Thursday, March 15, 2007


In an email dated March 9/07, you state, in reply to your constituent Brishen Hoff, that “equitable production, consumption and distribution patterns often have more to do with generating environmental degradation than the impact of population growth.”
Really? I’m sure the U.N. would like to know how. They have estimated the global population to be 20% in “over-shoot”. Paul Ehrlich’s most hopeful estimate is that we are over-populated by 4.5 billion. Some experts say planet Earth cannot sustain more than a billion people without oil. The numbers are a matter of contention. The fact of over-population and its fatal impact on biodiversity is not.
I’ve read one estimate that we in Canada are over-populated by a factor of four to ten. An optimistic guess was made by esteemed biologist Dr. Neil K. Dawe of the Qualicum Institute, known for his studies on sustainability. Dawe said that Canada’s environment could viably support its current population level of 32 million if we returned to the level of consumption we “enjoyed” in 1950. Add the 8 million new Canadians that Jack Layton wants to add to that total through immigration and we would likely have to consume at 1930’s levels to protect natural capital. Do you think contemporary Canadians would give up their toys to do that? And where would all the extra bodies live? The Arctic Tundra? The Canadian Shield? The Rocky Mountains? No, on the last vestiges of remaining arable land outside of our major cities.
The Fraser Valley is perfect example of this kind of demographic impact. Ten years ago Ottawa paid $2.4 million to have 23 UBC academics conduct The Fraser Basin Ecosystem Study. They catalogued the devastating impact that population growth has had on the valley’s native plants, fish, aquifers, rural streams, soils and wildlife with the conversion of wetlands to farms, and then ironically, farms to subdivisions. They concluded that the population level of the region was three times greater than what the ecosystem could sustain. They found that population is central to sustainability and that government cannot pursue sustainability and at the same time ignore population. The study group recommended that Ottawa adopt a population policy for Canada “that is consistent with the principles of sustainability”, and that the provincial government likewise adopt a population policy as one of the foundations of social policy for sustainable development. Trouble is, as principal investigator Professor Michael Healey observed, “no one wants to talk about population policies…if anyone raises it, they are accused of racism.” Things haven’t changed much in ten years, have they? The difference between Dr. Healey and Jack Layton is that Dr. Healey is chasing down the scientific facts while Jack is chasing the votes of ethnic Toronto and Vancouver. What should govern our population policy is not what our economy requires, but what our environment can sustain, not how many immigrants the ethnocultural council wants or how many refugees Stephen Lewis wants but how many our environment can sustain. Period.
So what has population growth done to Canada and the world? According to Millenium Assessment Studies it has compromised 60% of 24 biodiversity services so critical to our survival. Thirty-three trillion dollars worth of services like replenishing aquifers, filtering water and replacing topsoil. Without these services our “ human” economy would die. Climate change is a canyon that cuts across our highway, but it is still fifty miles down the road. The collapse of biodiversity services is very much closer than that.
You cite Simon DeJong as an environmental champion way back in 1983. Well, way back in 1972 we BC New Democrats passed resolutions in favour of stopping population growth as a key to protecting environmental integrity. Verbatim: “An NDP government will give top priority to environmental problems with particular emphasis of population control.” (1972) You see, we read “Limits to Growth” and we knew that the Population Bomb (Paul Ehrlich) was ticking just as loudly in Canada as elsewhere. Our environmental literacy then was higher than the class of 83 and light years ahead of your class of 07. Any one of us then could have seen, that if you cut your per capita energy consumption in half, but then turn around and double your population, you are doing the Labour of Sisyphus. Or if you try to reduce greenhouse emissions by 20% with the introduction of tough restrictions on cars and factories that spew noxious gases as Tony Blair did in 1996, but then allow the number of cars and factories to increase by that amount from economic growth, you are back to square one. You are bailing water out of a leaky boat. In fact, greenhouse emissions actually increased by 3% during Blair’s decade-long plan, causing 80 MPs to sign a declaration calling for the abandonment of economic growth as a foolish pursuit and faulty paradigm. Economic growth, it should be noted, is a function of population level and per capita consumption rate. Too many people. Too much consumption. Deal with both. Or you’re not dealing with either. You are in denial.
Ms. Mathyssen, you are in denial. Like all of your parliamentary colleagues, as well as the Greens, and the mainstream environmentalists, you are apparently unable to see the Elephant Standing in the Room. And he is only going to get bigger. By century’s end, Canada will have 70 million people, and America 700 million, barring refugee admissions, if immigration levels persist. Biodiversity cannot coexist with a fraction of these numbers, yet green politicians and environmentalists will do back-flips before they will acknowledge the Elephant. Such is the power of Political Correctness.
To compound matters, you argue that “there is no ethical mechanism to prohibit population growth in Canada or abroad.” Is there an ethical option not to? What is the point of having a morality if our species becomes extinct from over-population, perishing, as Farley Mowat once put it, like yeasts in vat breeding to the point that we are poisoned in the lethal brew of our making? Oil and natural gas depletion could kill 800 million people yearly for 18 years---that’s one scenario. Biodiversity collapse will surely do us in if that doesn’t. Global warming is just the coup de grace that should be the least of our worries, although it has captured all of our attention. As my bumper sticker says, “Either we limit growth, or Nature will limit Us”. Nature’s way is highly unethical, I can assure you.
We can limit growth, if we resolve to do so, but first people like you have to acknowledge the existence of two concepts and grasp their meaning. “Carrying capacity” and “biophysical limits”. When you’ve done that, then you can set to work reforming your position to conform to this reality. And you can begin to explore ways to limit growth locally, nationally and globally. Start locally. Check out Qualicum Beach, BC and Okotoks, Alberta. They’ve capped their population. If it can be done locally, it can be done nationally. To tackle the global problem, several ideas are current, Australian biologist John Reid has some, the education of young women is a proven winner---there are problem-solvers out there. Become one of them. Not just another problem-denier.
One more thing. There was an NDP slogan I recall from a provincial election in 1969, it read : “People Before Profits”. It’s a new era, with new priorities. I think you should try this slogan: “Nature Before People”. Just as a lifeboat must come before its passengers. Because if the lifeboat sinks, they all drown. And there is no “social democracy” on a dead planet, and no “social justice” for endangered species—your human-centered agenda has no value for them and they too are citizens of Canada and the world.

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