Self Interest is the way to win over Conservatives on the issue of Global Warming

“I avail myself with relief of the opportunity of speaking to the people of the United States. I do not know how long such liberties will be allowed. The stations of uncensored expression are closing down; the lights are going out; but there is still time for those to whom freedom and parliamentary government mean something, to consult together. Let me, then, speak in truth and earnestness while time remains.”

  • Broadcast to the United States and to London, by Winston S. Churchill, October 16th, 1938, From Churchill, Into Battle (London: Cassell, 1941), pages 83-91.

So for months I have made the argument that we should be appealing to “Others”. To those who think I am crazy, let me make the argument. Since 1993, I have heard one fact repeated to me with great frequency: only 1 to 2% of Canadians are a part of a National Political Party. This means that less than 2% of Canadians have picked a side. Consequently, it is very easy to appeal to Conservative Voters. As Liberals, we need to understand that.

For too long, Liberals have the mistaken idea that Conservative Voters are unchanging. The truth is that Conservative Voters are looking for many of the same things that Liberal and more progressive voters want.  As I have learned from talking to them, their aspirations, anxieties and desires are the same. It might seem obvious but I honestly had to come to that position. I came to that position after the Martin-Chretien fights of the late nineties. I came to it after speaking to a number of Progressive Conservatives and Alliance members in 2000. For me, it was obvious in 2004, when Martin was trying to hold his government. Today, I am happy to engage in this necessary conversation and Liberals need to embrace the fact that they need to talk to voters who don’t necessarily agree with them.

However, to do so, one must speak their language. For example, think of Global Warming. Liberals have always taken a moral position on Global Warming. We know that it is a moral position because of the language that is used. It is absolutist in nature. Liberals cannot talk about Global Warming without discussing the Harpers’ Government rejection of Kyoto. As a Party, we describe the failure to implement Kyoto like Greenpeace. In December 2011, Greenpeace Canada campaigner Mike Hudema said “The Harper government has imposed a death sentence on many of the world’s most vulnerable populations by pulling out of Kyoto.” (May accuses Harper of breaking law over Kyoto, By Meagan Fitzpatrick, CBC News, Posted: Dec 13, 2011 9:23 AM ET) Those are words that could easily fit inside the mouth of the present crop of Liberal MPs.

My suggestion is that there are many Conservative Voters who do not want to listen to a moralist environmental lecture. However, those same voters – I will argue – will vote for their own self-interest. For example, for years, American Republican Senator Lindsay Graham talked to Democrats about Climate Change related issues. Sen. Graham, though, does not believe in Climate Change. However, he wanted to talk about reducing the amount of oil that the United States imports. For, he argued that depending on foreign nations for oil imperils American Sovereignty.

This is especially true when one thinks of the Middle Eastern Oil. Or put differently, the US could reduce the size of its military, if the US Military was not needed as a tool to maintain the flow of Oil from the Middle East. For, the US maintains significant military assets in the Middle East and Mediterranean Region, to ensure that shipping lanes are kept open. Just remember, in the late 1980’s, the US military protected Kuwaiti owned tankers from Iranian attacks. Called Operation Earnest Will (24 July 1987 – 26 September 1988), it was the largest naval convoy operation since World War II. Therefore, for Sen. Graham, reducing the use of foreign oil brings both safety and security: Items which cannot be bought by having the world’s strongest military.

The same is true for us. Our troops in Afghanistan faced an enemy which was funded by Middle Eastern oil revenues. Alex Spillius of the Washington Bureau of the Telegram.co.uk reported that despite extensive efforts to limit the distribution of funds to extremists from the Middle East, he had found documents that show deep frustration in Washington with the level of co-operation from governments in the region.

“‘It has been an ongoing challenge to persuade Saudi officials to treat terrorist financing emanating from Saudi Arabia as a strategic priority,’ read a cable from Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, dated Dec 30, 2009.

