David Suzuki: Harming the environment is bad for the economy

We often point out that ecology and economy have the same root, from the Greek oikos, meaning “home”. Ecology is the study of home and economics is its management. But many people still insist on treating them as two separate, often incompatible, processes.

At its most absurd, the argument is that we simply can’t afford to protect the environment—that the costs will be so high as to ruin the economy. But if you don’t take care of your home, it will eventually become uninhabitable, and where’s the economic justification for that?

Others argue that the economic advantages of some activities outweigh the environmental disadvantages. This, too, is an absurd argument. A recent posting on the Web site Grist.org points to a number of studies and articles showing that many of these activities are not even beneficial from an economic standpoint.

Take coal mining. Research from West Virginia University found that “coal mining costs Appalachians five times more in early deaths as the industry provides to the region in jobs, taxes and other economic benefits.” And, according to Grist, the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development found that “the coal industry takes $115 million more from Kentucky’s state government annually in services and programs than it contributes in taxes.”

The Web site also refers to a peer-reviewed study in the journal Science that concluded logging in Brazil’s rainforests offered only short-term gains in income, life-expectancy, and literacy, but that the gains disappear over the long term, “leaving deforested municipalities just as poor as those that preserved their forests.”

Yet another study found that all the big three U.S. automakers need to do to become profitable and to compete with Japanese car manufacturers is to meet new government-mandated fuel economy standards.

We recently noted in this column that bear-watching can be more profitable than bear-hunting, and the Grist article likewise notes that whale-watching is far more profitable than killing whales.

Often the problem is not so much with resource exploitation itself, but rather with the way we exploit our resources, and the reasons for the exploitation. With CEOs looking at quarterly results and politicians looking at three- or four-year terms of office, the incentives for long-range thinking are not always clear.

One of the most horrendous examples of this worm’s-eye view can be seen in Canada’s tar sands. As author Andrew Nikiforuk argues in his award-winning book Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent, this resource could be used wisely to “fund Canada's transition to a low-carbon economy.” Instead, industrial interests and the Alberta and federal governments are hell-bent on full-scale liquidation. And so we will end up with some short-term profits and a seemingly healthy economy in exchange for massive environmental damage and the rapid depletion of a resource that may still be necessary for some time to come—along with the negative economic consequences of all that.

Part of the problem lies in the real reason for much of our resource exploitation and industrial activity. A lot of it is done not out of necessity but out of a desire for a relatively small number of people to make lots of money quickly. And when the money is rolling in and jobs are being created, the politicians who foster the activities look good.

We may need fossil fuels, at least for now, but do we really need them so that one or two people can propel themselves to the grocery store in a massive SUV made from tonnes of metal?

We also see, not surprisingly, that the dinosaurs of the fossil fuel and other industries will go to great lengths to protect their interests. If that means spreading misinformation and outright lies about the consequences of their industries, well so be it.

And so, even though the scientific proof for human-caused global warming is undeniable, we have the coal and oil industries funding massive campaigns to cast doubt on the science and we have politicians implying that the world’s scientists are involved in some sinister plot—all so we can continue to rely on diminishing supplies of polluting fuels instead of creating jobs and wealth through a greener economy that may save us from catastrophe.

We need only to look at recent events in the United States to see that the people standing in the way of progress on the environment are often just as ignorant about the economy.

Take David Suzuki’s Nature Challenge and learn more at www.davidsuzuki.org/.




Jul 14, 2009 at 9:03pm

"Part of the problem lies in the real reason for much of our resource exploitation and industrial activity. A lot of it is done not out of necessity but out of a desire for a relatively small number of people to make lots of money quickly. And when the money is rolling in and jobs are being created, the politicians who foster the activities look good."

Except when we' re talking about selling out our water and rivers to the yanks and my good ol'boys eh Suzy. Thanks for the support good buddy!


Jul 15, 2009 at 8:43am

More daGucci chutzpah

Your support of the Gordo and ill informed blathering on carbon taxes may have convinced enough environmentally conscience voters to stay home or vote the greenie/gordo ticket to, as you hoped, win the election for that evil man.

Now you to try to get more cash for your business by complaining about BCLiberal policies like bear hunting, tar sands exports via a new BC pipeline, BC coal exports etc.

You are a dark side enemy of the environmental movement and Gaia herself. You need to get off the air and print media and just go away.

Evil eye

Jul 15, 2009 at 11:38am

Duh, isn't this in conflict with your run-of-river musings? How can we take Suzuki seriously anymore, stick with fruitflies!

Faisal Moola, PhD

Jul 15, 2009 at 1:43pm

I co-author the Science Matters column with David Suzuki. I cannot understand how folks like Gordo, Seth and Evil Eye have completely misinterpreted and misrepresented what both David Suzuki and I have written about run-of-river or the position of the David Suzuki Foundation. Either you have an ideologically driven bent to attack Suzuki or you are so blinded by your rhetoric that you don't actually read what we write. For example, in a column we wrote on run-of-river (published in the Georgia Straight) we explicitly stated:

"But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about the impacts of these projects [run-of-river] and technologies. Nor does it mean that we should allow run-of-river power projects or windmills anywhere without proper government oversight and planning. Panic shouldn’t guide policy. It’s ludicrous to think that we must sacrifice all environmental considerations to get green energy onto the grid. It’s not green if it causes negative ecological impacts."


Rather than blather-off every week like clockwork with the same tired rant, read the column, take a breath and compose a structured argument. The issues deserve beter.


