Saturday, April 28, 2007

Red Green politics

At both the E-Group and POGGE, I've been trying (with limited success) to flesh out the argument that the Dion-May deal is a good thing from a pro-environment politics perspective, with the caveat that it must lead to a transformative election on the question of climate change, environmental sustainability and green economics. Canada needs all political parties, and indeed all of our public policy discourse, to make a real and permanent shift away from the assumption that the environment and the economy are by definition in conflict.

A quote from my dusty old environmental economics textbook (one of the few university texts I keep on a shelf rather than in a box in the basement), which sounds elementary to those who get it but remains taboo in the field of traditional economics, sums up the issue:

"[Optimal allocation of environmental and natural resources] requires an understanding of more than just economic behavior. It also requires an understanding of the whole ecological system and how the ecological system responds to changes in both the economic system and the ecological system." (James R. Kahn, The Economic Approach to Environmental and Natural Resources)

In 2007, this should be common sense. There is no economy without the environment. As such, economic analysis must, to the utmost extent possible, incorporate environmental factors.
This is why the Stern Report is so important: it's a validation of what environmentalists have been trying to get across for decades. And it's why the current debate in Canada over the costs of implementing Kyoto is so infuriating - especially to those among us who plan to be alive in 50 years. I mean, do we honestly think that doing nothing, or doing anything less than absolutely everything we can do now, is going to save our economy?

This is why the Red Green deal is a good thing - provided we don't stop there but rather make the next election about this essential principle of fully including environmental factors into our economics. It should have been done a long time (say, maybe, 14 years, or 10, or 7 years) ago. It wasn't.

And I want to reiterate a point I've made elsewhere - the Greens shouldn't presume that they'll still be standing if and when this transformation in complete. There are lots of ways to be green. The NDP, Libs and Tories have lots of eco-tested policy instruments to choose from and make their own according to their values. The Greens may turn out to be nothing more than a transitional presence on Canada's political landscape.

And you know what? I honestly don't care who'se left standing anymore. But we need to get over this hang-up of choosing between the economy or the environment, and now.

Becasue if we don't - well, I think George Carlin put it best: "The planet is fine. The people are fucked."

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