This election should be about a new economic vision for Canada but it’s not. The focus is most certainly on the economy. All four party leaders speak repeatedly about economic development, creating jobs, taxation policy, increasing consumer spending. The cornerstone of our economy continues to be the consumption of goods. Only Elizabeth May speaks convincingly about the need for economic policies that encourage a healthy environment and improve the quality of life.
The following article is by David Suzuki with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Environmental Economist and Policy Analyst Michelle Molnar. (Rolly Montpellier ~ Editor for BoomerWarrior).
The federal leaders’ debate on the economy focused on important issues — jobs, deficits, infrastructure spending, pipelines, climate change — but no one talked about a different vision for Canada’s economy. What if we challenged our leaders to answer the dilemma posed by American journalist Charles Bowden: Imagine the problem is that we cannot imagine a future where we possess less but are more? Not being able to even imagine an economy without continual growth is a profound failure.
A better economic vision would support the right of all Canadians to live in a healthy environment, with access to clean air and water and healthy food. It would respect planetary boundaries and provide the moral imperative to decrease growing income disparities. Businesses would be required to pay for environmental damage they inflict, capital would be more widely distributed and ideas, such as employee shareholder programs with ethically invested stocks, would be the norm.
This alternative economy would connect people to family, friends and communities, focus on social capital investments over gross domestic product gains, and distribute wealth through taxes, social programs and minimum guaranteed incomes. In The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, authors Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett write that developed countries with the greatest inequalities have higher rates of disease, mental illness, drug use and a host of other social problems. Reducing income gaps makes all of us healthier.
In Canada, we don’t question our emphasis on constant growth. Our economic system favours short-term profits at the expense of our long-term health and survival. Despite more than five decades of trying to fix our environmental challenges, forests are still threatened, deserts are spreading and climate change is creating more frequent and intense storms, floods, forest fires and droughts.
We’re also left with income inequality that threatens our democracy. Since the 1980s, the top one per cent of Canadians has increasingly enjoyed the biggest share of income growth and the least pain during economic downturns. Since 2009, the top 10 per cent have seen half of all income growth. The bottom 50 per cent of Canadians have not only seen declines in income growth, accounting for just three per cent of income gains, they’ve also been hardest hit during recessions.
In a statement that applies equally to Canada, the late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once noted, “We can have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.”
A cornerstone of our current economy, consuming goods, may give us fleeting pleasure, but it isn’t making us happier. Studies show the pleasure derived from food, sex, exercise and time with loved ones or doing meaningful work takes much longer to fade. Worse, consuming stuff is not only addictive, it also feeds rivalry and societal overconsumption.
The Canadian Index of Wellbeing uncovered some troubling truths about the connection between the economy and well-being. When Canada’s economy was thriving, Canadians saw only modest improvements in their overall quality of life, but when the economy faltered our well-being took a disproportionate step backward. This is troubling, given predictions for an upcoming extended period of weak economic growth. Why are we so reluctant to talk about how we can get out of this cycle of endless buying and unsatisfying consumption by considering steady-state economies or even de-growth alternatives?
Despite this failure to imagine a better way, we may finally be seeing a change in course. The climate crisis is creating a global consciousness shift, with hundreds of thousands marching to demand change, and Pope Francis’s Encyclical warning that economic growth and technology can’t continue to trump all other concerns. Throughout Europe, North America and beyond, support is growing for confronting income and wealth inequality.
Imagine a Canadian election in which leaders gave us economic visions aimed at caring for people and the planet. It’s time we talked about a future when we can live with less and be happier.
Originally posted on David Suzuki Foundation Blog
Rolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org. He’s a Climate Reality leader, a Blogger and a Climate Activist. He’s a member of Climate Reality Canada, Citizens’ Climate Lobby (Ottawa) and 350.Org (Ottawa), the Ethical Team (as an influencer) and Global Population Speakout.
Rolly has been published widely in both print and online publications. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.
You know, everyone can live with a lot less and be happy. The first thing that everyone has to do is to throw away that outdated philosophy of ‘Keeping up with the Jones’ of this sadly misguided world of materialism. It might have worked to create a ‘power trip’ for the primitive first humans, but to practice it now is irresponsible waste in a diminishing world of scarce resources.
I noted today that Mercedes cars are increasing their sales by 8% per annum in Thailand. The nouveau rich want brand name stuff and the financial analysts are rubbing their hands with glee at the supposed economic upturn that creates.
Weaker currencies also bolster export market potential. The world is currently turning on a greed-induced culture of ‘get’ and then ‘get more.’ It feeds on itself, creates crime potential, breaks up families, wastes resources and destroys the natural environment.
Governments have encouraged this negative approach to so-called better lifestyles as a way to boost GDP and promote ‘us’ as leading the way to a better economic future. It is utter crap!
You cannot buy your way out of misery. Bad air, undrinkable water, increased waste and mass slaughter of our (only) ecosystem is the consequence of runaway material consumption.
If we imagine that tomorrow, each of us will have no money, each of us will have our electricity cut off, and each of us must walk a mile to pump drinkable water from a well, and barter our goods with neighbours in order to have enough food, will we survive? Of course we will… Will we be happy? Maybe not initially as fear will kick in at first, but then as we make contact and bond with our neighbours, things will look better. We might even find therapeutic happiness!
I remember two big power outages in Canada. They went on for days (weeks in the case of the Quebec Ice Storm). People found new reliance in each other and a commaraderie rose in place of selfish personal gain. No TV meant that conversation and story telling took its place. People shared their homes and their food and their wood supplies (for heat and cooking). Everyone pitched in and no one was worrying about their BMW cars, their Rolex watches, or their cat-walk fashions. It was life with a caring perspective. Indeed many people were quite sad when the ‘power’ was turned on again, and they had to return to their usual materially oriented daily grind.