Jul 15, 2009 at 3:27pm

I found this on the Suzuki website. It sounds reasonable to me. But then, the comments on here aren't from people looking for reasonable arguments, are they?

"True run-of-river hydro has the potential to be an important part of the clean-energy mix needed to help British Columbia address the issue of climate change while protecting against local environmental impacts.

"However, run-of-river hydro projects can result in unacceptable impacts if they are improperly located, poorly designed, or built and operated in a manner that does not minimize impacts on the local environment.

"B.C. needs an ecosystem-based management strategy that minimizes the environmental impacts of development – one that assesses the cumulative impacts of multiple power developments, ensures that minimum water flows protect stream ecosystems, and minimizes wilderness fragmentation resulting from access roads and power lines."

A stranger

Jul 15, 2009 at 7:04pm

Ha. I once emailed David Suzuki's organization regarding some questions I had regarding other events that could be driving climate change (nuclear testing, microwaves, etc.) The opportunity was there for somebody in the scientific community to assure me these issues had been thought of and addressed.
Instead I recieved a pamphlet on C02 - no explanation of why my thoughts were incorrect. To me that reeks of an agenda driven, propaganda filled pyramid/ponzi scheme where 'scientists' are not accountable and their word must be taken as gospel.

It is scientists who need to account for their experiments in real-world situations, and the technology they use to gleam information from them, not the SUV driver.

Evil eye

Jul 15, 2009 at 11:38pm

Faisal Moola, PhD; & Dr. Suzuki illustrate the complete disconnect between the real world and the fantasy world academic arrogance.

Run of river isn't just a little waterwheel, slowly turning in the current, rather mini dams and turbines, powered by ice melt water. Because the nature of this spring melt water, run-of-river power is for export, as the current dams 'lakes' are full and there is plenty of run-off.

David Suzuki's environmental credentials have now been revealed; he is a media maven, who likes to hob-nob with powerful politico's and supporting Campbell's just supports his ego.

The pampered, tenured world of academic life has fogged the mind of so-called TV environmental and it is up to the rest of the 'great unwashed' to fight in the trenches to save BC from destructive (flavour of the month) run-of-river projects.

It is you sir, who is blinded by rhetoric and self egotism, who are blind to the realities of run-of-river and I am saddened by those who pretend they are environmentalists, yet happily advocate the destruction of our rivers for the sake of being politically correct.

Sorry, I don't treat with environmental heretics.


Jul 16, 2009 at 8:07am

This is a joke right Moolah? You call that a structured argument. I'm an ideologue and you are not? Seems once again another attempt to raise more "Moolah" (sic) for DaGuc's business.

However it is good to see that one of the dark smarm, has finally had the courage to rear it's ugly head.

Da Guc's contribution to the next five years of environmental destruction, came as a result of the immense support he provided to the Gordo praising his ridiculous carbon tax and criticizing the NDP cap n'trade at every opportunity. It's funny how DaGuc and his sometimes sidekick Andrew Weaver criticize global warming deniers with Dr in front of their name as having no climate science expertise, yet have no trouble extolling the virtues of carbon taxation despite neither having any expertise in economics.

Through the entire campaign not a word of criticism passed daGuc's lips on salmon farms, Tar Sands pipelines, coal exports, tankers etc. The statement above on run of the river recites almost line for the line the Gordo's position on the environmental hazards of run of the river and means exactly nothing given the utter lack of any meaningful environmental review. You ignored pleas by real published out in the field working environmentalists like Alexandra Morton who was down on her knees begging you to stop. What part of Morton's statement ""I personally don't think the salmon are going to survive another Liberal term" didn't DaGuc and his evil horde get.

Finally after all that an actual Nobel prize winning economist Paul Krugman, utterly trashed the carbon tax argument and showed cap n'trade to be far superior. Where was DaGuc's apology to the citizen's of British Columbia and Gaia herself.

Da Guc would have to have been both innocent and naive not to know that his criticisms were deliberately designed to bolster the Gordo's tactics of sending confused environmentally conscious progressives to the Greenie/Gordo ticket or at least back to their TeeVee's to watch the Simpson's on election night instead of voting. Nobody would ever refer to your gang as being innocent or naive.

Now DaGuc has the Chutzpah to get put his minions out trying to restore the money tree for his business pretending he didn't have the deciding hand in causing the destruction the Gordo is unleashing on us as we speak.


Jul 16, 2009 at 12:42pm

Dr. Faisal Moola's post sounds reasonable. But I believe it suffers from a flaw commonly encountered in the worlds of corporate and government communications. Dr Moola's post tends to confuse the declaratory and actual positions of his organization.

It would have been much more helpful if Dr Moola had cited an actual private hydro development that the David Suzuki Foundation has publicly opposed, and one or two which meet their standards.

As a Maple Ridge resident, I would be curious to know what position the DSF took, and where and when, on the matter of Run of the River Corp's proposed Upper Pitt River hydro development.

Last March a capacity crowd of more than 1,000 people gathered in the Pitt Meadows Secondary Auditorium to make presentations during the EA process. Presenters included Rafe Mair and Carole James, whom David Suzuki denounced last Fall as someone he is "ashamed of" because she didn't fall into line behind the Campbell-Jaccard carbon tax. Many environmental organizations were present.

I would like to ask if the DSF was represented at that meeting and what position the foundation takes on the question of the Upper Pitt River development.

Thank you Dr Moola in advance for your courteous and informative reply.

Rod Smelser