Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Whom do we turn to for help?

Gywnne Dyer was recently posted in the Hamilton Spectator calling for geo-engineering. Dyer is a hard-headed realist on many international issues, and he's convinced that prevention isn't going to happen on climate change. Unfortunately, Dyer doesn't extend his perceptive powers to ask and try to explain why prevention won't occur. One simple answer is that the economy trumps everything else. This is a relatively new phenomenon, dating back only to about the 1950s, but it has become accepted as gospel (almost in the fundamentalist religious sense). The first and most important question is always: "Is this good for the economy?" As long as that is the decisive question, we are doomed. We have to change that channel. It's not hard to argue that the first question should be something else - "Is this good for the planet? Is this good for people? Is this good for health?" - There are lots of better choices.

I strongly suspect that the effort to influence some "influential groups in society" will founder on this question. Even the churches - once the official defenders of faith and morality - appear to be making their green decisions on the basis of money - example: installing solar panels on the place of worship to help pay the bills; getting an energy audit and trying to plug the leaky structures to reduce expenses.

Even many environmental organizations are appealing to the "good for the economy" mantra. The "What to do about Gas Prices" flyer is an example. Although we may argue that its fundamental message is reduction of consumption, its appeal is to the pocketbook - what the average person equates with the economy. The fatal flaw is the "good for the economy" is always focused on the short term. Good for the economy of the 22nd century is not on the radar. In fact, it is specifically removed from discussion by the future discounting practice of economists.

I'm attracted to the idea of focusing our efforts on challenging and rejecting the "good for the economy" argument. I don't think this is the most important thing for most people.  Health, safety, family, community, lots of things trump it. The  "good for the economy"  slogan was specifically created by those seeking maximum incomes for themselves. One of their weapons of choice is "lower taxes" which serves their goals in two ways - it justifies lower CORPORATE taxes, and it cripples government (the only representative of the collective interest). By far the simplest immediate step on climate change is a carbon tax - but that is exactly the opposite of the "economy first" mantra.

If you set aside the possibility that our prime minister is just plain evil or a representative of some oil companies, the rationale that appears to drive his decisions - and he says this over and over again - is that fighting climate change will hurt the economy. The argument has some merit - if you only look four or eight years into the future - and if you don't believe that other countries (especially the USA) will act appropriately.

What does this mean for those who care about the future of life on this planet? How do we tackle "the economy first" position? It seems we have lots to work with. Nearly everyone is being directly harmed by the consequences of this "economy first" and the scandalous consequences of the greed that gave birth to it. And if we're going to talk to church leaders, educators, medical professionals, etc., I think we need to start by saying improving the economy is NOT the objective. Instead we need to say to them and everyone else that the focus on the economy is the problem.

Hamilton 350 blog

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