Tag Archives: Peak Oil

Vancouver Sun Op-ed: Prosperity Possible Without Growth


Read this op-ed in the Vancouver Sun by Profs. Tim Jackson and Peter Victor on the need to rethink our dogmatic pursuit of growth at all costs.

“Fixing the economy is only part of the battle. We also have to confront
the convoluted social logic of consumerism. The days of spending money
we don’t have on things we don’t need to impress people we don’t know
are over. Living well is about good nutrition, decent homes, good
quality services, stable communities, decent, secure employment and
healthy environments. The ability to participate in society, in less
materialistic – and more meaningful – ways, is not the bitter pill of
eco-fascism as Enchin would have it, but our single best hope for social
progress.” (Sept. 19, 2011)



Emergency Oil Reserves Tapped: Conservation Plan Gathers Dust


Last week a global oil emergency was declared and the response rolled out, but almost nobody noticed. The International Energy Agency (IEA) started tapping into member state’s emergency oil reserves, something that has only happened twice before. While the crisis in Libya has removed only a tiny percentage of world oil supply from the market, about 1.5 million barrels a day, IEA member countries agreed to release 2 million barrels of oil per day from their emergency stocks over the next 30 days.
So what was the emergency? According to the IEA media release, “the ongoing disruption of oil supplies from Libya . . . threatens to undermine the fragile global economic recovery.”
The “economic recovery” the IEA talks about implies the return to ever-increasing greenhouse gas emissions, which was only briefly interrupted in 2009 by the global economic disruption following the 2007-2008 oil price spike. What they want to recover is the economic growth that has pushed greenhouse gas emissions to record levels in 2010, setting our planet on track for two real emergencies – run away global warming and economic chaos when the next major oil supply disruption happens.
According to a recent IEA report, energy-related carbon emissions in 2010 were 5 percent higher than the previous record set in 2008. Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist, was widely quoted ringing the alarm bells about how this means we are on the brink of exceeding 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels – the point at which many scientists believe global warming would spiral out of our control to absolutely catastrophic levels. “Our latest estimates are another wake-up call,” said Birol. “The world has edged incredibly close to the level of emissions that should not be reached until 2020 if the 2ºC target is to be attained.”
We need to learn to burn much less oil sooner or later, so why not take ‘bold and decisive’ action this summer? If the IEA, which represents the wealthiest countries including Canada, was serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions and vulnerability to oil price spikes they have a number of options. The most obvious is to blow the dust of their 2005 report Saving Oil in a Hurry which asserts that “In the case of a moderate reduction in oil supplies, a reduction in IEA transport fuel demand of even a few percent could have a substantial dampening effect on surging world oil prices.”
The transport sector accounts for over half of oil use in IEA countries and is expected to account for nearly all future increases in oil use. Increases in oil consumption now must come from destructive unconventional sources such as the Canadian tar sands.
More and more countries are admitting that major changes in transportation policy are needed to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets. More and more experts are also warning that the peaking of conventional oil supplies will likely lead to a destructive roller coaster of price spikes and economic downturns. Saving Oil in a Hurry lays out measures to rapidly reduce oil demand in ways that could translate into a long-term positive response to both of these daunting challenges.
Some of the changes suggested are what was recently tested during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. For example, rush hour bus-only lanes were converted to 24 hour operation on many main streets including Broadway. Lower or free transit fares are also suggested in Saving Oil in a Hurry; during the Olympics many buses operated without fare boxes – offering free transit on a random basis. Increased transit service is also part of Saving Oil in a Hurry the report advocates increasing off-peak transit service including weekends and evenings to capture recreational travel and keeping older buses in service longer to increase peak service as new buses come into service – as was done during the Olympics. All of these measures have been reversed since the Olympics but transit ridership is still significantly higher than before.
Other measures suggested in Saving Oil in a Hurry include lowering highway speed limits to 90 km/h, introducing aggressive driving efficiency education campaigns, and converting existing general purpose lanes to high occupancy vehicle lanes.
All of these measures could lead into the larger changes needed over the medium and long term. But our governments and international agencies seem determined to waste this perfectly good emergency and make us more vulnerable to the next oil price spike – which could be a big one if Saudi Arabian oil extraction is disrupted.
What is really needed to deal with the twin crises of peak oil and global warming is a major transformation of transportation and economic policy. Ensuring that more and more oil and other resources are consumed every year is no longer a sane policy. Either one of these challenges justifies action on the scale of the mobilization for World War II, which saw civilian automobile manufacturing plants converted to military production almost overnight.
Transportation Transformation: Building complete communities and a zero-emission transportation system in BC, a recent report I co-authored, proposes taking many of the measures in Saving Oil in a Hurry much further. We envision transit lanes painted on almost every major arterial in BC, lower transit fares, and electricity replacing oil as the fuel for public transit. We also propose rapidly creating more complete communities with much better cycling and pedestrian facilities to reduce the need to travel by car or transit for everyday tasks such as grocery shopping. Longer distance freight and passenger service would be provided by electric trains.
We need a declaration of emergency to mobilize the resources needed for the transformation. One opportunity has been squandered, but the next and likely more dramatic oil price shock could be right around the corner. Our governments and institutions seem set to squander the next opportunity for change as well, unless they feel real pressure to face up to reality. You can get involved in creating the Transportation Transformation we need, start by signing up for action updates at www.StopThePave.org.


