“… Gross National Product counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.
It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.
It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. It counts… the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children.
Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages, the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials.
It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”
Robert Kennedy University of Kansas, March 18, 1968
A United Nations audit of the Paris Agreement on international efforts to curb emission of greenhouse gasses found that even if signators keep their pledges the Earth will heat to at least three degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels by 2100.
But we aren’t on track to come near meeting the Paris Agreement on carbon emissions. 2017 has been a devastating year for both carbon emissions and the obvious impact those emissions are having on our planet. Carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is now at the highest level in 800,000 years and the effect of this devastating rise is being felt around the world.
Perhaps it is an unfortunate blessing that the impacts of climate change are no longer being felt in “Third World” countries alone. California, the freeway state, is burning up with fires so fierce they can’t be stopped. Meanwhile, Texas, the oil belt of America, is drowning under wind driven rains of unprecedented hurricanes and the Florida Keys have gone from vacation by the water to fascinating scuba tours of what once was. BC—our home—just saw its most devastating fire season ever. The 2016 fires around Fort McMurray raged for 15 months burning 5,895 square kilometers. Kind of makes me think there is a god and she is trying to tell us something we haven’t been hearing very well.
Why? Why can’t we hear what this Gaian goddess is trying to tell us? Are we suffering some kind of Climate Change Stress Reaction sort of like the Combat Stress Reaction where the stress of battle leads to fatigue, slowed reaction time, indecision?
Indecision, slowed reaction time, fatigue. That must be it. We’ve become complacent believing that the actions of governments and business taken to the Paris conference are actually going to keep our Earth from overheating–when pumping oil is more profitable than dousing flames? It’s just not in the genes of capitalism. What actions? While Naomi Klein argues that climate change changes everything, capitalism is very clearly saying it simply can’t make significant change that would mean more than grants, rebates, incentives, a small tax on carbon. Come on, we’re talking about the habitability of our Earth and our governments continue to talk symbolic gestures that are careful not to impact corporate profits. What the Frack is up? We can’t even agree to end the huge subsidies on fossil fuels.
Ah, an unlikely ally in our struggle to subdue climate change! The International Monetary Fund (IMF) tells us that money “freed up” by ending fossil fuel subsidies could be an economic “game-changer.” Wow, the IMF? Yes, you read the first line right but you need to read the next line to fully understand: “by driving economic growth…”(blah, blah, blah). So the IMF would slit the throat of its old friend oil subsidies if the new revenues go into stimulating comparable economic growth. According to the IMF money from ending oil subsidies would lead (that magical, invisible, preposterous silent hand) to investment in infrastructure, health, education—oh, and according to the IMF, most importantly tax cuts. One only has to look south of the border to see where the money would actually go—tax cuts. The goal would have to be health care and education instead of blind economic growth for any “found” money to go into anything other than tax cuts and corporate give aways.
The problem that the IMF projections of investment in social/environmental good simply cannot understand is that we are more disastrously hooked on economic growth than any down and out junkie is hooked on the heroin that is destroying his life. Like the junkie with his morbid search for another fix to temporarily allay the pain inside, the IMF talks to us of more education, health care, clean water, clean energy, but all it wants is to answer that desperate need for more—ever more– economic growth. If believing that economic growth will lead to all these goods–which it has never, of itself, lead to before–then let’s talk education and health care and environment care; let’s talk anything that leads to another fix of economic growth. The problem is that the problems generated by the blind and obsessive pursuit of economic growth are not fixable by yet another fix of economic growth. One has only to look around to see the devastating impacts of our addiction to economic growth. Like the junkie’s body that wastes away under the influence of his uncontrollable obsession with “junk”, our world, both our cultural and natural systems, are being destroyed, inevitably, by our obsession with economic growth and the junk that it pumps into our collective veins.
Our problems are much bigger than climate change. For instance: millions of tones of plastic waste, dumped into or washed down to our oceans is causing irreparable damage to marine life. Plastic, another oil product, has become an inherent part of our industrialized way of life. We can’t imagine a world without it. It is used in clothing, cooking, industrial parts, or vehicles. One of its “advantages” is its deadliest: it last for a very long time. Indeed, nearly all the plastic ever created is still in its manufactured form. The life in our oceans and land is beginning to sink under the weight of all this used for a short time and discarded plastic. Economic growth has lead to the mining of our soils instead of cultivating the long term well being of our agriculture.
Our addiction to growth at all costs is destroying our atmospheric oxygenating forests in order to fuel the fading short term profits growth of hungry corporations. We abuse(kill) Indigenous people whose land stands between corporate greed and corporate profits. When we’ve extracted the minerals and poisoned the land, we abandon it moving on to our next pillage. All the while, the life blood of environmental and cultural diversity drains away in the ever more frantic quest for growth/corporate profit. It’s a scenario that doesn’t end well. This insatiable greed for more would not end well even without climate change– though our inability to deal effectively with the causes of climate change is likely the most obvious consequence of the insatiable greed of the capitalist ethic/raison d etre–economic growth.
What capitalism and its corollary economic growth do to the natural world, it does to humanity as well. It was fascinating to hear Pope Francis blame the “god of money” (obsession with growth at all costs) for the extremist violence that is taking place in the world, “Terrorism grows… as long as the world economy has at its center the god of money and not the (well being of)persons.”
What we must do to have any hope of heading off these assaults on our planet, its life-supporting ecosystems and social justice/decency is to begin to turn our attention away from economic growth as the guiding light of human society and begin to ask, instead, how can we have a just, sustaining and sustainable—at all levels of governance–society. When the ship is sinking, it is past time to quit asking how do I get on board and ask instead, where is the lifeboat?
Sustainability—putting planning for healthy people on a healthy planet– as our primary goal is not only the challenge of our era, it is the only way we will ever kick this morbid addiction to economic growth and survive our folly. There is so little time left to change course, we—together—we who actually care about leaving a habitable planet for our children and grand children must start to demand a fundamental change of course. Probably the first opportunity for us to make that choice clear will be in the municipal elections to be held this fall. Already you can read the hysteria in the corporate press about how councils like Courtenay are not approving more economic development—faster. They are already advertising and beating the war drums of blind, destructive economic growth at all costs, but “at all costs” is at the expense of a healthy, sustainable, habitable world for the next generation.
This coming election is crucial. I certainly will be asking questions and posting them to this blog to try to draw out where candidates for municipal office stand—not on whether taxes should be going up by 3% but what are their priorities for a healthy community? I am interested in hearing from you about the kinds of questions you think need to be asked to be able to choose candidates that will stand for a just, sustaining and sustainable Comox Valley.