Why, I have often wondered, do political leaders who can command the power of national television spend so little time on what eco-theologian Thomas Berry has called The Great Story -- the issue of planetary survival? I find this silence maddening because environmental solutions are actually quite simple and reasonable. At last, in his first speech as leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada, Jack Layton went where few pols have dared to go. (And he went there in his characteristically gracious way. Instead of interrupting a convention floor debate for his order-of-the-day address, as party leaders usually do, he broke with tradition and waited while delegates adopted a resolution in support of Leonard Peltier.) Invoking what he called "our beautiful planet," Layton offered eco-solutions so well crafted that even the biggest corporate polluters would have trouble whipping up campaigns against them.
For almost the first time, a national audience heard about deep-water cooling and wind turbines as a strategy to phase out fossil fuels. They heard about the glories of train travel and how almost 3 million square metres of buildings have so far been retrofitted, saving 120,000 tons of greenhouse gasses, creating 3,800 person-years of work and cutting $19 million in costs.
And they heard a party leader attack the feds for failing to enact air emission standards as strict as California's. Why, Layton asked with mounting passion, do our politicians value the health of their citizens less than do their counterparts to the south.
I remember well how during the Bob Rae government some environmentalists refused to renew their NDP memberships, frustrated because even non-controversial parts of the green job agenda weren't taken seriously. This is unlikely to happen with solution-oriented Layton. While the media describe him as "slick," I think it's more accurate to say he's courageous. For over a decade, the labour movement, many members of whom are in the auto and resource sector, debated a transition fund to cushion workers who might lose their jobs in the move to a green economy. Layton brought this bold idea out of the back rooms and into his program.
It's to be hoped that social movements give him the support and cover he's going to need while embarking on his brave path as one of the most eco-conscious political leaders in the democratic world.