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Is the home-building industry the prime mover of our ecological ruin?

Economic house of cards, ecological devastation

That the home building industry is the prime mover and catalyst of our ecological ruin was never more clearly illustrated than by statements recently made by University of West Florida economist Rick Harper, director of the UWF’s Haas Centre for Business Research. Harper argued that the real estate market would never recover from the current recession until population growth soaks up existing housing inventory and prices consequently begin to appreciate. “If we don’t stimulate population growth…we are going to take 10 years or more to recover from this recession”, he said, “we’ve had a huge overbuilding of the housing sector, there was just too much investment in residential structures.” He therefore advocates an easing of immigration standards to allow more people of higher education and net worth into the country.

Bob Carr

The former Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, once offered Australia a choice. It could sustain jobs and economic security by using its brains, by being a smart economy, by adding value to the products it produces and by transforming manufacturing. Or it could continue to be a “lazy Australia” that depends on job growth simply by driving up population numbers and depending on the growth you get by building homes and shopping malls. And that is indeed what is it has done, adding a third to its population in less than three decades.

Bush administration

The Bush administration followed a similar course. By outsourcing decent working class jobs and tolerating the blatant mass employment of millions of low wage “undocumented” service sector workers they not only relegated 5 million Americans from the middle class but eviscerated what was left of the manufacturing sector. Land speculation and homebuilding assumed a greater importance in this new economy with a hollow core. Like a drug addict who has forsaken proper nutrition for energy, the new economy of real estate growthism relies on an immigration fix (and birth incentives to a lesser degree) for energy.

One fix never enough for an addict

But each succeeding fix requires greater injections to achieve the same jump start, and the cycle of boom and bust plays out with greater and greater consequences. More severe labour shortages, that call for more foreign injections, and the devastating ecological results, largely unsung, manifested in massive losses in prime farmland at a frightening pace and a cost in wildlife habitat that lies at the perimeter of expanding urban boundaries. Not to mention the greater energy consumption, waste disposal and pollution involved with never-ending urbanization. North American studies reveal that at most, rational land use planning could only mitigate half these problems. The other half are the inevitable consequence of largely immigrant-driven population growth.

Never enough fuel, never enough money

But real estate development itself requires fuel. It requires a favourable interest rate climate, and local governments bought and paid for together with their planning departments, staffed with growth managers who can converse in “greenspeak” and greenwash to assuage anxieties about their development plans. And of course it requires home buyers. People. The more the merrier. And where do people come from? Through the airport or the maternity ward, and the federal government is the gatekeeper at the first and most important port of entry, and quite influential in manipulating the volume at the other port too. Home buyers, in turn, have a requirement too. Financing. This holds the key, at least in Canada, to the demographic pyramid scam of the immigrant-propelled economy. For the big Canadian banks and credit institutions are not only the essential lubricants of home purchase and land development, but potent immigration lobbyists and influence peddlers as well.

Royal Bank of Canada

In fact the president and CEO of Canada’s dominant Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) in 2008 reiterated the position taken by an October 2005 RBC report that the government should hike its annual immigration intake from its present approximately 240,000 to some 400,000. No doubt he would be speaking on behalf of his competitors in that ambition. What is most impressive about Mr. Gordon Nixon’s political strategy is that is conducted on a broad front. RBC realizes that the federal government may be the gatekeeper, but the environmental movement is the barking dog which must be silenced if the gate is to be left open wide for the avalanche of consumers that it wants.

Financing entropy

So RBC laid out a Machiavellian plan. To cover their quest to underwrite the conversion of Canada’s best farmland to sprawling subdivisions and hundreds upon hundreds of species at risk to extinction in the process, they concocted an “Environmental Blueprint” that would signal to the environmental movement that “(they) support environmental sustainability”. They declared that would not for example“engage in new financing activities with corporations operating unsustainably in tropical rainforests or High Conservation Forests”. But the trees of urban Canada were presumably fair game, as are the rich fields of BC’s Fraser Valley and the Class 1 farmland of Ontario that is being developed at a pace of perhaps 60,000 acres per year. One might think that this kind of ecological damage, not to mention this threat to our national food security, would meet with the outrage of our environmental NGOs. Apparently RBC thought so too. That is why they bought their silence.

Silencing the barking dog

To prove their determination to “direct a significant portion of our philanthropic efforts to environmental causes”, they arranged to steer money to the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC) for each client who switched to electronic bank statements. A cute deal for both parties. NCC, always thirsty for dough, got a corporate bag man, and RBC got to wear a green cloak over its mercenary endeavours. It was not done for the environment, it was a strictly commercial transaction, ecological dispensation for suburban sprawl in return for cash and acquiescence.

Failure of environmental flagships

Many of us have been dumbfounded by the failure of flagship environmental NGOs like the Sierra Club of Canada or the David Suzuki Foundation to publicly contest the federal government’s mass immigration policy. NCC not surprisingly has been silent too, even though population growth is an obvious culprit in habitat loss. How could environmentalists ignore the Elephant in the Room? How could they ignore the obvious ecological impact of immigrant-driven population growth in Canada? Why didn’t they take the release of the Census report of March 2007, which revealed that Canada had the fastest growing population of all G8 countries, as an opportunity to attack government policy on this issue, and to educate people that population growth is a key variable of environmental degradation? That reducing per capita consumption without containing population is a futile enterprise.

