Tag Archives: Stephen Harper

Chris Wood on Canada’s Old Testament Economics

An illustration from Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster. Public domain.

Chris Wood writes that the religious faith of Canada’s prime minister is properly his business. His shepherding of the economy according to Old Testament economics, however, is everyone’s concern. An illustration from Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us by Charles Foster. Public domain.

Outside Canada, writes Natural Security columnist Chris Wood,  dangerous magical thinking — what he calls Old Testament Economics — “is increasingly being called out for its error by economists more based in reality … a Reformation is sweeping the ecclesiastical strongholds of market idolatry.” Within Canada, the reality accepted by a growing body of economists is dismissed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his “secular congregation” — and that should concern everyone, writes Wood. An excerpt of his new column, Kool-Aid Economics (subscription):

Canadians have been aware for some time that their Prime Minister subscribes to an arcane fundamentalist strain of Christianity. Being the polite and generally go-along types we are, we have quite properly left his faith between the man and his God. However, it is now evident that Canada’s P.M. is a credulous disciple of another not-so-fringe and much more dangerous faith, about which we have every right to be deeply concerned.

That cultic faith is Old Testament economics.

Stephen Harper is an acolyte of an especially purist strain of neo-liberalism, a pseudo-scientific theology replete with parables, miracles and catechisms of faith. It is to reliable modeling of reality roughly what witches and alchemists were to modern science. (Then again, Harper might welcome the parallel; he has spent most of his majority term metaphorically stoning Canada’s public scientists and burning their labs.)

Nonetheless, among this faith’s central tenets is the idea that to make a profitable omelette, some eggs just gotta break. Or, as Harper himself has intoned, justifying his refusal to defend his country’s environment or the global climate: “No country is going to take actions that are going to deliberately destroy jobs and growth in their country.”

It’s the black and white thinking of dogma, like good and evil, believer or heretic. Choose one: a paycheque or, you know, air. We have a tragic history of this illusion in my country, where the rotten-egg stench of a pulp mill — often a town’s only reason for being — was colloquially described as ‘the smell of money’ … log in (subscription required*) to read Kool-Aid Economics.  

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Canada’s Climate: Last Chance Tourism


More or less as yesterday’s blog post (on Risky Business and Climate-Smart Development) was emerging from my keyboard, Canada’s federal government very quietly uploaded to the website of the Department of Natural Resources the closest thing Canadians have seen since 2008 to a comprehensive survey of Canada’s climate change vulnerabilities. In fact, Canada in a Changing Climate is avowedly an update on that earlier report — with little of significance added. 


Polar bears play-fighting. Creative Commons, via Wikimedia

The nearly 300-page report confirms that all the climate trends apparent in 2008 continue: Canada is getting warmer and wetter — although droughts can still occur; big storms are more common; ice and snow are melting pretty much everywhere. “Further changes in climate are inevitable.” Adaptation is necessary, and holds opportunities for some but, “there will also be cases where maintaining current activities is not feasible and/or cost-effective.”

The report examines three economic sectors likely to be the most immediately affected by climate change: farming, fishing and certain industries. Its findings are underwhelming. The report is heavy on contextual statistics — the value of mineral production by province in 2010 — and generalized forward-looking observations not much changed since 1989. It better connects some of the dots from climate change effects to impacts on specific sectors’ activities. But its evidence is anecdotal (Diavik Diamond Mine in the Northwest Territories spent an extra $11 million flying in fuel because its ice road melted early), and it makes no attempt to estimate aggregate future costs or opportunities across industries.

A clear take-away however, is that Canada is dragging its feet in preparing for a changed climate. The report admits it can find “relatively few examples of concrete, on-the-ground adaptation measures being implemented specifically to reduce vulnerability to projected changes in climate.”

The report offers case studies of adaptation efforts it has found. The federal government is notable by the near-absence of its initiatives. (Unless you get excited by its examining tax changes that might help farmers weather even wilder weather.)

Nonetheless there is evidence of the authors’ suppressed yearning for a more activist government role. It offers as a case study of successful historic adaptation the Depression-era Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Act (passed under the Conservative government of Prime Minister R.B. Bennett, as it happened), which provided federal support to reclaim farmland devastated by drought and wind erosion.

“Several factors can help accelerate the transition between awareness [of climate threat] and action,” the authors note, “including leadership, targeted awareness-raising and supportive strategies or policies.” Here, they manage to imply, the federal government has “opportunities.”

On the other hand, the report does hold some gems of perspective revealed, surely, only when resource researchers are obliged to describe their world in terms they hope that leaders blinded to all but book-to-market variables might understand.

Among the potential negative impacts from climate change on Canada’s “destination image,” the authors report, is “the threat of a loss of 40 per cent of tourism if Churchill’s polar bears ‘appear unhealthy’ (very skinny), which is already beginning to occur.” On the upside, there is a growing opportunity for “‘last chance tourism’, where additional tourists are drawn to see either changing landscapes or certain features (e.g. glaciers or certain wildlife species) before they decline or disappear.”

There’s a silver lining to everything.

Copyright Chris Wood 2014

Further reading:
Canada in a Changing Climate is available here: http://www.nrcan.gc.ca/sites/www.nrcan.gc.ca/files/earthsciences/pdf/assess/2014/pdf/Full-Report_Eng.pdf
Natural Security, Chris Wood’s bimonthly Facts and Opinions column , is here. (Subscription)

Facts and Opinions is a boutique for slow journalism, without borders. Independent, non-partisan and employee-owned, F&O performs journalism for citizens, sustained entirely by readers: we do not carry advertising or solicit donations from foundations or causes. If you’d like to support our journalism, for $2.95 (the price of a cheap brew) you can subscribe to F&O for a month. If that breaks your budget, a one-day pass is $1.) 





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