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Pretending To Address The Environment

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The CD Howe Institute put out a report earlier this year complaining about the rate of taxes that Corporations have to pay in Canada. One of their points was that lower taxes would lead to greater economic growth. Late in October federal opposition leader Stéphane Dion called for broad tax cuts to "improve competitiveness" and "productivity and move our economy forward." Last September when Premier Campbell announced the BC Liberal plan to tackle climate change he emphasized "strategies that are economically and fiscally achievable."

In early November Richard Rees, the CEO of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia, wrote an editorial on BC's economic situation saying "growth needs to continue unabated for a few more years before we can rightly claim our place as an economic powerhouse on the national scene." And, last week the Bank of Canada was reported in the Globe and Mail as saying that it would consider intervening in the currency market "if extreme currency movements seriously threatened the conditions that support sustainable long-term growth of the Canadian economy."

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If one digs through the press releases and position papers of the chambers of commerce, the business press and other political and economic organizations, numerous other references can be found promoting economic growth, often as a panacea for any number of social and economic problems. Some of them even get so silly that they talk of sustainable economic growth. Our economy and by extension our society is being governed by a fantasy. One that holds that we can grow our way out of problems and into greater prosperity. It is like arguing that one can get rid of cancer in their body by encouraging more of it.

On the other side of the fence are many of the world's scientists and independent thinkers. Last month The Times in the UK carried an article reporting on an environment audit conducted by 1,400 scientists for the United Nations. Their conclusion was that our use of resources has put our very survival at risk, and that we were taking a third more out of the planet than it can replenish.

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An article published in the New Scientist last month reported that "Only the total elimination of industrial emissions will succeed in limiting climate change to a 2C rise in temperatures...." The article went on to say that researchers concluded that a 90 percent decrease in all emissions from current levels should be considered.

Governments and industry, in the face of considerable public concern, have finally started to move from denying that there is an environmental problem, to pretending to do something about it. Taking effective action to halt environmental degradation and the destruction of our ecosystem will require radically altering the way that we live and do business. It will mean an end to growth and a period of decline to the point where our demands could be met sustainably. It will mean an end to business and economics as we know them, and the reallocation of the vast amount of wealth and power now concentrated in the hands of less than twenty percent of the world's population. Given that this wealth and power controls the system that makes the decisions one can expect things to get much worse as governments and industry continue to play shell games that show concern without really taking any effective measures to halt the destruction.

How much worse things will get is a question. In an article last month in Rolling Stone noted scientist James Lovelock predicted that by the beginning of the next century the world's population, currently just over 6 billion, will have been reduced to about 500 million due to the hardships that will be encountered as the climate changes. That figure of course is debatable, but the 84 year old Lovelock has a distinguished career and is not to be dismissed lightly.

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Just as big a question as how bad it might get is what can we do about it. A difficult question given the nature of control in our society. In an article published by the BBC this month John Feeney wrote "We humans face two problems of desperate importance. The first is our global ecological plight. The second is our difficulty acknowledging the first." Perhaps getting government and industry to publicly recognize that growth is a cause of the problem is the first step.

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Jerry West grew up on a farm in California and is currently Editor and Publisher of THE RECORD newspaper in Gold River, BC. Graduate with Honors and graduate school, UC Berkeley. Member, Phi Beta Kappa. Vietnam veteran and Former Sgt. USMC

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