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Premier Calvert's Big Lie

The autopsy on the 17 year reign of Saskatchewan premier Lorne Calvert must conclude the he lived and died a liar. Like his colleagues across Canada, he promised us that we could have our cake and eat it too. After seeing his province’s greenhouse gas emissions grow more than 60% since 1990, he still had the cheek in 2006 to promise his audience that “while continuing to grow the Saskatchewan economy, we will stabilize the absolute level of green house gas emissions by 2010.” It is doubtful that even Houdini could accomplish that feat, as no jurisdiction in the world has contained or reduced GHG emissions while experiencing population and/or economic growth simultaneously.

Like so many politicians today, Calvert was master of oxymoronic dualities. A “Green Strategy” in tandem with the “Saskatchewan Action Plan for The Economy”. A “healthy” environment that can coexist and indeed proceed through our economy. Calvert was like the quack doctor of a fast buck diet centre that promises you that you can lose 50 pounds a month and still enjoy a litre of ice cream every day. But then, it’s a proven marketing recipe these days, isn’t it? Who doesn’t promise an economic boom with a Green agenda? A “clean” environment with a “robust” economy?

Two solitudes. Matter and anti-matter, can come together in wedded bliss. All it takes is green Newspeak and spin.

Lorne wasn’t shy about his promises. He said that thanks to his initiatives Saskatchewan would reduce GHG 80% by 2050, by various conservation and efficiency measures from industry, business and homeowners. Trouble with efficiencies though, is that they tend to get wiped out by the very growth that Lorne promoted. During the time that the efficiency of air conditioners improved by 17%, for example, the number of air conditioners grew by 36%. It’s called Jevon’s paradox, or if you prefer, the Khazoom-Brooke postulate.

Then he promised more natural carbon sinks from Saskatchewan’s boreal forests. Too bad he presided over the logging of so much it so that he could reap the royalties of the growth is craved so much. Calvert made similar promises about eradicating child poverty. When he was ejected from office in November, Saskatchewan still had the third worst child poverty rate in the country, 2.4% above the national average. Second worst was the neighbouring fellow NDP province of Manitoba, at 4.1% above the national average, where 49% of residents of the capital city of Winnipeg in a recent poll complained that their growthist, social-democratic government also failed to solve poverty.

It is as Dr. Peter Victor of the University of York observed, growth is not particularly effective at eliminating poverty, creating full employment, or safe-guarding the environment. Since 1976, as both the GDP and the greenhouse gas emissions have gone up consistently, levels of unemployment and poverty have bounced around.

Lorne Calvert believed in social and environmental alchemy. He believed that population and economic growth could be sequestered from ecological consequences, and even if it couldn’t, he was on record as saying that it was acceptable as long as its benefits were equitably distributed. A social democrat of the 1960s vintage, he’s now been relegated to the dustbin of history. But lamentably, his place has been quickly taken up by ten equally myopic and deceptive premiers and a Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who just took the John Howard award for Global Miscreant in Germany by postponing our Kyoto target 13 precious years. Taking the classic cake-and-eat it approach, Harper is proposing a so-called “intensity-based” reduction plan which would allow countries like China and India to join in climate change efforts “without having to sacrifice their economies.” Go on a diet, but keep eating your ice cream.

Harper et al obviously haven’t been apprised of the latest terrifying research. It appears that Chanceller Merkel’s prescriptions or that of the IPCC’s are far too moderate. A paper in Geophysical Research Letters finds that even a 90% global cut in emissions by 2050 will see the fatal 2 degree temperature rise threshold broken. We need a 100% cut. The total decarbonization of the economy.

But the news is even more shattering than that. Professor Rod Smith of the Royal Academy of Engineering reveals that each period of economic growth that it takes the economy to double causes the economy to consume as many resources as all previous doubling periods combined. Says journalist George Monbiot, “in other words, if our economy grows at 3% between now and 2040, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those we have consumed since humans first stood on two legs.” Translation: we must halt growth.

Using these guidelines, if Canada continues to grow at 3.6% annually as it has since 1990, its economy will double in a mere 20 years. It would stretch credulity to the extreme for Canadian politicians to perpetuate the pretence that this kind of economic growth can happily coexist with an effective climate change strategy, or that a nation that grew its population by 19% since the Kyoto base line year could expect to meet a 6% GHG reduction target by 2008. Little wonder Harper backed out of his commitment. Reducing immigration, of course, is an option outside Ottawa’s imagination.

It ‘s time for politicians to stop telling us The Big Lie. The lie that there is no correlation between economic and population growth and environmental degradation. It is no accident that in the United States, between 1970 and 2004, both GHG emissions and the population rose by 43%, and that between 1990 and 2006 the increase in GHG emissions in Australia almost exactly matched that of population. Population levels coupled with per capita consumption, produces economic growth.

The imminent ecological crisis makes it clear. It is showdown time in the OK Corral. It’s us facing Growth. Our own Frankenstein. We won’t walk out of the corral together.

Tim Murray
Quadra Island, BC
December 8/07