It is time for a new dawn that takes out ‘greed’ and replaces it with communal, loving, and sharing! The new economies of scale must be with an eye to biodiverse living for everyone and replacing ‘wants’ with true ‘needs.’
Perhaps Canada’s political leaders need 20 minutes to watch this video on Huffington Post. It got my attention! Certainly the presentation makes it very clear that a focus on economic growth is sheer folly!
If You Want To Save The Planet, Watch This Video
The next 20 minutes could change your life
“Johan Rockström, professor of environmental science at Stockholm University, is one of the few scientists in the world who is able to effectively communicate the risks we face — as well as the opportunities — if we collectively decide to take action.”
The Website below will give anyone an insight into the work being done at the Stockholm Resilience Centre.
Your comments on this article are most interesting.
Of course we could live on a lot less. The question is do we want to? And then how can we expect those emerging economies to just reverse their rise out of poverty. I can’t expect someone who has been living on $2 a day to live on less. So then it falls on us in the West to begin to address this disparity.
The climate movement has recognized that climate change affects the “poor” more adversely than the “rich”. The movement is now more inclusive adding a socio-economic focus. The Leap Manifesto in Canada is a great example of the evolution of environmentalism. I really like where this is going. I’ve done two posts on The Leap – check them out.
Thanks for sharing the two links – great information for future posts.
Has anyone of you EVER found incontrovertible evidence that people, not natural causes, are the problem? If so, and I highly doubt it, would you please post it? Please note I am looking for scientific evidence, not the ramblings that GEIC (French for IPCC) claims that 97% of scientists agree.
Well Joe, I can’t provide the evidence personally – I am not a climate scientist, but this report might help…
I am always bemused by people who ignore the signs that the earth’s symbiotic ecosphere is in trouble (as far as supporting life as we know it). If you think the warming is natural, do you also think that we should do nothing? Are you expecting us (people and animals) to evolve quickly to cope with the changes? What are your expectations?
Come on Joe. Has anyone seen “incontrovertible evidence”? Really? My friend, you are simply not looking in the right places. Take some time to see Colette’s links in the comments thread for this article.
By the way, thanks for your comments. Much appreciated.
I am currently in Koh Samet in Thailand…and today we had a 7-hr power cut. We were unable to use Internet, or even make a cup of hot tea. It rained a lot and the high tide made the beach too wet for comfort (Not sure why the sea is so high, but could be part of a normal cycle). We have a fan room – no air conditioning, and it is usually OK, but without electric to run it, we were a bit sticky in the 90% humidity and 32°C heat. Were we unhappy? Nope! We simply rested, talked, ate raw veggies and fruit and nuts, drank lots of water and napped. I’m not saying people can live like this for long, ( lots of businesses couldn’t run without the power ) but it certainly was not a hardship to us.
If everyone is subject to energy cutbacks, we will simply find better ways to do things.
By the way – congratulations to Canada for voting out ‘Stephen Harper.’ You have a chance to take the environment in a much better direction.
Another note to Joe Wallach:
I just watched a very old (10 years ago) Horizon documentary, ‘Global Dimming’ a phenomenon recognised decades ago; basically a blocking of up to 20% of sunlight due to pollutants in the atmosphere, like Sulpher Dioxide, that caused cloud formation to change and refect more sunlight back into space. Theoretically, this should mean a massive cooling on earth. But what has actually happened, is that this dimming has actually masked the warming trend from carbon dioxide increase and made us very complacent about the CO2 buildup across the planet. As we are cleaning up the pollutants (for instance with scrubbers on power plants, and catalytic converters on cars), we are actually going to see more warming. The old video actually predicted the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, which once started, will never stop. We know that it has started. We might scoff at some of the geo-engineering scaremongerers that the government is spraying aerosols into the atmosphere…but it is possible they are doing experiments to see if they can stave off the worst effects of a warming planet?
Scientists are adament that the sun is not putting out more activity, so the extra heat is definitely coming from human activities – decades of research has gone into this.
Joe, if you have never visited Asia, then you are not witnessing the terrible haze caused by forest and peat fires that palm oil companies are causing. It is a global disaster rarely reported in the West. Currently Indonesia has put its air force on alert for the evacuation of children, 70% of forest animals are dying in worst areas of fire, Areas of Thailand and Malasia are suffering from the choking pollutants, and companies are starting to sue the Indonesian Government. The fires are producing more CO2 than all the transportation output of CO2 in the united states. This is happening today, now, not in some airy fairy future! It is getting worse each year as global demand for palm oil is expecting to increase production exponentially. And worse, without the tropical rainforests, rain patterns are changing and winds are increasing. Thailand has used 2/3rds of its plentiful underground aquifers, but the monsoon season is no longer bringing plentiful rains and drought will plague it for the third year in a row. This scenario is happening in the Amazon too…all at a pace so rapid, you are not going to have to wait a hundred years to see devastation… I myself predict 10 years if nothing is done now.
Here is a study released this year
If you do not believe in human caused climate change, then believe this… If we do nothing to mitigate the climbing temperatures, we will see the extinction of a vast portion of life on this planet!
Incidentally, Documentary ‘ Global Dimming’ can be watched for free at
This report is written by various students across the globe in laymen terms for easy understanding…
Apologies to Joe Wallachia if he is expecting the hard and dirty data sheets from the massive collection of data required over many years if study… I’d need a bigger computer, and Rolly would need a massive web site.
Great resources to look at Colette. I hope Joe takes some time to familiarize himself with these.