Friday, October 23, 2009


In a letter dated April 29, 2009, Rob Dietz of the Centre for the Advancement of a Steady State Economy (CASSE) writes,

“The CASSE position, a document that can be signed by individuals and endorsed by organizations, recognizes the conflict between economic growth and environmental protection. It proposes the steady state economy, characterized by stable population and per capita consumption, as a desirable alternative to continued growth.
Many leading sustainability thinkers have signed this position, including David Suzuki, Vandana Shiva, David Orr, Bill McKibben, Herman Daly, Caroline Lucas, Gus Speth, and Wendell Berry. Dozens of organizations have endorsed the position, and it has been used as a model for professional scientific societies to adopt their own positions on economic growth….To find evidence that our leaders are mired in the old paradigm, we need look no further than the bank bailouts. Stimulus spending to get the economy growing is not the change we need…. Many policy changes can help us establish financial systems and an economy that are sustainable.”

Note the words that I have highlighted by bold lettering.
A stable population is a key element of a steady state economy. In the Anglophone countries of Canada, the United States, Australia and the UK at least, the main driver of population growth is immigration. That is right, the ugly “P” and “I” words that so many in our movement are terrified of mentioning. Unfortunately, our environmental crisis is of such severity that we haven’t the luxury of tip-toeing around politically incorrect facts. Yet so many of us do, including some of the signatories of the CASSE document. The presence of their names do nothing to strength the credibility of the declaration. A preacher found to be cruising the red light district does not bring respectability to his church or to his sermons. Environmental leaders must denounce growth in all its manifestations, not shroud it in the clothing of trendy green euphemisms or ignore it altogether.

Historically, economic power has been exceedingly concentrated in Canada, with five major banks playing a pivotal role in shaping the direction of the country. Leading the parade has been the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). Like all financial institutions, it makes its living from growth, for only growth can generate the income borrowers need to pay back the interest on loans that banks provide. Growth is what banks are all about, and the more growth, the merrier. RBC is arguably the most potent player in Canada’s Growth Lobby, as its Chairman Gordon Nixon has publicly and stridently advocated that the federal government of Canada increase its stratosphere immigration quota by 50% or 135-150 thousand “permanent” residents per year to a grand total of 400,000. In addition to this figure, at least another 100,000 would enter on a “temporary” Visa, and as the saying goes, “nothing is so permanent as a temporary immigrant.” As the latest census of March 2007 revealed, Canada already has the highest population growth rate in the G8 group. And a backlog of nearly a million approved applications for entry have yet to be processed.

The most confounding aspect of this development is that Canada’s environmental organizations have remained silent about this growth. They were mute about the Census report, mute about pro-natalist policies, and mute about a per capita immigration rate that ranks with Australia in its reckless irresponsibility. They spin out the same greenwash that politicians do that somehow population growth is not a critical component of economic growth, or that growth can be decoupled from GHG emissions and environmental degradation. Growth can be ecologically benign by being “managed” or steered out of harm’s way. It can be made “smart”. Smart growth? Smart clear-cuts, smart extinctions, smart pollution? What other oxymoronic concoctions are on the draft board? Growth is growth, and even a ‘green’ stimulus package exacts ecological costs. Is it that environmentalists don’t understand or are paid NOT to understand?

I think both. The Royal Bank of Canada has endowed the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) handsomely and bestowed an honour on David Suzuki, as well as to hold out a tin cup for the Nature of Conservancy Canada. Other financial institutions have made similar arrangements---the Toronto Dominion Bank, for example, is a benefactor of the Sierra Club of BC. It is a symbiotic relationship. The green NGOs are so hungry for cash that securing and expanding their donor base seems to be a greater fixation than their campaigns. At the same time, the banks gain much needed ecological dispensation in the same way as rich patrons bought indulgences from medieval popes. So while they underwrite the housing developments that sprawl across our precious farmland, the banks coat themselves with green paint by “greening” their offices according to the presciptions of the DSF, and the TD Bank organizes litter clean-ups on the beaches. In effect, the DSF, the Sierra Club, Nature Conservancy, Greenpeace and the rest of the green establishment act as Pied Pipers decoying concerned innocents away from root causes to chase one symptom after another. Environmental volunteers and subscribers are like a fire brigade run ragged by dashing around putting out one brush fire after another, but without dealing with the major conflagration---growth.

Private pronouncements are not enough. David Suzuki has confided on not just one occasion that Canada’s mass immigration policy is, to use his word, “nuts”. But to create that ‘critical mass’ that Rob Dietz talks about, we need green leaders to summon the same courage that famous wildlife artist and environmental activist Robert Bateman has. Bateman has publicly declared his opposition to population growth in Canada and has severed his support for the myopic, timid and corrupt environmental NGOs that I have alluded to. One can’t creditably assert, as Green Party leader Elizabeth May has, that, quoting Paul Ehrlich, “growth is the ideology of the cancer cell”, but then turn around and advocate a 25% increase in our immigration intake, as well as an open-door refugee policy. And signing the CASSE document while doing so is hypocrisy in the extreme.

Green icons must walk the talk.

Tim Murray
Vice President,
Biodiversity First

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