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GREENINGS: Another election, another round of disappointing platforms (Oct. 2019)

October 17th, 2019 · No Comments

Growth in GDP is antithetical to environmental protection

By Terri Chu

From an environmental point of view, the most disappointing aspect of this election campaign so far is that all parties, even the Greens, are still talking about economic growth like it matters. 

If we were honest with ourselves, we would admit that the end state of capitalism is a monopoly. The bean counters have somehow gotten society to accept that 3 per cent growth year over year is not just possible, but normal. How can we keep chopping down 3 per cent more trees every single year? Every tree that gets turned into a chair counts towards GDP but every tree that gets left behind to suck out pollution does nothing for our “economy”. Guess which one Bay Street prefers?

Buying a new T-shirt contributes to economic growth. Washing an old one doesn’t. One is exponentially more harmful to the environment than the other.  Let’s stop talking about economic growth like it’s a metric that should matter anymore. The system is coming to an end game. The system needs to change and I’m looking for leadership to steer that change. 

Not even Silicone Valley billionaires believe our economy can continue in its present form. They have been at the vanguard of calling for basic income schemes. They know that infinite growth is unviable, they know that AI, deep learning, and automation will replace a lot of jobs. Sure, basic necessities can be met with machines, but people should still work you say? Doing what? Creating artificial demand for sexy lingerie? Programming the next hit video game? Manufacturing consent? If we don’t need people to do meaningful work, let’s not force them to do pointless work for the sake of maintaining a system that is doomed to failure.  In the long run, we’re all dead, right?

Find some courage. Tell people we can’t grow exponentially anymore.  Be honest. Tell people that buying clothes endlessly is not only awful for the environment, it’s pointless. Let’s rebuild an economic system that doesn’t need us to consume for the sake of consumption. Fundamentally, Canadians are fed, clothed, have access to education and healthcare, and almost all they need to build a foundation for a good quality of life. Replacing cell phones that still work, clothes that aren’t ripped might make some people richer, but fundamentally does little for either our quality of life or our happiness. 

I at least respect that the Green party’s platform includes “Measures well-being, rather than gross domestic product, as a sign of progress.” The need to move away from GDP cannot be understated. Sadly, even Elizabeth May falls victim to the crushing weight of appeasing old school capitalists and still talks about economic growth like the idea is gospel. 

While we stare down the barrel at human extinction, our political leaders need to emphasize that we are no longer in a position of “growing” anything other than food. We need to find ways to occupy less land and return some of it to nature. We need to find ways to consume fewer resources: oil, concrete, fibres, food, etc. We need to find ways to decrease our consumption. This doesn’t mean we go back to the Stone Age, but rather appreciate what’s already one of the highest standards of living in the world. 

For the most part, Canadians enjoy a very high standard of living and having “more” is bordering on pointless. 

To our South, in the name of convincing people what we have isn’t enough, CNBC recently published a story about the middle class struggle on the $350,000 US a year income. The horrors and sacrifices of such a life include two vacations a year and a $5,000 a year budget on new clothes. This kind of “journalism” should be a crime against humanity. Our kids are on the streets every Friday begging us to do something and we come up with this drivel to remind them that so long as we have a strong economy, we don’t care we are consuming their resource share.  We know full well we are depleting resources faster than the Earth can replenish them.

I’m looking for leadership that’s bold enough to tell Canadians that this isn’t the path forward. I want a leader who will boldly say that GDP is a pointless metric, growth is no longer our reality, and we must all work together to create a new economy that is not premised on growth. Churning through resources won’t raise our quality of life nor will it make us happier. 

This election isn’t even offering inspiration anymore. We had a prime minister in a climate protest against…himself. Running against him is the science denier. In a distant third is a unionist who will still vote to protect high paying, polluting jobs, and finally, still treated as a fringe party, is a leader who is pushing environmental solutions but is muted by her own need to appeal to the voters who would rather live out their lives without rocking the boat than not know where they might land in the hierarchy of a new world order.

Our kids are on the streets every week begging us for better. Human extinction could happen in their lifetime. We delivered slogans because it’s 2019. 

Terri Chu is an engineer committed to practical environmentalism. This column is dedicated to helping the community reduce energy use, and help distinguish environmental truths from myths. Send questions, comments, and ideas for future columns to Terri at terri.chu@whyshouldicare.ca.

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Tags: Annex · Opinion