As a boy I was very much enthralled by science fiction. Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, “Dr. Who”, “The Twilight Zone”, “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and “Forbidden Planet” come to mind. Now, however, I am content to watch CBC newscasts. Their version of reality is simply out of this world.
There are too many examples of their escapist “news” to recount here, but the telecast of April 20th, 2009 will do nicely. It was another trip to the Outer (Utter) Limits. As always, it was captive of our hallowed economic indicators. The ones that flash up like light bulbs with predictable regularity each evening when too many TV zombies look to the CBC to misinform them about a planet quite unlike the one I experience. These indices tell me as much about the real world as a broken gas gauge tells you about how far your car will go without a refill. The Dow Jones Industrial average and the TSX are not reliable guides to sustainability. A more useful news feature would be an index of our falling fish stocks, aquifers, farm acreage, air quality and general well-being. The state of our currency in US dollars doesn’t quite rank with these concerns, in my book.
That particular evening, Canada’s reliable mouthpiece of conventional PC wisdom, Peter Mansbridge, led off with “bad” news. The Awful Truth that the Canadian economy had shrunk by 3% in the last quarter. My God! The end of the world! Certainly the end of life as we know it! “It is even worse than the government expected”, Mansbridge exclaimed. But it was even better than I had hoped. To tell you the truth, the environment could do with a thirty percent “shrinkage” of economic activity in this country. Such activity is a function of too many people consuming too much. Except our politicians don’t see it that way. Especially when they are playing to a green gallery and trotting out their shiny new “climate change strategy”, “green” stimulus package or park dedication. Somehow in their virtual world, nature conservation and reduced GHG emissions can co-exist with rapid population and economic growth. It is only a growing economy, after all, that can afford the cost of a “clean” environment. In other words, in achieving “prosperity” by trashing the environment, hey, we can always buy a new one. Kind of like an alcoholic who has binged for decades and nevertheless expects to recover his health and a new liver once he kicks the habit. Then he can reach his arbitrary pinnacle of material well-being and find this fabled nirvana of “Freedom 55”. Environmental health, you see, is an externality, a luxury that we cast off the moment we find that the economy has slackened from its suicidal pace. Surely we have a right to restore hyper-consumerism to the standard that we have become accustomed. Even Green Party leader Elizabeth May has made noise about getting the economy rolling again. All the while keeping to her green agenda of course.
Social democrats are also past masters of this kind of logic. In a speech given on May 22/08 to “The Shepherds of Good Hope”, NDP leader Jack Layton complained the “benefits” of economic growth “are not being equally shared with Canadians.” Then he attacked Prime Minister Stephen Harper for not countering the recession with a more aggressive stimulus package. Layton wants to revive a comatose heroine addict so that he can resume his destructive habit. Has he not considered rehab? Layton has it backwards. The only problem with economic shrinkage is that its hardships are not evenly shared. Let the developers and the bankers tighten their belts. Let’s share a smaller economic pie equitably. But Layton doesn’t get it. None of them do. Neither the CBC nor the other “opposititon” parties in the House. Instead, they all compete for the most climate-friendly politician of the year award. It is a trophy that can be won by promoting growth and curbing emissions at the time. The last winner was Houdini I believe. He didn’t stop growth but he did manage it and accommodate it, and therefore qualified for membership in the Sierra Club. It is a wonder that the CBC didn’t canonize him.
Quadra Island, B.C.