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Building for the future

Hello Metro readers. After a brief hiatus we, Earth Tones, are back.

Hello Metro readers. After a brief hiatus we, Earth Tones, are back.

Since we last spoke, many things have happened in the world. Most immediately relevant to most of us is that the bottom has fallen out of the world economy. So these days companies are worried about staying in business, not trading carbon credits, and individuals are worried about keeping their jobs and paying their mortgages, not about whether to buy a Smart Car or a Prius.

A year ago, the environment was consistently among the top three priorities for Canadians in opinion polls. These days, it doesn’t even crack the top five. Is the environment still relevant in today’s political and economic climate? Why should we take time away from worrying about our bank balances to worry about the Earth’s balance?

First of all, we need to remember the things that were making headlines six months ago, before the headlines became dominated by who was bailing out whom and how much stock prices have fallen, are still happening now. They have just been eclipsed by things that may seem more immediately urgent.

Polar ice is still melting, CO2 levels are still rising. These things don’t stop because humans have dug themselves a financial hole. Although worldwide manufacturing has slowed, carbon emissions have not been reduced to a level that makes a difference to global warming. We need to decide whether the environment is a “luxury” that we consider only in times of plenty or whether it is our lifeline that we need to sustain at all times.

We also need to remember that our economy is “in transition.” The benchmark for economic “downturns” is, of course, the Great Depression. During the Depression, many world leaders used deficit spending to finance huge infrastructure projects that laid the foundation for the modern economy.

“Spending one’s way out of a recession” and running large budget deficits is controversial these days after the balanced budgets of the more prosperous years. However, in the past this has produced needed jobs and created infrastructure that transformed the economy.

We have before us an opportunity. The economic stimulus that we so urgently need can be used to lay a new infrastructure for a greener future. Massive investments in public transit can be made. New light-rail and bus systems can be integrated with existing systems so that in the future cars are simply not a necessity of day-to-day life the way they are today.

Similarly, the government plans to invest in industry, which will create jobs and confidence. Special consideration must be given to industries that will be environmentally sustainable and that will continue to support the economy into the future when oil is not readily available and carbon emissions are more strictly controlled.

So as we adjust to the new reality, let us hope that we can grow and change during these difficult times and emerge with an infrastructure that can carry us into a sustainable future.

– Sophia Dore is an environmental scientist with Conestoga-Rovers & Associates. Andrew Laursen is an assistant professor at Ryerson University.

 
 
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