There is a battle being fought on my island. It is being fought silently and incrementally. It is a battle to maintain our quality of life. And it is a battle we are losing, with our own unwitting collusion, day by day. We are losing this battle with our attitudes, attitudes that are shared by people and communities across Canada—and the world. It is the attitude that we have no right to stop growth, and that growth can go on and on forever. As Farley Mowat once said, we will apparently just keep multiplying like yeast in a vat until we perish in the lethal wastes of our own making. Here’s an example of what I am talking about.
Recently I was buying a plant from a local nursery, situated on a beautiful 10 acre estate. Noticing that another house was being constructed on the site, I asked the owner what it was about, and she replied that it was for her kids. She complained that children who grow up on Quadra Island can’t afford to buy land here anymore so the only way we can provide it for them is to build on our own property. Therefore “we must change the law so that we can subdivide properties to make them affordable to them.” At that point I thought I might introduce a contrarian thought: “So instead of 3500 people our population becomes 7,000, and what happens when your kids have kids, are we then to allow more densification to accommodate them? We enjoy a certain quality of life at 3500 people which at 7,000 people could be lost forever.”
“Yes”, she said—and this is the classic response—“but do we have a right to say no more once we’re here?”. “Actually, we do”, I said. “We have a moral right to set limits. There are only so many seats in a movie theatre. Once they are taken, the door is shut. You don’t ask patrons to accept newcomers in to sit on their laps.” This discussion was different than others I’ve had, because it didn’t spiral out of control into a heated exchange. I said that I understood her sentiments because I have a niece who grew up here and would love to live here and can’t. I simply didn’t want Quadra to sleepwalk toward becoming Saltspring Island, once an island like this, but now Paradise Lost with 27,000 people. She nodded agreement to that.
Just as a movie theatre has a limited seating capacity, so too does an island have limited carrying capacity, as does a nation like Canada, as does the planet itself. Once people accept community limits, then I think, they can be moved to accept national and global population limits. Coupled with cut-backs to consumption, they will then have strangled Economic Growth, which is killing biodiversity worldwide and will counter-act any gains made by tough greenhouse gas emissions regulations.
Stopping growth begins at home. It begins with your attitude. You must abandon the assumption that growth is inevitable and unstoppable, or that it can continue indefinitely. Or if we must stop it, we haven’t the right to stop it because we can’t very well “pull up the ladder” once we are aboard. You must put the needs of your local environment ahead of the wants of an unending torrent of newcomers. If not for your sake, then for the sake of our habitat, our remaining fresh lakes and streams and fish and pastures, we must draw a line. Where and when is a question of debate. I should only hope that when and if we have such a debate, that we listen not to politicians, economists, refugee advocates and humanitarians, but to independent biologists and ecologists not on the take. For they understand the concept of biophysical limits and carrying capacity. The debate can only begin with the absolute conviction that we have the right, in our local community, and in our country, to draw that line. My fear is that when we finally come to that realization, it will be far too late.