The Environment Vs. The Economy

In the comments for yesterday’s Six in the Morning  (in which I basically howled incohate inchoate rage at Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver for his ignorant comments about environmental activists), commentator Brononymous defends what I would characterize as a reckless, self-serving philosophy of resource development.

Brononymous implies that pipelines are necessarily to support the nice things that all us hippy lefties want, like affordable housing and public transportation. That’s a damn weak argument built on the thinnest sliver of truth, but I appreciate the chance to say more about  this topic.

The bottom line is that a wrecked climate brings a world of hurt to everyone. Like David Suzuki says (over and over and over), global warming is expensive as well as terrible. Climate change gives us crop failures and food scarcity, droughts, water shortages, increased wear and tear to municipal infrastructure, and ultimately a wobbly global economy beset by international and regional strife (what’s going to happen when Pakistan is wiped out by drought? Nothing good, that’s for sure). All of these problems are expensive and all undermine all our quality of life, including our society’s alleged ability to provide affordable housing (which we’re doing a crappy job of in any case).

Besides, what are the numbers on fighting climate change: something like one per cent of GDP? As George Monbiot pointed out last month in The Guardian, it’s cheaper than  bailing out banks.

Rather than an expense that makes life tougher, an increased commitment to protecting the environment is absolutely necessary for Canadians to maintain an enjoyable standard of living — which is obviously what prairie dog wants too, right? A little sacrifice today for a better tomorrow — investment of one per cent GDP to fight climate change, and a little more care in approving massive fossil fuel projects. No big deal, in fact, it’s arguably the small-C conservative position.

As it is, ignoring the environmental costs of our actions is like living off credit cards. The interest is a killer and when you eventually hit your spending limit you’re screwed. But ironically, that’s the approach of our government. Canada’s Conservatives consistently sacrifice future stability for short-term economic gain. They’re only fiscal conservatives when they’re cutting money to the arts, or the CBC, or the sciences. They’re always ready to break out the platinum card to build more jails or buy more warplanes. And they’re always ready to borrow from the future by cannibalizing environmental assets for profit.

I’m sorry and frustrated that Conservative supporters in Saskatchewan are so blind to all of this.

Author: Stephen Whitworth

Prairie Dog editor Stephen Whitworth will never, ever pass up a chance to make a Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo pun.

56 thoughts on “The Environment Vs. The Economy”

  1. Well said, Mr. Whitworth, and I sympathize, believe me. But the thing is, the older I get, the less inclined I am to make sacrifices.

  2. Perhaps this is a generational thing, but as the older I get, the MORE inclined I am to make sacrifices and we’ve been gradually paring our family’s environmental footprint accordingly. I’m counting down the months until our family becomes a one-vehicle outfit, and if my spouse did not work at the near exact opposite end of the city — on the diagonal — we could probably manage a zero-vehicle household.

    Point being, I know that each person has his or her own set of circumstances, but I don’t think that aging alone necessarily motivates choice.

  3. It’s “inchoate”, and the usage is incorrect, because your rage was not “incomplete”.
    In terms of sacrifice, or simply living within means, because I grew up in a 4-room farmhouse without electricity (until I was 3) or running water of any temperature, and heated by wood and coal,I long ago learned how much people can do without. We composted, recycled, and practised water conservation long before it became fashionable, and we are into energy efficiency in a big way. I think that that buys me the occasional plane trip to visit grandchildren.
    I’d feel a lot more sympathy with “environmental activists” if they practised what they preach. I’m afraid that a lot of the enthusiasm for the environment is like the activism of the 1960s: very cool at the time, very street-theatre thrilling, but unsustainable.

  4. #2 See, that’s the thing. What do I tell the kids when they say, “Daddy, Daddy, I can’t breathe!”? We’ve tried opening the windows, but it only makes it worse.

  5. Really Barb? The “I could support environmental activists if they weren’t such hypocrites on the environment” straw man?

    Come on. You can do better.

  6. Also, why are we still talking about environmentalism being fashionable? As if it’s something that comes and goes with all the whimsy of flared pants and wide lapels?

    Environmentalism predates me.

