Wednesday, January 2, 2008


Like they used to say about marriage, the NDP and the Sierra Club (social democrats in hiking boots) go together like a horse and carriage. A horse with blinkers on that is. In matters environmental, both believe that the ecological consequences of population growth can be steered out of harms way by thoughtful planning, or simply ignored.

“Growth is good”, declared deposed NDP Premier Lorne Calvert, so long as it is “shared”. Others are not so necessarily sanguine. They merely say that it is “inevitable”—so lets make the best of it.

One local NDP President articulated this attitude quite well when he said that “there is always going to be growth as long as the population keeps growing and cheap land is available but that doesn’t mean it cannot be planned or channeled. City councils and regional districts have a lot of clout with zoning by-laws. They can ensure that the true costs are paid, that certain areas are a ‘no-go’.” Of course the notion that the tap of population growth could be turned off by the federal government by the simple expedient of turning down immigration is not considered, for that would strike at the heart of NDP policy of a yearly “1% plus” immigration quota.

A Sierra Club spokesperson echoed the above prescription, for in environmental and planning parlance, it falls under the rubric of the famous, or infamous, “Smart Growth” recipe. It is emphatically not an anti-growth position. It is a managed-growth position. The problem is, we don’t manage growth, growth manages us.

Smart growth failed in its birthplace of Portland, Oregon, and across the United States. Tight zoning laws cannot indefinitely defend farmland, wetlands, nature reserves or parks from relentless population growth. And the people who live in strictly defined, dense neighbourhoods still have a footprint, they still generate wastes and green house gasses to the tune of 20 metric tones annually for each Canadian.

The GHG reduction policies of the NDP in Western Canada and federally are flawed by the same assumption that the Sierra Club makes. Namely, that political timidity, outmoded technology, and poor energy choices by industry and households are responsible for our poor record. When asked by CTV News why Canada was failing so badly, John Bennett, a senior policy advisor with the Sierra Club of Canada, said there were three key reasons:

A surge in carbon energy exports, especially oil and gas, a loss in nuclear generating capacity in Ontario in the mid-1990s and its replacement with coal-generated electricity, and a lack of political will to force action on the issue of cutting emissions.

What neither Bennett, nor any NDP or Green politician mentioned was the fact that since 1990, the Kyoto base line year, Canada’s population grew by 19%, which one might think would account for a good portion of the 24% increase in GHG emissions since then. Similar correlations can be found elsewhere. Between 1970 and 2004, America’s population and its GHG emissions both rose an identical 43%, while Australia saw its population and GHG rise almost identically at 31% and 30% respectively between 1990 and 2006.

In fact, per capita emissions have remained stable in Canada, so it is only population growth that can be held responsible for the country’s last place standing in carbon emissions growth. Yet it is to the individual consumer, the “per capita” rather than the volume of “per capitas”that Sierra Club officials direct their appeals. After all, it was Saint Al Gore who said that “each and every one of us can make changes in our lives and become part of the solution.” The watchword is personal responsibility. But oddly, the choice not to have children is never listed among the several steps to fight climate change. After all, it is more cost-effective to avert a birth than to attempt contain that human’s C02 emissions after the fact. A un-born consumer has a smaller footprint than a green one.

This past fall, in welcoming Al Gore to British Columbia, the Sierra Club launched CERCLes (Carbon Emission Reduction Clubs) and invited me to join them in “making a personal commitment to meaningful and measurable change.” But I already did that when I resigned myself to a life of celibacy. Was the Sierra Club handing out condoms?

I was then invited to find out how I could “take action to reduce my carbon footprint.” Well, the best climate change strategy for me I think is to ensure that there is no “pitter-patter” of little carbon footprints running around the house.

And the person best able to most effectively “take action” is Citizenship and Immigration Minister Diane Finley by subtracting 250,000 “footprints” from the quota she had slated to bring into Canada. Then to persuade her cabinet colleagues to end any “baby bonus” that would serve as an incentive to have children here. Whether a consumer enters this country of profligate waste through the maternity ward or through the airport is of no concern to the biosphere. Both are burdensome.

It is no wonder that Sierra Club endorsed the NDP as Canada’s most environmentally-friendly party. It is a marriage of eternal covenant, a tag team of denial.

Tim Murray

Quadra Island, BC

December 10, 2007

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