Climate change and the limits of growth

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As I write, much of the world's attention is on Copenhagen where the 15th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 15) is taking place. Prime Minister Harper is there, as is B.C. Premier Campbell, and President Obama is due to make an appearance. Functionaries in the environmental movement, assorted diplomats, and politicians are all in attendance. So are thousands of protestors.

The aim of the conference is allegedly to deal with global climate change; the aim of the protestors is to demand that this be done effectively. In the bigger scheme of things, they are all wasting their time. The real purpose of these conferences and other government initiatives on climate change is not really to deal with the climate, but to deal with those who are concerned about it and make them think that something is being done.

Protestors who think that climate change is the major issue and have hopes that they can influence governments to fix the problem are wasting their time playing a game that is rigged against them. Those who think that the politicians are acting in good faith and will actually take the measures necessary to clean up the mess we are in are truly naive and are being used to give credence to a scam.

The first thing that has to be recognized and acknowledged if we are to clean up the climate problem -- and there is a problem despite all of the fairy tales the denial industry may spin -- is that climate change is merely a symptom of a much bigger and more serious problem. It is a problem that strikes right at the heart of the structure of modern society.

The real problem is that human society as we know it has grossly over-reached its ability to sustain itself on the planet. No amount of green house gas reduction will fix that. If we do not address this problem, anything we do regarding climate change will be a waste of time and effort.

Our planet, for all practical purposes, is a closed system with finite resources. To be sustainable, the renewable resources that we require cannot be exploited beyond their ability to reproduce themselves at a steady rate. At present, while humans are increasing their numbers, over-consumption of renewable resources is destroying the future availability of those resources. There are fewer resources per person every day. For one example, count the number of salmon now compared to fifty years ago; there are far fewer salmon and over three times as many people. In almost every area of nature, the same dynamic is at work.

The only solution that will work, unless we want to face an environmental catastrophe, is reducing human consumption of resources, all resources, everything. Significant reductions will start the repair of our terribly overburdened ecosystem, and that repair will include alleviating the conditions that are causing the climate to change.

That this is going to happen before nature smacks us down is doubtful. Fixing the problem means changing the entire way that we organize our economy and how we view wealth. It is our economic system, developed over thousands of years and based on the idea of growth, that is killing us. Growth is the cancer that has taken us past the sustainable limits of the system, and to date there is no prominent politician or political party that is willing to challenge the idea that growth will provide a solution.

Listen to the speeches of Premier Campbell, Prime Minister Harper, President Obama, or in B.C., the Leader of the Opposition, Carole James. The buzzwords of our demise are there: wealth creation, sustainable growth, green growth, yadda, yadda, yadda. Addressing our environmental problem with the concepts that these phrases represent is like fighting a fire with gasoline. Until we elect leaders who reject growth, the best we can get will be circuses like COP 15.

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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