Ideological myopia and donor bases

The answer was not to be found primarily in their ideological myopia, but in the examination of their carefully guarded donor base, which should, but isn’t, made easily available for public scrutiny. A look at the accounts of the David Suzuki Foundation reveals that the Royal Bank of Canada not only gave an award to the good Doctor, but is a significant contributor to his foundation. No wonder that Dr. Suzuki will not publicly say what he says privately. That the importation of people from low consuming third world countries to Canada so as to convert them to “hyper-consumers” is, in his words, “nuts”, and that industrialized countries are already overpopulated.

Demographic lockjaw

The Sierra Club is equally gripped with demographic lockjaw. The 2005 Report of the BC Sierra Club, the country’s largest, showed that the Toronto Dominion Bank and the Van City Credit Union empire, both big real estate lenders, were prominent contributors to their “environmental” organization. Given these contributions, to paraphrase Upton Sinclair, it is retrospectively clear why it has been difficult to make Sierra Club directors understand the environmental significance of mass immigration “if their salary depends on not understanding it.” Or is it that they understand it, but they tell “the silent lie”. The lie of knowing that something of vital importance is true and needs to be told, but deciding not to tell it. In this case, to protect a donor base at the cost of the raison d’etre of the organization, and the environment itself. Bureaucratic self-preservation seems to take on a life of its own. Truth, integrity and courage are its casualties.

Arguably then, homebuilding is not the prime mover of ecological ruin after all. Nor is it the greed of developers or the banks that finance them, or the dreams of the people that flood in to buy houses. It is, in my judgment, the ‘green’ watchdogs who haven’t barked because big money has thrown them a bone.

Tim Murray,

Quadra Island, BC

December 29/08

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Comments

Very good article and, of course, not before time.

(Following Sheila Newman's complaint that my long comment completely crowded out Tim's excellent article, I have turned it into a blog article "Bob Carr's words belied by his record as Premier of NSW". - JS 1 Jan 09)

Wow, that sad little developer in the ruined field - says it all. He has sold his soul.

This paragraph was added in a revised version, as an insertion between the last paragraph and the one ending with "Truth, integrity and courage are its casualties."

We knew that the environmental NGOs were myopic, hypocritical, soft, politically correct and cowardly, but how many of us thought that they were so fundamentally corrupt? I suppose after the David Gelbaum affair, we should not have been surprised, when the Sierra Club of America can accept a $100 million bribe to keep its longstanding support of restricted immigration off the policy books we should not expect that money-grubbing green NGOs north of the 49th should not fall prey to the same temptations. The difference is, at least a third of the Sierra Club in the US couldn’t stomach corruption, including three time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and co-founder of Earth Day, David Brower, a standard bearer of the organization for so many years, who quit because he knew that immigration was an environmental issue that had to be confronted. It was as if the Pope had resigned from the Vatican in protest. Alas there are no David Browers in Canada, only David Gelbaums on Bay Street with their hush money for green groups who will tow the corporate line and decoy sincere dupes at the grassroots level with inconsequential feel-good volunteer work which is akin to polishing the furniture in a burning house. Tim Murray

Boosting our economy through brute population growth is the "dumb" and easiest way, but the most foolish! Our industrial revolution and population growth has been supported and promoted through cheap fossil fuels. Once this carbon era is over, the infrustructure that supports our high population and industries will melt down like a stack of cards!
Kevin Rudd is still in denial, and is not facing up to the reality of a post-carbon age. We need to be scaling up renewable energy sources, and the transport and the infrustructures to support our population in the future. At least Obama has promised billion of dollars towards renewable energy. Kevin Rudd is no more enlightened than Howard!

I was remiss in not taking the time to compliment the multi-talented Sheila Newman for once again taking a bland plate of food and spicing it up considering with some eye-catching and typically novel graphics. We have to face facts. While style alone does not suffice, it as at least as important as substance. The product not only does not sell itself without the right marketing, but in this case, and in the case of so many articles on this website, it becomes, in reader's eyes, a different product altogether. I am not saying what another Canadian said almost a half century ago, that the medium IS the message, I am simply saying that the medium makes it a different message. Ms. Newman always makes it a more conspicuous and potent one. Too much talent in too many areas and too little time to exploit all of it. That kind of frustration must be hell. Thanks again, Sheila Newman.

PS Editor James S. also does much to improve presentations by breaking essays up under subtitles. Good work that is rewarded I am sure with more visits to the site. Odd that we know that we can blow a job interview by not taking the time to make ourselves presentable but that so many of us bloggers will spend hours and hours to research and write articles and give no thought to how they look on the screen.

A good article Tim.

We quite rightly expect environmental NGOs and their people to act ethically and not accept bribes that compromise their values. Strangely though we expect and accept that the home building industry and other big business interests will chase their bottom line by whatever means necessary and will act unethically in doing so.

