The Village Green

A blog about how Canadians can achieve energy independence by powering down and then powering up the right way.

For some time now it has been evident that the relationship between environmental/planetary sustainability and economic “prosperity” has been presented as a Manichaean Bargain.  It is exactly this: a false choice.   At heart of the issue lies language and story-telling, that being the way we define prosperity and the stories we tell ourselves. 

I had a client meeting this week which stood in stark contrast to the criticism faced by the recent study co-authored by the David Suzuki Foundation, the Pembina Institute and M.K Jaccard and Associates analyzing the costs Canadians would face adopting to a low-carbon future.   In a Wildean kind of way, the critics were predictably the kinds of people who know the price of everything and the value of absolutely nothing.  

My meeting was with the facilities and property manger of a religious order.  We discussed how to begin studying the potential for energy retrofits of her organization’s properties.  Of course balancing and meeting operating budgets in the face of rising energy prices was of prime concern to her and her colleagues who hold a portfolio of older properties and houses across the city.  This part of the conversation was purely about operational continuity – how does an organization with an aging member base meet costs? -, an issue any business executive would recognize.  The other part of the conversation was grounded in matters of spirituality. 

What obligation do we have to each other, future unborn generations, the countless teeming billions of plants, animals, birds, fish and insects that have no voice in our economic system, and what obligation do we have to our Creator?  Do these obligations involve ensuring we leave the world a better place than before we got here in this incarnation?  My client would evidently think so.  

As we reach various ecological tipping points – the climate crisis being merely one of many – it should be increasingly evident that these crises are actually spiritual and ethical in nature.  Moreover, they are also rooted in language and collective story-telling.  

How do we define prosperity?  The traditional benchmark found in any newspaper lies in the measure of economic activity, commonly measured as Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  With GDP, more is always better.  

But is more really better?  

If I smash every car window on my street, the economy technically grows as we replace all those windows.  But are we better off?  My neighbours would think not.  

If we retrofit buildings for greater energy efficiency, reducing their energy needs by 50% or greater in perpetuity, our need to send money to tar sands operators is reduced also in perpetuity.  We are “shrinking” the economy.  But are we worse off?  Or are we better off as a result of training a new generation of young people a whole new set of skills with the result being a cleaner planet AND a smaller economy? 

These are the questions I would like to ask the very vocal opponents of the Suzuki/Pembina/Jaccard study.  This is the question I would like to ask our Prime Minister.   I imagine the silence would deafen.  

Gabriel Draven 

Halloween, 2009 

p.s I spent much of the weekend reading Untapped: The Scramble for Africa’s Oil by John Ghazvinian.  The world over we have seen that oil-rich countries tend to slide toward anti-democratic behaviour and institutional corruption.  One wonders how Canada , with its western tar oil wealth, will fair in this trend.  With the federal Harper Conservative government offside of the will of the majority of Canadians as it pertains to climate policy, it would seem an answer is starting to form.