Last In a Series on Evolution and Sustainability
by Jim Harding
All of us everywhere on the planet must think globally while acting locally. Parochialism is counterproductive; our industrial practices anywhere act upon one planet, and the blowback from “Gaia” doesn’t occur proportionate to ecological abuse. The climate crisis is already dramatically affecting areas like the circumpolar Arctic, which contribute little if any greenhouses gases into the global mix; the early victims aren’t necessarily the main perpetrators. The pursuit of global justice therefore goes hand in hand with the pursuit of sustainability.
How is our province doing facing up to this global challenge? The Wall government likely believes it is thinking globally and acting locally. We are after all, building our provincial economy out of world demand for non-renewable resources here. But this isn’t exactly what we mean. This is similar to the kind of thinking that was used to continue to ship slaves across oceans because there was still an economic demand; or for that matter, the thinking still used to try to justify exporting illicit drugs to lucrative markets abroad; the end justifies the means.
Sustainability requires that we consider the global impacts of what we do locally. If our local-regional activities perpetuate unsustainable outcomes elsewhere, we should reconsider. Sending carcinogens like asbestos or uranium abroad because there is a short-term profit is neither ecologically or morally responsible. Nor is continuing to plan the economy around exporting carbon! The moral argument however, may not be too convincing in our economistic times. But sustainability also means the need to think ahead to better see what’s happening globally so that we aren’t caught off guard, to our detriment, locally. Saskatchewan falls short on this count too, as Wall’s abiding support for tarsand pipelines shows.
The Sask Party government doesn’t admit that it straddles these contradictions. There’s no doubt that Premier Wall is an effective speaker; I recently heard him at the Saskatoon SUMA conference and had a chance to see his narrative at work. It can be quite persuasive until it is deconstructed and tested against realities. His talking points are that “economic growth” isn’t an end in itself; it is to improve the “quality of life” of people in our province. And that there will be “challenges” but these can be met with “innovation”. He also invokes our “co-operative heritage”, except we must now undertake regional co-operation to build the infrastructures for resource-driven economic growth.
Notice there are no losers, no burdens; just challenges. Also note that the term “quality of life” has entered the conservative vernacular. While you can stick-handle around a lot of contradictions with word spin, this economic growth will nevertheless bring burdens that directly undercut our quality of life. The increase of carbon, the loss of biodiversity, threats to our waterways and to the health of the biosphere present fundamental attacks on our quality of life.
INNOVATION FOR SUSTAINABILITY
It’s not that innovation isn’t a good thing; it’s what innovation is used for. Innovation in the interests of relentless economic growth based on resource extraction just isn’t ecologically wise. Innovation that addresses the global challenges we face is the task at hand for our political leadership.
We have such challenges on so many fronts. Saskatchewan generates most of our electricity with coal plants; we have the highest per capita carbon footprint in all of Canada and one of the highest in the world. Our economy is becoming more dependent on the extraction of toxic non-renewables, and we are leaving a massive trail of radioactive tailings to burden future life. Agribusiness, in the main, is still very unecological, and the prairies remain one of Canada’s most transformed eco-zones, to the detriment of biodiversity. We continue with urban sprawl, and several watersheds are being degraded. Pasqua Lake, near where I live in the Qu’Appelle Valley, has among the highest blue-green algae anywhere, largely the result of Saskatchewan’s capital city not upgrading its sewage treatment as its population grew. We don’t have to look globally to see the negative impacts of our unsustainable economic growth; they are staring us in the face.
WHAT ABOUT THE NDP
This isn’t a partisan critique; partisanship won’t serve us well in our quest to find a sustainable path. It’s even worth asking what the difference is between the Sask Party’s vision for Saskatchewan as the “new Alberta” and that of past NDP governments, such as Blakeney in the 1970s. There are fewer Crowns for sure, and the Sask Party would like to eat away at these. The Potash Corp and Saskatchewan Mining and Development Corp, which spearheaded uranium mining, were privatized by Devine. And, under Wall, the pace of resource extraction accelerated with the province being even more “open for multinational business”. Last year, 173 million barrels of oil was extracted, breaking all previous records and second only to Alberta; more carbon to feed the climate crisis!
But it is essentially the same resources that are being extracted and the province’s revenues remains largely dependent upon these. And as we saw in 2009, with the huge shortfall in revenue, Saskatchewan remains very vulnerable with such big ties to the resource sector. The one good thing we could say about the Blakeney government is it tried to give the province more tools to influence the global market in the short-term public interest. However, Blakeney completely misjudged the future energy market, ruling out renewable energy almost completely. In this sense he and pro-nuclear Premier Wall were on the same page.
The Sask Party has bought into the neo-liberal myth that unfettered corporatism will trickle down to benefit the whole population, even though this model is steadily being discredited worldwide. The Premier’s populist rhetoric has maintained his popularity; however this can fluctuate greatly with the volatile global commodity market. Saskatchewan has yet to produce politicians of any affiliation with the foresight to collect revenue towards accelerating our conversion to more sustainable practices. Blakeney’s Heritage Fund collected from non-renewables royalties was depleted by the time Devine took power; much of it went for the infrastructure to expand uranium mining.
STILL FRONTIER MENTALITY
Saskatchewan is still mostly living in a frontier mentality where the government and major business interests promote extracting non-renewable toxic resources for other’s people’s use as the way to build an economic future for us and our offspring. As long as other countries still import energy resources, this single-minded but backward-looking vision makes some economic sense, but in the long run this is a dangerous game.
Astronauts who have seen the “blue marble” from space speak openly of being transformed by what they call the “overview effect” (Google this). From space you see the very thin protective atmosphere that has developed with life on this planet. You see the earth’s sun as just another star shining through black cosmic space. You see global weather patterns continually forming and reforming. You realize we are all of this planet, thoroughly interconnected as we travel together through space.
Our business-as-usual attitude maintains the trend towards ever-increasing carbon in the biosphere, and the suffering that the climate crisis will surely bring to our offspring. We must soon get on a path based on a better understanding of our co-evolution with other creatures; how imperative it is now, for our quality of life and survivability, to reach for a sustainable future.
Next Week I’ll look at the Keystone pipeline controversy.