  7. #8: please be so good as to report my statement accurately. I said nothing about support, only sympathy. And environmentalsim IS fashionable, to a sad degree. How else do I explain the fact that we stress responsible treatment of our environment in elementary school, only to have our teaching go out the window, along with assorted McRubbish and smoking detritus, as soon as the kids get into high school?
    #9: please see #3, again.

  8. #8
    Support: To argue in favour of; advocate.
    Sympathize: To share or understand the feelings or ideas of another.

  9. The Stones may have had sympathy for the Devil, but, as far as I know, they certainly didn’t support him. Isn’t that right, lads?
    “Roight, mate. Roight, you say.”

  10. The bottom line: For better or worse, humankind has always been more adept at solving problems than preventing them. Eventually we will be confronted by a problem we cannot solve. Then it will be someone else’s turn. Someone or some thing.
    Fade to black.

  11. Whoa, bro. I didn’t defend a particular philosophy, I posed a question. But thanks for assuming what my stance is and putting words in my bronymous mouth, ‘preciate it bro.

  12. Look on the bright side, Mr. Bronymous. Several of the words S.W. put in your mouth were actually spelled correctly.

  13. Newsflash: climate change and damage to the environment is really bad and stuff. Somebody inform Harper and Obama, I’m sure they don’t know this and haven’t given it any thought/debate. They’re not constrained at all in their powers, I’m sure they can fix this right away and everybody will be cool with the price increases/other changes whatsoever. Just look at how everybody jumped at buying electric cars when they were made available, just expand this to the rest of their lives and it will be one great circle jerk of saving the earth.

    Oh wait, basically no one bought electric cars because they were expensive? And not much better for hybrids? If it was all so simple. It’s a damn difficult thing to start some momentum, and Harper isn’t the guy to get this done, but the over-simplification of this is mind-boggling. I personally would pay a bit more to be more environmentally friendly in the future, and plan on buying a hybrid, because as it stands financially I can afford this. Howevah, for many people this is not a reality. Lots of people are barely scraping by, and if the price of food/gas/housing etc. increased at all, they’d be screwed, and would say let’s oil fracture this bitch up because I prefer to eat.

    Bold prediction = some nasty, indisputable, world-altering shit will have to go down before any significant changes are made in North America. We should all do our part, I damn sure do mine (recycling, cycling, etc blah blah hooray for me), but this is like a 500-pounder getting a salad with their 3 big macs. This shh cray.

  14. Last post not meant to be defeatist or critical of pro-env. movement, but lets be realistic. The US is basically bankrupt, now is not the time for these grand-scale changes. Small chips here and there,research etc., but significant changes cannot be made until their economy improves. And as they lead, we follow in Canada.

  15. blah blah environmentalism is good for the economy blah blah Chris Turner’s The Leap blah blah inaction on climate change is inexcusable blah blah “fashionable environmentalism” is an intellectually bankrupt diversion blah blah climate change deniers should buy some land in Maldives blah blah and also go fuck themselves blah blah

  16. Re #12: You’re right. You wrote “sympathize” and I wrote “support.” And thanks for the definitions, Nick. I feel suitably chastened.

    Oh wait. No. No, I don’t.

    Instead, I say “pish” (and/or “tosh”) to the criticism.

    Whether you don’t support environmental activists or merely lack sympathy for them doesn’t change that generalization you offhandedly threw in there about how they don’t practice what they preach.

    I think you’ll find that isn’t true as a rule. Most environmentalists have their hearts in the right place and are trying very hard to put their convictions into practice. But arrayed against them is an economic system that rewards inefficient, destructive behaviour while punishing environmental efforts.

    That most people, even the most planet conscious, will in some instances take the path of least resistance doesn’t demean their efforts, it just means we have a structural problem that isn’t going to be solved just by making recycling or public transit available.

  17. #14: It wouldn’t take me too much Googling to find some people who’d argue that just by playing rock’n’roll the Stones were in fact supporting the Devil.

  18. #21: Bronymous, for not meaning to be defeatist, you sure made me feel pretty glum.

    Thanks, man.

