Suzuki’s bottom line

Especially during the ongoing global economic crisis, politicians and industries have been very effective at using the argument that we must ‘balance’ environmental protection with economic growth in order to avoid increased regulation of profitable but damaging industries like the oil sands or offshore oil and gas exploitation. In a sign of just how effective this strategy has been, leading Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki is launching a new series, entitled The Bottom Line, which intends to focus on precisely this. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, Suzuki expresses his frustration with how ineffective the environmental movement has been, and how effectively blocked it has been by appeals to the importance of continued economic growth.

There are certainly strong counterarguments to the claim that we should privilege the economy completely over the environment. Most fundamentally, doing so puts us in a parasitic situation, in relation to future generations. We more irreplaceable natural capital we suck out of the Earth, the less of a solid base they will have upon which to meet their needs and sustain their civilization. There are also strong arguments that only consider those alive right now; you just need to count the suffering of those dying from air pollution as well as the jobs and government revenues created by the coal mining companies and power plants generating those toxins.

The ‘balance’ argument is an insidious one, because it seems common sense and reasonable, and also because it suggests a false dynamic. Specifically, it suggests that we are already making major economic sacrifices for the sake of environmental protection. That can certainly be questioned. Even looking only at tangible benefits to those alive now, the kind of environmental regulations we have in place are easily justified in economic terms. We were hardly in a position of making special environmental sacrifices, before the crisis in the global economic system forced us to reluctantly think about the cash in our wallets again.

Hopefully, Suzuki will be able to spread some of those messages in an effective way.

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