Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

A guest post from Jim Miles

with 3 comments

This letter was circulated to the BCEN LW list and is reprodcued here by permission of the author.

I have wrestling with this issue for some – the BCEN LW list of full of stuff that I find spurs thought, and of course hardly any of iot comes from the mainstream media. When the GO leaders met over the weekend they talked about tackling the current economic problem by stimulating demand. They want to get back into growth mode, even though it is growth that is causing our problems, just as the Brundtland Commission said it would twenty five years ago. I asked Jim if I could publish this piece here since I think he says this better than I could.

Cause and effect

In a full page ad in the morning local paper (Vernon Morning Star,
Sunday, November 16) the provincial government is reversing the cause
and effect relationship between global warming and the economy.  It
starts by describing several local effects of global warming – pine
beetle epidemic, floods, water supply, wildfires  – but realistically
only the first one can be directly attributed to global warming, as the
others could have other local human causes.  That leads to their
defining statement that “These effects of global warming have already
taken a heavy toll on our economy, our natural resources, and people’s
homes and livelihoods.”

That is a full reversal of the cause and effect sequence with global
warming.  It is our economy that causes global warming, not the other
way around.  Our economy is one based on consumer consumption, on
economic growth.  It is our consumption of natural resources – extending
from energy in most of its forms for transportation, manufacturing, and
agriculture, to the harvesting of natural products to build more homes
(wood, minerals of all kinds, more energy for heating and light), and
the harvesting of agricultural products that in our current consumer
model requires large amounts of chemicals for pesticides, herbicides,
and fertilizers, all taking their toll on the environment.

Humans, being living organisms, will consume their environment as other
organisms do.  In our species that has been combined with a system of
operation commonly called “free market capitalism” that encourages human
greed in the form of over-consumption of goods and energy.  It is
obvious from current economic news and current global climate change
news that the freedom of the market, while it produces lots of money
(albeit based on debt – consuming equity we have yet to produce) and
keeps the economic statisticians happy with a ‘growing’ economy, has
little consideration for either the environment or the people working to
have and save their “homes and livelihoods.”

It is our economy, our lifestyle, which has created both the economic
crisis and the climate crisis.  The cure for the economy is a great
unknown as various global organizations and governments struggle to keep
themselves in their elite positions.  Their cures for the economy have
so far been based on throwing money to the very people who caused the
problem in the first place, the investment companies and the banking
system.  Now they are going to throw money at consumer credit but the
consumer can rest assured that they themselves will not be bailed out,
but the banks and credit card companies will have money floated their
way.  The little guys, you and me, will still have to pay our bills and
mortgages while the banks and corporations rely on our tax dollars to
solve their debt problems.

The cure for the climate crisis also lies within the economy.  It is
well and good to have governments tell us to turn off our lights more,
and drive more economic vehicles, and use public transportation, but
when the overall economy is still based on consumer consumption of
‘stuff’ that we really do not need, and is largely a created want
through advertising, the climate will continue to change rapidly as we
consume resources.

Within the big three auto companies facing bankruptcy can be seen the
intersection of climate change and consumerism.  Will the governments
bail out these companies, or let them suffer the fate of bankruptcy that
all free marketeers seem to think is the natural flow of things (and
which still applies to the average citizen)?  Will our economic and
social structures which are largely based on the freedom provided by the
mass consumption of automobiles continue as is, or will their be a true
change towards alternate structures that help both the economy and the
environment be truly sustainable?

Time will tell.  In the meantime we continue living in a society where
global warming is being used as the cause of our economic and
environmental breakdowns rather than the effect of an unsustainable
economy.  If we cannot identify cause and effect properly, the solution
will certainly not work.

Yours sincerely,

Jim Miles

Written by Stephen Rees

November 17, 2008 at 7:18 pm

3 Responses

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  1. But growth is such a fundamentally accepted thing… how can we even begin to change that on a mass scale? Sure, we few believers will voluntarily consume less and think about the consequences of our greed, but how can that ideal be spread?

    I hate to say this, but I don’t think it can. I am starting to think that only collapse can save the planet, and that will be very nasty for us indeed.


    November 17, 2008 at 9:48 pm

  2. Collapse is already starting to happen in other parts of the world. We might get shocked into reality by this and change enough in time to save our bacon, but it will come at a very high cost just the same.


    November 20, 2008 at 3:34 pm

  3. I tend to be more pessemistic about this than the tone of this article. A previous article I wrote contains more of the reality that may hit us:

    Jim Miles

    December 13, 2008 at 8:13 pm

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