Let’s Save Our “Eco”-onomy


The following article by Sister Pauline Lally appeared in the Kingston Whig-Standard on October 19, 2002.

Some provincial governments, under encouragement from Alberta and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, are putting forth reasons why Canada should not sign the Kyoto Treaty. The main reason, they claim, is the economy.

I agree, the economy is our bottom line. But I refer to another economy, the primary economy, our environmental economy – the air we breathe, the water we drink and bathe in, the earth that feeds us.

The word “economy” begins with the prefix “eco”, which means “Home.” Economy really is the care of the affairs of our home. But where do professional economists place the ozone layer, top soil, and the deep underground fossil water in their statistical graphs? The economic system is completely outside the environmental system. Therefore, says Dr. David Suzuki, “The economic world is destructive” because it doesn’t include the natural world. In such an economic system, what really matters has been externalized. Certainly, people need jobs to care for themselves, their families, and their homes. But those homes exist within the larger home of our planet earth. Whatever we do to that home impacts eventually on our own individual homes. Therefore, the needs of that home must be attended to in order for all our own homes to survive and thrive.

We live in a finite biosphere where air, land and water exist but cannot grow any bigger. That is how the primary economy works; yet we act as if the “secondary” economy can continue to grow and grow. Do we need more growth? Have we not ENOUGH – in fact, more than enough? If one stops to reflect, we realize that we have paid an enormous price for our “more-than-enoughness” quality of life.

Over the years most of us have been careless about our primary home. The excruciating heat this summer, the western drought, the stress on our trees, are testimony to that lack of care. The majority of scientists claim climate change is due to greenhouse gases – 80 percent of which come from carbon dioxide emissions spewing into the air.

Recently Dr. Suzuki stated humankind is producing 50 per cent more carbon dioxide than the earth can remove each year. Therefore, we must reduce greenhouse gases, i.e. fossil fuels, by 50 per cent. Because we are disproportionately producing more CO2s than developing countries, in actuality we need to reduce fossil fuels by 85 per cent.

The Kyoto target is extremely weak in comparison. Canada’s target is a six per cent reduction below 1990 levels, which today means a 20 per cent reduction because our production since 1990 has gone up 14 per cent. Our commitment to Kyoto is a long way from 85 per cent. And we are using incredible loopholes, such as “carbon sinks” like our forests (which, by the way, we are depleting faster than we are preserving) which absorb greenhouse gases, and trading environmental points on the global commons with less developed countries.

Ten years ago we agreed to the Kyoto Protocol. But we did little about it. The timing wasn’t politically correct, so we Canadians were little prepared for the signing and ratification of it 10 years later. That is one of the things that the Canadian Chamber of Commerce is disturbed over – lack of consultation in the current process, as well as a loss of jobs. Good point. If people have input, they own the decision.

The Alberta government and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce want more time. But can we wait? No. Let’s seriously get into new forms of energy, like wind and solar, that will reduce our greenhouse gases and open up a new job market. Smart people found the oil and how to get it out of the ground and into our homes. Cannot the same kind of intelligence find alternatives? This crisis is a wonderful opportunity for the creation of new feasible forms of energy – and jobs.

According to the CD Howe Institute and the Canadian government, implementing Kyoto would cost 0.7 per cent of the GDP when the GDP is expected to rise 30 per cent. Thus, the cost would be insignificant. It is economically feasible.

We’re not stupid but many of us can be laissez-faire, lazy and unthinking. Thank goodness some people aren’t and they saw “the writing on the wall” a long time ago. However, our environmental prophets are treated no better than the Biblical prophets of old. Now is the time to heed their call. We don’t have 20 years!

Let’s start by letting our Prime Minister know there is a political will in favour of his signing and our implementing the Kyoto Protocol. He can be reached at Langevin Block, 80 Wellington St., Ottawa, ON, K1A 0A2, fax: (613) 941-6900; phone (613) 992-4211.

Sister Pauline Lally is the director of the Justice and Peace Office of the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul.