Saving the planet or promoting prosperity?

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Cornucopia: n. A goat's horn overflowing with fruit, flowers and grain, signifying prosperity. Also called horn of plenty. In Greek mythology cornucopia is the horn of the goat that suckled Zeus. In folklore a horn full of whatever its owner desires.

Does anyone believe that such a horn exists? It seems that most politicians think that the environment is such a horn, an endless supply of resources to allow society to expand indefinitely. Does anyone actually believe that society can expand indefinitely and never run out of the resources necessary to sustain it? Such a belief ranks right up there with belief in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and a flat Earth.

So, since the existence of a cornucopia is mythic, a fairy tale, then why do people in a democratic society permit politicians to set policy as if it were real? Perhaps when it comes down to the nitty gritty and one has to choose between saving the environment that we depend on for our life, and immediate personal gain, the environment gets denial and our descendants get a deteriorating future.

Look at the speeches being made by current leaders, growth always seems to crop up when it comes to discussing the economy. President Barack Obama speaks of growth in positive terms, as does Premier Gordon Campbell and NDP Leader Carole James. Continuous economic growth, of course, is rooted in the fantasy of cornucopia. Pursuing continuous growth in the economy and population is pursuing a social form of cancer. Sooner or later continuing growth will consume society.

What leaders should be developing, and voters demanding, is social and economic sustainability.

Sustain: v. To keep in existence; maintain.

It is a given that our ecosystem is a closed system with the exception of sunlight and the odd bit that comes to us from space. It is a system that recycles elements from one state to another, and the process of that recycling is what produces life and society as we know it today. Our current existence depends upon a certain balance in that recycling process, and when we change that balance by making more demands on the system than it can support, our existence changes too, as the supports that we depend on collapse, taking us down as well.

The way to protect our society and future generations is to maintain our ecosystem in a state where we are not making demands on it that will take more from it than can be continuously provided through the recycling process. When we do this we are acting sustainably. When we encourage growth beyond these limits as we are now doing, we become unsustainable.

A favourite slogan used by politicians pandering to societies' greed is "sustainable growth." As anyone can see, if they think about it, such a term is an oxymoron. When politicians use it the shoes should fly at them.

Industry, of course, is also on the band wagon, trying to cash in on the idea of sustainability. Recently the Mining Association of B.C. gave a Mining and Sustainability Award for efforts to promote sustainable development in the British Columbia mining sector. What a misuse of the term sustainable. This silliness is predicated on the premise that there is a cornucopia of minerals in the province.

Another misuse of the idea of sustainability is the current drive for sustainable energy production. In itself, this is a good idea, but often it is used to justify more energy production rather than to replace fossil fuel based energy. In a society that is already using too much energy, the use of which feeds other unsustainable activities, additional energy production can be a curse. In our society the best way to meet energy needs is to reduce them.

There is no cornucopia.

Jerry West is the publisher, editor and janitor for The Record, an independent, progressive regional publication for Nootka Sound and Canada's West Coast.

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