By contributor Chantelle Spicer
Humans love creating conflicts between all kinds of things—head versus heart; science versus religion; matters of race or gender; the environment versus economy etc. It is becoming more apparent, as time goes by, that these battles are completely arbitrary. There is room for all of these things and humans to co-exist peacefully.
In our recent election, one of these alleged conflicts was placed in the spotlight: maintaining environmental protection while still sustaining a robust economy. This is particularly important in BC where two major projects are contested: The Site C dam and the Northern Gateway Pipeline. Both of these projects claim to be surefire ways to develop the BC economy, creating short and long term employment, profits, and provincial self-sufficiency. On the opposing side, they are scientifically guaranteed to create short and long term environmental disaster for both land and wildlife. It’s a very heated debate, with both sides refusing to budge from their embedded value systems.
Looking at these examples, it is hard to find the bridge leading to compromise. Much has been done over the past five years—especially in regards to the pipeline and dependence on fossil fuels—to create mistrust and fear regarding federal power and economy. It has become clear that our situation, both in Canada and worldwide, demands a transition to an economy that does not put the health of our planet at risk for profit.
A green economy is defined by earthday.org as “an economy that results in reducing environmental risk, aiming for sustainable development, and placing value on ecological services.” It rests on the three pillars of a sustainable economy: Increasing community wellbeing (social), the environment, and a prospering economy. This is not a means to an end, but a cyclic system. It will require many changes in value systems within the economic sector, new ways of looking at the environment by all world citizens, and adaptive regulations on all levels of government. The environment is not static; therefore, a green economy cannot be either.
The idea of an economy based on respect for the environment is encouraging to me, but at the same time I’m still apprehensive. I am not entirely sure how I feel about using price mechanisms as a form of environmental protection. I, perhaps naively, wish that humans would want to conserve the environment for its sake and ours, without having a price value attached to it. It makes me wonder who creates these value systems on things like forests or pollinators. What attributes of the environment create a monetary value? Is it spiritual value? Aesthetic value? Biodiversity potential? How does this affect our local forestry or aquaculture industry, both of which require growth to become truly sustainable? It seems far too complex of a system, in both meaning and function, to convert into a dollar. Trepidation aside, it seems to be the direction we must take to create some kind of protection for the planet and ourselves.
Economy is something every human society has to take part in, whether capitalist or barter system. Every culture has economy built into it, with each shaping the other into a system of ingrained ideals. Unfortunately, the capitalist economy and culture seems to be pervading all others around the world, increasing the effects of climate change, ecological destruction, and disconnect from the natural world. With a green economy, perhaps it does not have to be this way—the environment and a prospering environment can be its own symbiotic relationship.
Sustainable development is the heartbeat of this type of economy, focusing on cleaner technology, renewable energy, and the creation of a closed-loop system. This can create the opportunity for many levels of community-based explorations and innovations, involving all stakeholders, including residents, on issues of local concern. It also creates a new vision of the planet, recognizing that things outside the community are affected, shifting the perspective to that of a global system, connected through both space and time. This requires a scientific understanding of our ecological systems and how they change alongside humanity in perpetuity.
This scientific understanding has, within Canada, unfortunately been tossed aside over the last 10 years under the Conservative government, with environmental assessment losing credibility, making the hopes for a green economy fruitless. As of Election Day, that outlook changed along with political power. The Liberal government, led by Justin Trudeau, hopes to create real change and the bridge we are looking for.
His platform for change rests strongly on the two sectors merging, making his success dependent on the reality of a green economy. This includes creating jobs within the clean technology sector, boosting domestic demand for these technologies, and integration of these technologies into natural resource sectors such as forestry. This will include the divestment of Canada’s fossil fuel reliance and subsidy, while at the same time expanding investment into the aforementioned clean technologies. It is quite a feat considering the amount of Canadians who are invested personally in the oil fields of Alberta and depend on this government support for their livelihoods. To assist in this transition, Trudeau plans to invest $300 million per year into producers and innovators of greener technology, which includes training for companies, along with plans to make post-secondary education more affordable.
This seems like a lot of change. And it is not only federally that so much change could be happening. Sheila Malcolmson, Member of Parliament for the NDP in Nanaimo-Ladysmith, plans to help our local area transition to a more sustainable economy based on clean energy, leading to higher-quality jobs.
She recognizes that Vancouver Island has many success stories in green economy in agriculture, aquaculture, and education, and looks forward to sharing these examples in Ottawa. Malcolmson says she plans to continue on this path and, “advocate for switching fossil fuel subsidies toward renewables, moving away from raw log exports toward value-added forestry, and supporting infrastructure investments in local food processing, public transit, and bike lanes.” She also says there are many partnerships to be developed in creating long-term sustainable jobs in our region that are good for economy and environment.
There is a lot of hope. After hearing numerous accounts of scientific muzzling, the eradication of protection for national parks and waterways, and environmental atrocities over the past decade, I am hopeful, sometimes even in spite of myself.
The plans put out by our current leaders, both federally and locally, are ambitious and exciting. Better yet, they are manageable, as we have seen from countries such as Sweden, who ranked first in a global green economy index and has now set a target for zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Their goal for this follows the same line of thinking Trudeau seems to be on—focus on green technology such as solar and wind power, transitioning to electric cars, and more reliance on local resources.
Even as I write, my mind is whirling with more questions and more possibilities for change. It is exciting to think about our economic culture supporting the environment, as it should have been all along. Centuries before capitalism, humans thrived, in balance with their local ecologies and its intimate knowledge. I look forward to taking some part, however small, in the transition to this kind of relationship with our planet, and I hope we all do. Becoming more personally invested in our local environments has been scientifically proven to be psychologically beneficial by improving mental health, reducing addictions and violence, and improving productivity in all facets of life. Having an economy enriched by the environment will hopefully prove to be just as effective in improving lives.
You’ll find more information on the Liberal plan to eradicate the conflict between the environment and economy in “A New Plan for Canada’s Environment and Economy” at liberal.ca.