What would a truly ecologically sustainable economy look like?

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Photo: flickr/ Billy Wilson

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On October 1, The Vogue Theatre in Vancouver hosted the keynote for this year's joint Canadian and U.S. Ecological Economics Conference (CANUSSEE). The night, featuring both well-known ecologist, David Suzuki, and one of the founders of ecological economics, Peter Victor, sought out to engage attendees in discussion about what a truly just and ecologically sustainable economic system would look like.

Though traditionally within mainstream thought, economic strategies are widely regarded as obstacles to environmental movements, targeting growth above all else, this is not necessarily the case for Victor.

Victor, author of the book Managing Without Growth, has had an academic career largely focused on how economic growth and the impact its reckless use of land and energy has had on both communities and the environment. He has studied how an economic model, without growth as the impetus, can be collectively formed.

Victor noted that his talk at the keynote set out to address the struggle of getting "a set of ideas, principles, and insights into the mainstream."

Without an equal access to power, resources, larger media bodies and skill sets, forming a much larger movement is not a battle that can be won overnight. Nor is it a random one.

"The worldview that dominates now is not an accident..there has been a deliberate strategy to give people that view," says Victor.

He sighted the increase in neoliberal thought, dating back to the 1970s, further enabling a general trend toward less government interference and regulation, benefitting the most affluent to the disadvantage of both local communities and ecological systems worldwide.

These views and conceptions still permeate and are normalized within the current political landscape and debates in the build up to the coming Canadian federal election. All three major parties campaign with the assumption that not only are they "the best" to build the Canadian economy, but that this the sure and only path to a just and stable society.

Though perhaps "not well informed about ramifications about what they are saying and the alternatives," as Victor mentions, the fact remains that regarding growth in the highest pedestal, separated from the impact it has on the natural world, is already coming back to haunt us.

Victor, when asked about the model for the Canadian economy he has simulated, highlighted the changes in investments that need to be considered. Priorities and implications for the future are directly set into place each time we invest in a new highway over mass transit, or in private enterprise over projects for the public good. A paradigm shift is truly needed to move forward.

A balance is in order to begin the hard work of actualizing a society that is just, ecologically sustainable, and that works for everyone. For example, Victor noted that we are living in a culture where a huge portion of the population is underemployed, struggling to find work that is not there. On the other hand, we see another large demographic, overemployed and mentally exhausted, who would likely be happy to work less were this an option for them.

Synthesizing a new model, that structures in job sharing, working less, more leisure time, an equal and fair distribution of wealth, and ecological energy alternatives, is completely possible. But it's also a threat to free market powers, and daunting to a population stuck in its ways.

In the end, Victor expressed that bridging economic and ecological justice, is a battle best won by recognizing the intersections of all issues.

"How land conversion, mineral depletion contributes to or affects employment," and how we can see the most marginalized communities are on the front lines bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.

The struggle is far more than daily shifts in practices, but is a mass movement identifying the need to slow down and focus on who is really benefiting when we speak about economic growth. It's a challenge to bring these fundamental shifts into the mainstream consciousness, but that merely means there's more reason to do it.


Photo: flickr/ Billy Wilson

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