The problem lies, I think, not so much with the ethic of the NGOs but with the lack of ethics from business and of course above all with our governments.

Thanks Ian, but would still apportion most of the blame to our Green "watchdogs". I don't expect businesses or developers to behave "ethically" anymore than I expect bank robbers not to rob banks. That is what they do. They are after money. And shareholders expect nothing less. There is no morality or immorality about that. Chasing profit is the nature of the beast. But we rely on other people to blow the whistle for us. And they aren't doing it. Why? At one time, myopia and political correctness sufficed to provide answers, but now it is clear to me that corruption is at the heart of it. The Sierra Club and the David Suzuki Foundation and Nature Conservancy, to name three, are bought and paid for by the big credit institutions that feed off development and home buying loans. No wonder they won't reveal who their donations are. (Or how much their directors are paid). I articulated this feeling in the following essay:

THE NIGHT WATCHMEN WHO FELL ASLEEP ON THE JOB

"The economy we're evolving into will be un-global, necessarily local and regional, and austere. It won't support even our current population. This being the case, the political fallout is also liable to be severe. For one thing, we'll have to put aside our sentimental fantasies about immigration."

James Kunstler , futurist, author of “The Long Emergency”

Did that sink in, Mr. Olivia Chow (Jack Layton), Elizabeth May, Sierra Club, Suzuki Foundation, and assorted soft green dupes of the corporate cheap labour agenda? Renewables won’t fuel your growth economy nor support your never ending shopping list of social services. There will be no “global” market place to compete with to justify your madness. And no fantasy technologies to recover the ecological damage that your immigrant-driven population growth policies have inflicted on our landscape. Suzuki said that politicians who denied AGW climate change should be jailed. Sounds like a good prescription for the population deniers. Maybe when this is done, and the system crashes, there will be a Nuremburg Trial for those who shoved 5 million consumers down the throat of Canada’s environment since 1990----the number of immigrants that we have suffered since the mass immigration binge began. The first to be executed will not be the politicians but the leaders of the environmental movement, who should have been our watchdogs, but instead were the silent partners to the wildlife holocaust and loss of farmland that consequently took place. They are the Marshall Petains of the occupation we have endured, the Green Collaborators who have tried to pacify us with slogans like “smart growth”, “green living” and “renewable technologies”---as if we could live with infinite increases in our total consumption by reducing our per capita consumption, by being good “Green Citizens” and being clever in steering growth in the “right” direction.

We hired them as night watchmen to take care of business but when morning broke we found that our business had been robbed---all along they have been asleep on the job. Their resume of boy scout community work, of do-good and feel-good environmentalism made a good impression in the job interview but failed the litmus test of actually protecting the environment when it needed protecting the most. Like a rotten sundeck railing it offered us false assurance of safety from disaster, but when tested by the forces of growth we have all gone over the edge. It would have better had we saved our donations and our illusions and been without a railing altogether. Then perhaps we might have fended for ourselves and directed our resources into authentic institutions that would resist madness.

When history is written it will read that the environmental NGOs together with their talking heads---the Greens, the socialists, the social democrats, the progressives and the liberals---not only did nothing to prepare us for the Long Emergency---but they actually made us even more unprepared for it. The superstructure of social services that they insist on building up when the status quo cannot even be sustained is all funded by revenues from a fossil fuel economy. But instead of weaning us away from dependence on the state, in their bidding war for the feminist, immigrant and progressive constituency they promise more child benefits, more daycare spaces, broader medical coverage for unproven New Age medicine and more money for the proven failures of conventional medicine, free college tuitions, and more and more regulations that can only be enforced by a growing and expensive bureaucracy. All of this of course, is never paid for by “the people”, by some shadowy abstraction called the “big corporations” with whom “the people”, and their unions, have shares in, and which can take flight at the click of a mouse when taxes get uncompetitive. They believe in limiting the behaviour of corporations but not limiting the appetite of unsustainable government. As things take a steep downward spiral the tax grab will get frantic, but in trying to get blood out of a stone they will only succeed in chasing away what remains of their diminishing tax base. Read Gibbon’s treatise on the decline of the Roman Empire and follow the course of Diocletian’s reign. Same scenario.

The companion policy to tax and spend is more growth. That too is the trade mark of social democratic-progressive administrations. They can’t deliver their basket of social welfare goodies with income redistribution because of capital flight so they become growthists. But to salve their conscience they attach with great fanfare a “Green Agenda” to the program. A “cake and eat it” platform. Every NDP leader in Canada has espoused the same line. Jack Layton repeated what NDP Premier Lorne Calvert had once said. That the only thing that was wrong with growth was that its “benefits” were not evenly shared. Green Party leader Elizabeth May meanwhile recently joined the attack on the Harper government for not countering the recession that the country was falling into following the financial meltdown in the fall. Economic growth was called for---this from a leader who once mouthed the old slogan that “growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”

We are on a ship of fools with a corporate captain. But his “challengers” would have taken us on the same course to disaster.

Tim Murray
Quadra Island, BC
December 16/08