Bill Totten's Weblog

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Financial Crisis and Ecological Amnesia

by Laurie E Adkin

The Bullet (December 01 2008)

Socialist Project - E-Bulletin No 161

As OECD governments and political parties rush to pour billions of dollars into the generation of more credit to stimulate more consumption, no one seems to be pointing out that only a short time ago, the same governments were insisting that there was no money for a significant reduction of greenhouse gases. There was no money for transition to renewable energy sources. There was, in short, no money to invest in the ecological transformation of our economies. Now, it is as if politicians everywhere have developed a severe case of ecological amnesia. Is there no longer a global warming crisis? A collapse of fish stocks in the oceans? An historically unprecedented rate of extinction of species? Millions of people living without clean drinking water or sanitation? Endemic illnesses caused by ubiquitous toxins? Or any of the other socio-environmental crises that scientists and social ecologists around the world have worked so hard to document and to bring to the public's attention?

Suddenly all that matters is that "consumers" in the rich countries redouble their efforts to over-spend, over-consume, and generate more waste so that the global economy does not remain in recession. And let's not mention that personal debt is a huge problem in North America, as well as a leading cause of the current crisis. Have all these economic experts and politicians had their memories and imaginations surgically removed?

Unbelievably, there is serious talk of handing over billions to the big three auto-makers to restore demand for private vehicles. Are cars not one of the major sources of greenhouse gases that only a short time ago we were, supposedly, trying to discourage people from buying and using? Where are the billions for investment in urban public transportation and rail transportation? In environmentally-sustainable jobs for the thousands of autoworkers who face unemployment due to the short-sighted, profit-maximizing strategies of their employers? Heck, if governments can nationalize banks in a crisis, why can't they buy controlling shares in the auto manufacturers and redesign the plants to produce electric buses, trains, and other pollution-reducing products? The collision between the old "endless growth and consumption" economics and the environmental crisis will not be averted by pouring billions into the old, destructive model. Nor will sustainable livelihoods be created for autoworkers and their children.

In Alberta, the oil and gas giants are putting their expansion projects in the tar sands on hold, now that the price of oil has fallen by half since last year. Ah, what a carbon tax could not achieve, a financial crisis has wrought - at least in future emissions of greenhouse gases - at least temporarily. And what is the response of the Alberta Government? The sky is falling!! Quick, cut the budget (public services first, of course)! Spend when you've got it; invest nothing in the future; follow corporations' interests wherever they lead; do nothing to direct the economy in a greener direction; run around like headless chickens when the budget surplus falls ... That's Conservative economics. What should we expect next? A "rescue plan" for Syncrude, Shell, Suncor, Albion, and the rest? Funny how there is never any money for child care, or for investment in renewable energy growth, and no thought of making mega-emitters internalize the costs of their greenhouse gas emissions.

At the federal level, the Harper government seizes the opportunity to cut the salaries of civil servants and remove their collective bargaining rights, and to undercut the public funding of political parties in the hope of weakening their opponents in the next election. Neoliberal ideologues and political tacticians to the end, eh, never mind what's going on in the real world. Never mind that it is renewed public investment in services and green infrastructure and a revitalized democratic politics that are needed to get us out of economic and ecological crisis and into a greener future.

What an opportunity to grab the horns of this financial crisis and turn it in the direction of a green economic transition! Are there any political leaders out there with the courage to do it before the moment has passed?


Laurie E Adkin teaches Political Science at the University of Alberta.

Bill Totten


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