‘Donors in Saudi Arabia constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide,’ added the document.” (Wikileaks: Saudis ‘chief funders of al-Qaeda’, 05 Dec 2010, Telegram.co.uk)

While, the Taliban also made money from extorting Western organizations and drug deals, the majority of its money came from the Middle East. This means that if Canadians participated in this energy efficiency programme, our own troops will be deployed fewer times and in fewer numbers. Given that Conservatives generally want to save money and not act like the world’s policeman, one could see that the premise of reducing foreign oil consumption might be exciting. 

However, this is not the only circumstance where a change in perspective – and not values – might bring more support to our party. For, Liberals could make the same argument about our health care system.

Dan Buettner has been investigating the idea of human longevity for quite some time. In fact, he wrote a piece in the New York Times this year about the subject. Called, ‘The Island Where People Forget to Die’, Mr. Buettner discussed areas of the world where human longevity is extraordinary. He has dubbed them Blue Zones. These zones are few but they tend to allow people to live longer and in a better condition. His article focused on an island called Ikaria. It is a Greek Island which has been described as a fountain of youth for years. Joseph Georgirenes, the island’s 17th century bishop, described the island as:

 “The most commendable thing on this island,” he wrote, “is their air and water, both so healthful that people are very long-lived, it being an ordinary thing to see persons in it of 100 years of age.” (The Island Where People Forget to Die, by Dan Buettner, Nytimes.com, Published: October 24, 2012)

Through the article and in an interview on MSNBC, Mr. Buettner has argued that there are a number of lessons that can be learned from Blue Zones. For example, he suggested that one of the strengths of the island of Ikaria was that it was a hilly region with gentle slopes. It seems that those slopes provided people with a constant amount of low grade stress or exercise. It seems that that type of exercise was more important than the exercise that comes from a 1 or 2 km run. Or put differently, we might save money on our health care system, if we had more public transit and density and fewer roads. It is really simple, if one thinks about it. With more public transit, all of us would have to walk more. A simple twenty to thirty minute walk to work could be “enough to have a healthy effect on blood pressure as well as measurements around the waist and hip.” (A Little Walking Cuts Blood Pressure, By Jennifer Warner, Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD, WebMD Health News, Aug. 15, 2007). Given that the indirect and direct costs in 2003 is $34 billion (or $1,056 per person), it is possible to see that a small walk could lead to some weight control. If only a 1 percent reduction in weight was achieved some people estimate that $83 to $103 annually in medical costs per person saved. Furthermore, the savings would come in a reduction of high blood pressure and associated risk factors including glucose and cholesterol risk factors. This could mean a savings of up to $3 billion dollars in indirect and direct costs. That is a savings most Conservative and Progressive Voters could get behind.

This type of issue shaping can work in a variety of places. Climate Change will bring up more issues including droughts, infections and the loss of forested regions. This means that interests in tourism, insurance, forestry and farming can be encouraged to become a part of a big Tent Liberal Party. Or put differently, we have opportunities to win seats in Interior BC, the Prairies and South-western Ontario: traditional Tory strongholds. To win these seats, our Party cannot preach to their moral side. Our Party must appeal to their wallet.

In other words, Liberals share the same values as others. There are a number of Conservative voters who can buy into the idea that they are supposed to look after the “Other”. Some Conservative Christians would say it differently. They would look toward the Bible and say “they should be their brothers’ keeper”. But it is the same value: an emotional care for those who might need a hand up.

Western Conservative voters also love the environment. They argue for its care because they might wish to hunt, farm, ski or fish. Those voters will come to our side if we argue for their self-interest and not lecturing them with a need to defend the environment. Conservative voters will not come to our side with moralistic arguments; but they will stand by our side if we can talk to their needs and use of the back country. Self-Interest, and not morals, will allow us to build a Party, a Big Tent Party.  That is the direction that Liberals will have to move to, if we are to survive.

This article can be found in a PDF format at http://www.scribd.com/doc/117566059

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