Thursday, 21 July 2011

"It's the environment, stupid- it's the environment!"

By Don Pearson, General Manager, Conservation Ontario

There can be no doubt the most urgent matter on people’s minds during the current election campaign (ignoring the current heat wave) is the fragile state of the global economy and lack of any good news coming out of our neighbour to the south, Ontario’s largest trading partner.  Stock markets are exhibiting the usual bout of summer doldrums (can’t decide to go up or down) and there is an underlying nervousness that the world economy could plunge back into recession at the slightest provocation.

Many economists, governments, and businesses today recognize that the economy is a subset of the environment. However, so far, in the lead up to Ontario’s October election, there hasn’t been a word about the environment beyond the obvious connection between the development of green energy sources and reduction of our dependence on carbon as a source of energy (coal fired electric generation plants as the most iconic example).   Recent layoffs at the Ontario Ministry of the Environment seem to reinforce the notion that some perceive the pendulum has swung too far in favour of environmental protection and that the environment is a burden on the economy, a barrier to economic recovery, and an unreasonable intrusion into the rights and freedoms of individuals.

What is most disturbing to many people who are knowledgeable and concerned about the state of the environment, is that there are a host of serious environmental issues that directly and significantly influence our economy and will impact us greatly in the immediate future; yet, they are not even up for discussion.  The state of our water resources (even in this part of the globe that is relatively rich in water supplies), loss of capacity to produce food, loss of biodiversity and the continuing extinction of species, our continuing dependence on carbon fuel, rising ocean levels, and a reshuffling of world climactic patterns are examples.  

Why aren’t we talking about these issues?  Is it our unwillingness as a species, a society, and a global community to confront the truth and accept some strong medicine today to make survival of humanity beyond the 21st century a possibility?  Are we too focused on clinging to our consumptive lifestyle and consumption driven economy to pay attention to the real issues?

Did anyone notice the recently declared famine afflicting the already desperate people who “live” in the horn of Africa?  Try to imagine when those conditions affect more than half of the world’s population, some of it possibly closer to home.  Remember the phrase spoken during the 1992 US presidential campaign, “It’s the economy, stupid!”  It may be time to change that slogan slightly to, “It’s the environment, stupid, it’s the environment!”

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