Thinking Big In A Time Of Climate Crisis

Scott Vrooman delivered the following speech in Toronto on March 29, at a public Town Hall meeting on The Leap Manifesto that was hosted by Members of Provincial Parliament Peter Tabuns and Cheri DiNovo.

Before I cynically sold out to become a comedy writer, I was an economist. It turns out it wasn’t that big of a jump, because when it comes to climate change, mainstream economics is kind of a joke. But like an unfunny, slightly racist joke.

To get into the same headspace as mainstream economists, politicians, and media, you have to unlearn some stuff you learned as a kid. For example, I learned what the atmosphere was in elementary school. But when I took economics, I learned that if something isn’t owned, it doesn’t exist. So poof, the atmosphere was gone. Then I got my degree and was free to be a serious professional who spoke in authoritative tones and who looked great in a tie.

But then I started reading about climate change and I remembered oh yeah, the atmosphere. And after reading some more, I realized that the world I learned about in economics textbooks isn’t the real world. It’s an absurd world, where you cut down a tree and it’s not a cost, it’s a revenue. A world where you poison a river, and call it growth. And a world where Rex Murphy is to be venerated and respected, rather than put out to pasture, to rant at passing cows about the church of global warming.

And when you base decisions on an absurd world that doesn’t really exist, you end up with a lot of absurd decisions.

You end up with companies spending billions of dollars to search for new fossil fuel reserves that can’t be burned.

You end up with a National Energy Board staffed mostly by oil industry professionals. If the pipeline review process in Canada was a cutest baby competition, we’ve hired the baby’s moms to be judges.

You end up with university administrators sounding like bankers, saying they can’t divest from fossil fuels because they have a duty to generate reasonable returns for their investors. Meanwhile the Rockefellers are sounding like the Pope while they explain why they divested.

And you end up with the Globe and Mail describing the Leap Manifesto as “madness.” A document that proposes caring for one another and caring for the planet is, from their point if view, insane. And then they dusted off their cold-war rhetoric. “Know who else has manifestos? The Reds!”

So part of the problem is this inability of leaders to adjust their mindset to the reality of climate change, because their mindset isn’t based in reality. But another part of it is a lack of imagination.

Our political leaders aren’t creative people. Just listen to their speeches. They sound like they were spat out by an algorithm that’s programmed with words like “change” and “together” and “great nation” but the programmers forgot to put in any actual ideas.

But imagination is what we need right now. Because just as important as moving away from fossil fuels is having a vision to move towards. And the Leap Manifesto provides that vision. It’s a radical document, and it has to be, because our economy has radicalized our climate. So if we want to respond appropriately, we’ll need to do some things radically different. Because if it’s a war between our economy and the laws of nature, we will get our asses kicked.

But it’s not just future suffering we need to worry about, there’s plenty of suffering from poverty and inequality going on right now in Canada, which is inexcusable in a wealthy country. And what’s awesome about the Leap is that it focuses on solutions that solve multiple problems at once.

And because of that, we see all these different movements coming together under the Leap banner. Groups are showing up for each other’s actions, forming relationships, and combining forces into a movement of movements. And that’s crucial because as the slogan of the People’s Climate March put it, “To change everything, we need everyone.”

The Leap isn’t just about respecting the Earth, it’s about respecting each other. I think it’s reasonable, doable, and our best chance at survival. And if that’s “madness,” then I invite you all to join me in the asylum.

Photograph by Robert van Waarden/Survival Media.

Scott Vrooman has written and performed comedy for TV, radio, and the web. His sketch group Picnicface broadcast 13 episodes of a sketch series on Canada’s Comedy Network (here are Scott’s sketches). He was a professional economist at Finance Canada and the Atlantic Provinces Economic Council before pursuing comedy full time.