Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My 2nd bone to pick with Elizabeth May

Last week, Elizabeth May released the Green Party's environmental platform for October's election. A significant part of the platform was a carbon fee and dividend (CFAD) proposal lifted from their provincial Ontario counterpart's latest election campaign, much to my chagrin. CFAD puts a set price on carbon pollution and places the revenue in a dedicated account that is returned directly to households in the form of a carbon dividend cheque. CFAD would not affect other government programs or taxes. The details of the the Green CFAD proposal were not particularly popular in progressive circles; an editorial from the Vancouver Courier was quick to highlight some of the approach's weaknesses.

Here's where I'm at: yes, carbon fee; hells no, dividend.

Pigovian taxes work. Tax environmentally destructive practices in order to discourage them. 100% agree, but why on earth would the Canadian federal government inefficiently give carbon cheques back to the everyone 18 and over? Put the money in general revenue and offer quality public services. Recall that the Green Party supports the creation of a national basic income, which is in part justified by replacing inefficient OAS and EI administration with a Keynesian re-distributive $20 000 guaranteed income for all Canadians. CFAD seems disconnected to the overarching eco-social democratic ethos of the party, as led by Elizabeth May.

Beyond obvious inefficiency, I have four problems with CFAD.

1) Market-based solution for market-caused problem. 

Carbon cheques are justified by saying that they'll pad the impact of the inevitable rise in prices of carbon intensive goods and services. The point of a carbon fee is to discourage the consumption of these goods and services; it's counterproductive to mail out cheques that will only slow down much needed changes in destructive consumption patterns.

2) Over-simplified problem identification.

Managing the climate crisis will not occur in a vacuum. CFAD is not the 'silver bullet' policy to reverse/stall catastrophic climate change it's offered as in order to recruit broad political support. Given the Greens have no chance at forming government, all of their platform points need to be palatable as stand-alone policies. Enter problem: it takes an immense amount of privilege to advocate CFAD as a stand-alone policy. If you have the the time and mental capacity to debate the details of climate policy, you probably have safe drinking water and have eaten a couple good meals today. CFAD ignores the interconnections between colonialism, poverty, inequality, and climate crisis management. Check your privilege.

3) Inadequately re-distributive. 

Mental health, preventative health services like physiotherapy and massage, pharmacare, and public dental care are great initiatives that would create a more equal Canada. Go figure; they're expensive. I'd much rather fund these initiatives than receive carbon cheques via (e)mail.

4) Politically alienating.

Elizabeth May has led the Green Party from the left. This style of leadership is not consistent through Canadian Green history (ex. former leader Jim Harris, who endorsed John Tory for Toronto Mayor), but progressive leadership has undeniably seen the party rise to its highest level of success, and it's why I maintain party membership.

CFAD departs from the narrative of the Green Party being Canada's progressive party of principle. CFAD is a populist-libertarian policy designed to tweak, rather than replace Canadian neoliberalism. The policy says "we're going to put YOUR money back in YOUR pocket, so keep calm and carry on." This approach defies the styling of most party policy, which leans into social and economic justice. I'm not sure if CFAD is a calculated risk to recruit libertarian votes in British Colombia, where the party is competitive in several ridings, but I'm not alone in my disappointment in this departure from principled policy making.

No Canadian political party has an environmental plan without a glaring problem. The NDP are hawking a cap and trade model that would only work under perfect theoretical conditions; the Liberals support Keystone, and the Conservatives aren't even pretending to care. With the Greens regrettably advocating CFAD, there isn't even a clear a 'least of evils' winner on environmental policy.

Environmental policy highlights the shortcomings of partisan politics and the importance of public interest research. Best practices are rarely crystallized in party policy, and I hope that Canadians realize the importance of dedicating their activist and academic efforts to both formal and informal politics.

There is no planet B.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

RE: Reporting Gender & Sexuality

Dear Canadian Press,

I write to you today about the intersection of journalistic integrity, gender, and sexuality. Please understand this letter as a content suggestion for forthcoming editions of the Canadian Press Stylebook.