  19. #24 In Canada, when “practice” is used as a verb, we spell it “practise.”
    #25 Then, how do you explain the fact that he hasn’t received as much as a shilling in royalties?

  20. Dechene – not defeatist, pragmatic. Obama can’t even get his people proper healthcare, let alone affect the change necessary to adequately fight this battle. Down the line, hopefully not before its way too late (maybe it already is), but this paradigm shift will likely not fully take place for quite some time. Glum indeed, but better than false hope that in 2020 it’ll suddenly be all good because of a few minor victories here and there. Drastic changes needed, though I’m definitely not hoping that the near-apocalyptic events I mentioned occur.

  21. Good point!! I never thought of that!! I have always valued shillings higher than souls. For shame.

  22. #24: so what you seem to be saying is that it’s all the system’s fault, and the system has to change, otherwise what we do as individuals counts for nothing…or at least we can be excused from consistent adherence to our beliefs. What an excuse, and it’s one that PD would not brook if the shoe was on the other foot.
    Emmet: I’m surprised that you would waste the little time you can spare from your new twins to contribute, basically, nada.
    #28: I think that Paul’s second use of “practice” is kosher, but I could be corrected.
    Do you want to make a difference to the environment? Boycott Chinese-made goods.

  23. It’s all not so cut and dry as 1% of GDP (a debatable figure). Tons of conflicting info out there, but it’s not going to be cheap – not for homeowners, businesses, or governments worldwide.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/earth/energy/8570356/The-high-price-of-going-green.html

    http://online.wsj.com/public/article/SB120424591916201491.html?mod=yahoo_free

    http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/policy/wess/wess_current/2011wess.pdf

    One example from above document:
    “Global replacement costs of existing
    fossil fuel and nuclear power infrastructure are estimated at, at least, $15 trillion–$20 trillion (between one quarter and one third of global income”)

  24. #34 I am neither a government nor a business, but as a homeowner I am saddened by this news. I had a feeling rentals were the way to go. But no, the missus wanted her own place, eh?

  25. Thank you, one and all, for the give-and-take this afternoon. It has been a privilege and a pleasure, as always.
    p.s. There won’t be another word, S.W., until I get that coffee you promised. A deal is a deal.

  26. You’re projecting, Emmet; I recognize that a parent of multiples has severely reduced time for other activities,and I remarked on that, not as an insult, but as a fair comment and an expression of disappointment that you would not engage as well as you can.
    After reading your material for several years, I note that you tend to react rather than argue reasonably. Your temper keeps you from being as good a writer as you can be. When you’re not reacting, you are reasonable and carry the debate very well.
    I wish you and your family nothing but good.

  27. I have no time to read this long and apparently raging thread now, but for the record I value both Barb and Emmet’s comment contributions and I like both of them as people. I am also a huuuge fan of Emmet’s writing and I’m looking forward to him having a couple of seconds of free time to write for the physical mag again when (if?) he has time.

  28. #45 It’s none of my business, of course. But I think you should give them a “He Said, She Said” column. I, for one, would read it.

  29. 32, re 24: I am unable to parse this comment to arrive at your partial summary of, “..otherwise what we do as individuals counts for nothing,” nor do I read it as an “excuse,” but as an opinionated observation. The latter I can certainly allow as a subjective reading, but for the former can you please indicate where you read such implicitness in Mr. Dechene’s comment?

  30. It appears that Emmet was deliberately provoked when his writing was referred to as a “waste of time,” when in fact there is a cogent point to be taken from it: that for all the discussion on the environment, the same points are made again and again, and do not appear to be heeded by those who could potentially have the most positive impact. And yes, Emmet couched this thought in a veneer of comic frustration, which apparently was not taken as such and summarily dismissed as a “waste of time”. Clearly, an unfortunate choice of words for a rebuttal.

  31. #53: note the last 2 sentences of #24.
    #54: please be so good as to quote my remarks accurately; quotation marks denote a verbatim repetition of a remark. A paraphrase, however, doesn’t require quotation marks.
    The author of #23 may have meant to achieve a certain effect, but not everyone might read it that way…just as you read provocation into the expression of disappointment in #32.

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