Economy and environment are not mutually exclusive

 

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For many, if not most, New Brunswick’s peripatetic Green Party Leader David Coon whistles past the graveyard of the province’s economy when he insists that we, in this struggling part of Canada, must strive to break our addiction to fossil fuels.

It’s no good, he says – a rum thing that can only bring us and our our planet more misery. In one of his blog posts in early June, he wrote, “The Green Party will create new jobs in a new economy, powered by. . .green buildings, renewable energy, local food, information technology, smart grid, electric vehicles, local business, public transit, health education, and sustainable farming and forestry; this is the Green Party’s vision of our future, not the old pollution-based economy the other parties are trying to resuscitate.”

Last week, he reiterated his message while campaigning in the province in what is certainly another doomed stab at political relevance, come September’s general election. 

But is he as defiantly deluded as his detractors claim?

Traditionalists – a group that includes most of us – contend that economic development simply can’t proceed in any meaningful way without the heavy use of oil and gas. After all, that’s how we built our job-generating, tax-producing industries under the long shadows of our various industrial revolutions. 

How else would we have invented plastic bottles, plasma TVs, rayon? Without the cheap, accessible energy afforded by fossil fuels the world would be devoid of super-conducting metals, which give us the integrated circuits that power our smart phones. 

By God, how would we cope?

The corollary argument, of course, is that true environmental stewardship is anathema to economic development, both practically and on principle. It requires a degree of tree-hugging and hair-shirt-wearing that stifles innovation and turns entire segments of the populace into Whole Earth Catalogue readers.

If these mantras hold true, then one would guess that the richest, most successful economies the world necessarily post the worst track records on the environment.

Well, dear reader, guess again.

The ninth most-affluent nation on Earth is Switzerland. It also happens to be the greenest country on the planet. Luxembourg is the second-wealthiest nation, and the also the second-most environmentally circumspect.

According to recent economic research aggregated by the popular website, top10thebest.com, “Switzerland, a rich nation in the European continent, is among the most prosperous countries in the world. It boasts (a) diverse and stable economy, and it has managed to maintain its excellent record in terms of. . .GDP. What makes Switzerland one of the wealthiest countries is its extensive sources of income, such as agriculture, tourism and banking. It is also known as the leading exporter and maker of the finest watches, and well-off individuals consider the country as a financial haven to increase their money.”

Meanwhile, swissworld.org reports, “At the end of 2009 the (country’s) Federal Council decided to continue with the SwissEnergy Action Plan until 2020. SwissEnergy is the main national platform for economical and intelligent energy use and the use of renewable energy. Energy-saving measures are implemented by SwissEnergy in partnership with the cantons, municipalities, business and environmental organisations.”

As for Luxembourg, top10thebest.com says that nation “is among the most prosperous countries (and) also recognized as a tax heaven. In fact, several billionaires from other parts of the world choose to live in this nation to free themselves of expensive taxes in their native countries. . .The sources of income (in) Luxembourg include telecommunications and steel.”

And yet, referencing a 2010 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report, a Wikipedia entry states, “Despite its growing GDP and population, Luxembourg has made progress in decoupling environmental pressures from economic growth and has developed a National Plan for Sustainable Development. The annual vehicle tax is now calculated as a function of CO2 emissions. A National Plan for Energy Efficiency has been introduced, together with economic incentives targeted at the construction industry. A national body has been created to provide information and advice on energy savings and renewable energy.”

All of which suggests that Mr. Coon is on to something. We who think him deluded may, in fact, be the deranged ones.

 

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