The challenge

We all know the economic models are wrong.

I grew up knowing that the Earth is finite, so limitless growth is impossible.  Nobody told me this as a child, it was simply obvious.  This is not just gut level sense.  It isn’t an odd environmentalist concern.  I have yet to meet an economist who believes that growth at the rates we have seen in the last century can be maintained forever on a finite planet.  Most people I speak to fully understand the problem with infinite growth too.  It’s not a tricky concept.  In fact it’s quite obvious.

We’ve overfished the majority of commercial fish to extinction, eliminated most of the world’s forests and depleted ancient aquifers that watered our ancestors for centuries.  We’ve turned productive agricultural lands to dustbowls, killed rivers and lakes and filled the air we breathe with persistent toxins.  And all that is just what we’ve done with the theoretically renewable resources that were supposed to last forever.

Governments the world over, in their pursuit of endless growth, have been irresponsible stewards of the basics on which our economy relies on, and the fundamentals on which our life depends.

The path forward

The alternative to focusing on growth is not opposing growth at all costs.  It is focusing on more important things – literacy, health, time and happiness, plus ensuring that resources remain in place so that the economy can remain strong for our children.

There are four steps to achieving this.

  1. Introduce a Genuine Progress Indicator instead of the GDP as an indicator of progress. This will measure not just whether Canadians spent more money, but whether our natural capital remains intact to support a strong economy in the future, and whether the average Canadian is healthier and happier.
  2. Enshrine the right to clean air and water as well as safe food, into the Canadian Constitution.  Enforce this right so that polluters are not allowed to sabotage such fundamentals for all Canadians.
  3. Enable and encourage Canadians to reduce waste to use resources wisely and sustainably through regulatory and market mechanisms.
  4. Enable and encourage Canadians to spend more time with their families by promoting work sharing, flexible work schedules and telecommuting, and by implementing a shorter work week, more vacation time and guaranteed family incomes.

It’s time

It’s time to return to the economic wisdom that guided humanity for millenia, based on self-evident observations that if you use your air, water and soil as a garbage can, eventually the results will be unhappy.

Greens in Canada are not alone.  Whole institutes of sober scholarship have been devoted to these ideas.  Europeans are light years ahead in insisting on responsible use of resources and management of wastes.  Other countries are also leading the way to investment in ideas with a bright future – homes that require no heating, cars that run on rechargeable batteries that can be popped in and out for longer distances, fully renewable electric grids.

Canadians used to be on the cutting edge of leading ideas.  We can be there again.

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