My analysis is informed by two critical perspectives. First, as a news consumer, I demand accurate and appropriate language from professional journalists. Second, as a feminist, I am concerned with the unjust power relations inattention to detail regarding the language used to describe gender and sexuality (re)produces.

I begin with the journalistic conflation of sex and gender. These words are not interchangeable, and their conflation is a regrettable source of inaccuracy and erasure in journalism. Gender is a social idea enacted through identity and expression. Sex is a physiological designation based on anatomic and genetic markers. Neither sex nor gender exist as binaries.

Sex exists on a single physiological spectrum between poles of male and female designations with an infinite combination of intersex possibilities between. Intersex bodies are both born and crafted. States administer the authoritative (re)classification of bodies as male or female following physical modification that conforms bodies to an arbitrary minimum threshold of compliance with social ideas of gender. Because sex markers are genetic as well as anatomic, a body can never completely transition from male to female or female to male, despite achieving legal designation affirming so.

Gender is a social context that propagates a set of socially and historically specific stereotypes. Gender expressions are the perceptions of bodies as gendered actors in an interconnected social world. Identities are personally determined social descriptions, which cannot be imposed by an onlooker. Gender identities, unlike sex, do not exist in a single spectrum from masculine to feminine. Conceiving gender as a single spectrum (re)colonizes bodies as per Eurocentric knowledge. Gender identity is a personally defined social characteristic that describes a person as situated on one or more points on any infinite number of culturally specific gender spectra each with an infinite number of possibilities along it's own spectrum. Self-determination is the only legitimate means to identify gender; identities require consent.

Too often male and female are described as genders; when in fact, they are sex designations. This inaccuracy is regularly imposed on the animal kingdom; journalists misreport animals by gender rather than sex. My cat, Onyx, is female, not feminine. Ethical journalism requires the mindful distinction between the use of sex and gender in reporting.

Ethical journalism also requires creating opportunity for interview participants to identify outside of binary gender. Journalists should begin their interviews with two questions: 1) How would you like to be gender identified in the article? 2) What is your preferred pronoun?

In exceptional circumstances where gender-identifying questions are unable to be asked or answered, gender expression can be ethically reported, if relevant to the story. Gender expression can be reported as per the dominant masculine-feminine spectrum of gender. How people are perceived in this context is an observation that a journalist can ethically report without committing an erasure.

Another source of erasure of occurs when journalists report gender and sexual diversity in groups. Diversity is under/misrepresented by a slew of acronyms each limiting the infinite range of human gender and sexual identities (LGBT, LGBTQ, LGBTTTPIAGQQ, etc.). Queer/trans* (or queer and trans*) fails as as appropriate descriptor because it allows for an infinite array of sexualities under the umbrella term "queer", but represents all of gender diversity under the politically loaded and limited term "trans*".

Trans* inadequately creates space for the self-determination of non-binary and indigenous-identified genders. Decolonizing journalism means creating a set of practices that work toward inter-epistemological pluralism; wherein, competing knowledge systems should be equally entitled to fair reporting. If this goal is to be met, the the political language choice of trans* needs to be understood as a narrative that oversimplifies gender as a combination of two inadequate Western ideas: a single masculine-feminine spectrum and trans-essentialism, the idea that the world exists as men and women and, regardless of the body you were born into, you have the right to be either.

"Queer and gender diverse" followed by a plural noun (students, activists, communities, etc.) is the most accurate language choice to describe the phenomenon of gender and sexual diversity in a group setting.

Lastly, I draw attention the misnomer of referring to a singular community characterized by gender and sexual diversity. Writers and reporters should pluralize queer and gender diverse *communities* so that language that more accurately reflects heterogeneity and the intersections of other social factors with gender and sexuality (religion, race, nationality, indigeneity, etc.).

It is a journalists job to report with accuracy and integrity; thus, the erasure and oppression of gender and sexual diversity is incompatible with professional journalism. I hope you understand my concern and include a section on reporting gender and sexual diversity in the next versions of the Canadian Press Stylebook.