongside, Composing, 08/07/2016

This weekend, I’m holding the first of what I aim to be several workshops on ecological policy and philosophy. It’s a part of my work with the New Democratic Party in Toronto, the first initiative entirely of my own design.

This is a rebuilding year for the NDP,* and that includes some fundamental discussions about where we’ll go as a political party. But in a broader sense, I think it’s also about what role the NDP will play in the wider progressive social movement to build a society free of racism and oppression of all kinds. 

* Which I hope turns out more like the Blue Jays and less like the Leafs.

That's bigger than any one political party, and a state institution like a political party can only be a powerful ally of such a movement. A means for that movement of universal liberation to achieve its goals of prosperity and freedom. I think the political party in Canada most amenable to that path is the New Democrats. 

One reason for that is how we treated the LEAP Manifesto. Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis’ program is a vague set of imperatives specifically focussed on the environmental, social, and economic impacts of climate change and how to fight it through radical emissions reduction and a rapid changeover to a renewable energy economy.

Toronto is a beautiful blend of green spaces and thick
urbanity. We have a lot of work to do yet if we want to
build a genuinely ecologically thriving city.
My workshops go beyond that because ecological issues in Canada encompass much more than emissions and climate shifts. And the real weight of our global ecological crisis require thinking about more than simply understanding issues and solving problems.

We need a significant transformation of how we think of ourselves, and our place in the world. Humanity has to become ecological in our self-conception, at every aspect of how we understand our lives. 

At a local level in Toronto, that means understanding how our actions constitute our environment, and how our environment structures the possibilities for our actions. Toronto is inescapably urban, though we do a much better job of including non-human spaces than many other comparable cities around the world.

But there are particular issues that Torontonians need to confront if we’re to work through how a Torontonian can conceive of herself as an ecological creature. I want to talk with people about their ideas of how to make urban infrastructure and architecture more green, how to incorporate the buildings, roads, and transit links of a city with the complex ecosystems of our rivers, lakes, and the parks that grow around them.

We have to figure out how we can fund this urban transformation into ecological urbanity. Or rather, how that transformation can fund itself. Because an economically viable program for anything has to generate wealth – no matter what form that wealth may take. 

The most conceptually difficult (and promising) idea in the LEAP Manifesto that I want to work through in these workshops is Klein’s concept of energy democracy. She calls this common ownership of energy resources and infrastructure. 

Now, this is different than public ownership, which is just another word for state ownership. State ownership of energy resources is a government institution that holds and operates our energy infrastructure in trust for the people. But it’s ultimately not accountable to the people. It serves the government, which betrays the people often enough that it can’t be trusted univocally.

Common ownership is the actual ownership of energy resources and infrastructure by the people who use it. How to coordinate that kind of radical energy democracy – the return of the commons in some of the most investment-heavy projects in human history – is one of the major problems that we face.

Antonio Negri, in Commonwealth, developed a detailed theory of this commons, but philosophy as usual falls a little short in figuring out how it would work in practice. Understanding that common ownership, its implications, and its mechanics will take a lot of work. A lot of discussion, probing and exploring all these ideas and their applications. Piece by abstract, difficult piece.

I love a challenge.
• • •
The first LEAPing Beyond workshop will take place this Saturday 9 July, from 12.30 to 2.30 at Colonel Sam Smith Park, by the corner of Kipling and Lakeshore in southeast Etobicoke.

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