Growth: Time to Remove its Halo


“No belief in industrial society is so pervasive and so essential to it as ‘progress’ defined in terms of economic growth. It sustains faith in the industrial system and reinforces the hope among the poor that they may also ‘strike it rich'”. – From Ark II by Dennis Pirages and Paul Ehrlich, 1974.


Many years ago, the ecologist Paul Anderson wrote “The ecological childhood of man is over, and it has ended without ecological wisdom.” For the primary socio-political interests that control our society this, sadly, is still true. Ecological wisdom is more than understanding ecology. It implies understanding both what we are doing in “nature”, and what the consequences of our “doing” may be.

I have reached my own “ecological wisdom”, as it stands now, from decades of work in research, university teaching, and resource management. Such information is for the purpose of self introduction to help readers understand the basis of my perspective.

After 60 years of such experience I am inclined to look back a long way – clear back to my early life. By the same token, I find myself looking far ahead – at the future of my grandchildren, at the future of other grandchildren. This thinking, and the uneasiness it brings, is more than reminiscence about the past or casual thoughts regarding the future. It is a deep concern driven by the massive changes that I have seen, and see, coming in the world around us.  It is driven, in one of its dimensions, by the problems that I see in fisheries, my professional discipline.

Around the planet, across North America, and more particularly for this discussion, in B.C., we can witness an endless parade of growth-driven building and “development” projects. On the surface, the process is driven onward by the need for more jobs – jobs for more and more people, but less spoken of, profit and growth for business. The insatiable growth process is circular, there is no “end game”.  More people, need for more jobs, use of more resources and space, then more people yet, need for still more jobs, urgency to find more resources – around and around it goes.  In many respects this circular syndrome has come to define our culture. In one form or another it has come to define most human cultures. In its present scale, it has come to stress ecosystems at all levels.

We still have some chance to do far better in some parts of the world.  The time has come to change direction. Bigger, faster, and more are no longer better.


Global ecosystems are under stress from our activities, demands, and impacts. Wherever we look, be it forests, soils, fish populations, water supply, or biodiversity, damage and overuse goes on and expands. The scale of stresses and risks as well is understood and has been spelled out by many authors.

In 2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Synthesis Report was released. It involved the work of an enormous number of people and organizations. It was designed to assess the consequences of ecosystem change, and to establish a scientific basis for actions to enhance the conservation and sustainable use of ecosystems and their contributions to human well-being. The following are examples from among major findings:

  • Approximately 60%, 15 out of 24, ecosystem services evaluated in the assessment are degraded or are being used unsustainably. Most of this had developed in the past 50 years.
  • 20 % of the world’s major coral reefs have been lost, 20% more have been degraded.
  • 60% of the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide (at 376 ppm in 2003) has taken place since 1959.
  • Humans have changed, to a significant extent irreversibly, the diversity of life on earth.
  • Many of the great fisheries of the world are already lost or are in danger of loss in the next few decades.

Much of the following part of my discussion is based on fisheries issues because of my education and experience. However, the challenging elements of human behavior involved transcend fisheries issues.


In many regards the situation with fisheries is emblematic of a wider human dilemma. Many, if not most, of the fisheries of the world are in trouble. Among many of them sustainability hangs in the balance or is already lost. This damage to most fisheries has been done by people and fishing, driven in the end by our ever increasing numbers and collective appetites for food and profit.  Damage to some fishery resources is not exclusively from overuse.

In some instances the use of one resource has compromised the existence of another. In doing research for the book Fishes and Forestry – Worldwide Watershed Interactions and Management, edited by Northcote and Hartman, it was found that expanding forestry activities had damaged fish habitat and populations at a time before people cared or thought about it. Such damage carried on years after people did know about it. Although our book dealt with forestry effects, it is likely that similar books could be written about impacts on fish populations from mining, agriculture, urban expansion, or other human activities.

