Wednesday, September 13, 2017

David Asks the Really Awkward Question

While our prime minister fantasizes that we're still in the 1980s, David Suzuki poses the RAQ, the Really Awkward Question - how do we square Trudeau's pursuit of perpetual exponential economic growth with our fight against climate change?

A July 2017 study in Nature Climate Change concluded that the world only has a five per cent chance of keeping global average temperature from increasing beyond 2°C. On a positive note, the authors found economies worldwide will likely become more energy-efficient, and low-carbon sources like wind and solar will make up a growing share of the mix.

But economic growth will likely cancel out these advances. For every megatonne of emissions reduced through efficiency and clean energy, another megatonne will be produced because of economic expansion. Our economies will get bigger almost as fast as they get cleaner, and emissions will not drop quickly enough to stave off catastrophic climate change.

Economic growth has been the primary goal of every Canadian government, provincial and federal, for decades. Leaders’ speeches are peppered with references to it. Election campaigns are filled with promises of economic expansion. Pity the politician who presides over an economic downturn.

Rarely do we stop to ask what economic growth means. In short, it’s a year-to-year increase in production, distribution and consumption, as expressed by gross domestic product.


This promise of “green growth” is popular because it offers something for everybody. It maintains a commitment to economic growth while claiming greenhouse gas emissions will drop. But, as the Nature Climate Change study asserts, “green growth” is likely an oxymoron. (I have another word for it, "bullshit.")

“Degrowth” advocates argue that tackling climate change requires shrinking the economy. A planned slowdown of the economy would be achieved by implementing shorter workweeks and more holidays and encouraging low-consumption lifestyles.

“Agrowth” advocates such as environmental economist Jeroen van den Bergh argue that we should ignore GDP altogether, and instead evaluate progress using indicators such as literacy, employment, rates of diabetes and heart disease, water and air quality and climate stability. If GDP happens to go up while these indicators improve, so be it. If GDP goes down while other measures of well-being increase, what have we truly lost?

This argument has been made by economists of the "steady state" school for decades.  Let's pursue growth where it can serve us, growth in knowledge, growth in quality of life. Not Trudeau's idea of growth or the premiers' - growth for growth's sake alone.

If moving beyond the Pan-Canadian Framework is at odds with growing the economy, let’s make sure our elected officials have their priorities straight. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions should take precedence over economic growth.

Face it Liberals, Trudeau is young, to be sure. But, where it matters most, he's just another old man following the footsteps of all the old men that went before him.  Sure the Tories are worse. Doesn't matter. I never put my trust and my hope in Tories. My problem is that I'm old enough to remember when Liberals were a meaningful bit different than Tories.


Toby said...

That's basic math. We used to learn that in ninth grade algebra. At the time it was sort of a cute trick but it is always obvious that growth in a finite space means ultimately hitting a wall. Our Prime Minister taught school; does he not know this?

The Mound of Sound said...

I think he taught drama, Toby.

Hugh said...

CBC article says Canada's annual GDP growth rate is 4.5%:

Dividing into 72 means, if that rate were kept, Canada's GDP would double in 16 years.

Hugh said...

BC's Total Provincial Debt, which includes BC Hydro, is growing at an average of 6.2% per year.

Dividing into 72 means BC's total debt will double in 11.6 years.

The Mound of Sound said...

Hugh, I think I'm getting close to "overload."