Thursday, January 25, 2007


Imagine a tall office building with five elevators, some larger than others. The lobby is jammed with a multitude of people pushing toward the elevators, desperately trying to board them. They all want to get out of the place they’re in and reach a better destination. Who can blame them?

But each elevator has a limited capacity, including the one we’re in. The limit is stated in terms of numbers of people, but to be precise it is the weight of those people that matters. Our elevator—Canada—looks very capacious at first blush but actually it has a carrying capacity of only ten people, according to the panel on the wall. That figure is premised on the assumption that the average passenger has a body weight of 170 lbs.

Presently we already have 12 people on board, but in the face of outside pressure, some occupants wish to admit more people from the lobby. One of us is an economist who simply denies that our elevator has a limited carrying capacity. For him the sky is the limit. Another of us is a politician whowelcomes new entrants as potential supporters. Yet another is a churchman who thinks that because most of the people in the lobby are of the less advantaged or “people of colour”, they should be accepted in seemingly unlimited numbers.

But then there is the trendy “environmentalist” who does in fact acknowledge that our elevator has a limited carrying capacity. So what does he propose? That we close the door and think “safety first”? NO! He tells us—the 12 occupants—to go on a crash diet so we can reduce our weight demands on the cables above, and then continue to admit more people from the lobby.

Now, I could lose some weight, most of us could—I consume more than I need to. But what is the point of the exercise? Less consumption, but more people?

Right now, according to UN estimates, there are anywhere between 15-50 million people “in the lobby”. With rising sea levels that will double, triple or quadruple. And Canada, America, Australia, Argentina and Northern Europe will be, realistically, the only “elevators” available. To accommodate even a fraction of these numbers each one of these “elevators” would strain, the cables would fray and snap and bring down every one in it—both the human occupants and the biodiversity they depend on.

Limits have to be set. We set them every day. They are set by fire marshals, by the WCB, by Transport Canada, by any number of agencies for any number of reasons. They are set on elevators. On the number of people who can sit in restaurants, theatres or ice rinks. Or even on the number of people who can use a given Provincial Park at a given time. Limits are being set by town councils like the one in Qualicum Beach, B. C. or the governing body of Lasqueti Island, B.C. as to what a healthy population level will be for those communities. If economic and population growth limits can be set by local communities, they can be set nationally. All it takes is resolve.


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