Beyond the effects of environmental impacts, growth in fishing, particularly for marine species, has put such resources in jeopardy. In an article in Nature, Aug. 8, Vol. 418, Daniel Pauly and co-authors showed that total catch of invertebrates, groundfish, and pelagic fish rose from about 20 million tons in 1950 to about 80 million tons in 1988. It fell to about 70 million tons by 1999. However, catch data do not tell the whole story. The composition of the total catch has changed through “fishing down”. In “fishing down”, the fishery over time takes a progressively higher fraction of the catch from species that are lower in the food chain.


In the B.C. salmon fisheries the pressures on the fish are double-barreled. We catch too many of them, and concurrently, we degrade their environment through growth in industry, housing, waste disposal, and resource extraction. Viewed in such a context, salmon in the Fraser River, and indeed in other major rivers face a very uncertain future.

The issues go beyond those of run forecast and allocation, which are regularly in the news. The Fraser River system is under the stress of a configuration of impacts and ongoing growth-driven change. In a chapter in the book Sustainable Fisheries Management – Pacific Salmon, Drs. Northcote, Groot and I listed twelve environmental impacts, including Alcan’s diversion, that endanger salmon runs in the river. Many of these impacts may well occur at low levels of effect, however, collectively they pose a threat.

Effective response to such threats, especially those which may have subtle effects, is difficult without well developed monitoring and assessment. The combinations of impacts that cause the threats may be different for different salmon populations depending on where and when they migrate. The research on cumulative effects, as they may be manifested for different populations in the Fraser River system, has not been done.

Concerned citizens and thoughtful managers do understand some of the “high point” impairments to salmon populations in the system. They recognize some of the most problematic impact sources. The issues and the conflicts involved in “high profile” problems may, however, divert attention from the complexes of current environmental issues and from the heavy duty impacts of long-term macro changes in the environment. The risks exist at two levels.


Fisheries resources, at levels from local to global, are put in jeopardy by competitive fishing and overuse in the short term, and by macro changes in an array of environmental conditions in the long term.  Human population size is a pervasive element among the latter. In this regard, it is an interesting and indeed almost a hallmark of my profession, that most biologists struggle hard with issues of “allocation” and “management”, but stand aloof from discussing growth in human numbers as it contributes to fisheries failures. The book Salmon 2100 – the Future of Wild Pacific Salmon by Lackey et al is a notable exception.

Some fisheries can change quickly under the pressure to feed a rapidly increasing human population. I worked in Malawi, Africa, for 2 years on fisheries and environmental projects. In the short course of 3 decades (1960s to 1990s), during which the Malawi population came close to doubling, the fish stocks of the southern end of the lake were over-used and the size range of species captured decreased dramatically. Fish populations along the narrow fishing zones in the mid- and upper lake became over exploited and changed somewhat more slowly. It was acceptable for Malawian managers to search for ways to catch more fish, however, it was not acceptable for them to discuss the impacts of a population that doubled in 30 years or less.

In B.C. and the Pacific Northwest states, population growth will, potentially, play an enormous role in determining the long-term future of salmon. If the current average annual human population growth of the last half of the 20th century (1.9%) continues, Lackey et al. predict that numbers in the Pacific Northwest will reach about 85 million by 2100. I present these numbers not so much as something of certainty, but rather to indicate that if we look into the long-term future, salmon in systems such as the Fraser River face a very problematic future.

Much of BC’s share of future growth will occur in the lower Fraser River basin from Hope to Vancouver with more water pollution, more gravel removal, more roads, more water removal, more subdivisions, etc.  Ongoing climate change, expansion of human population, and “development” will be the primary determinants that will shape the freshwater environmental future for the diverse Pacific salmon stocks in the Fraser River system.

A long-term strategy, involving research and related management responses which are scaled to the magnitude of the issues, must be developed for salmon populations of the southern half of B.C.  Such research must deal with the implications of expanding human populations and related development and infrastructure.

The rapid growth of human numbers, beyond “sustainability”, is the pervasive element in fisheries management whether in the Fraser River system or other parts of the world. It is the pervasive element in most ecological issues that face society(ies).  Whether it is in fishery matters in the Fraser River, fisheries issues around the globe or other some other resource-related concern,  biologists must put problems of human population growth, and its unending imbalance, into the “equation”.


It is the reality of our times that we must question not only the specifics of each resource use issue and each “development” issue of our time, but also the societal context in which it occurs. Over the past 30 years or more, I have witnessed cases in which people, who were concerned about the environment, questioned or opposed activities that ranged from small to large, and from moderate to heavy in impact.

We have not, however, questioned well the direction or the “end game” along which each step in the growth/development process takes us further. The numbers should wake us up. The UN medium growth projection has human numbers peaking at about 9.3 billion – 3 billion more than now. The US growth projection is for about 420 million by 2050. The Canadian projection is for about 42 million.  Based on growth rate from 1950 to 2000, B.C. will have a population of 8 million or more.

The question that we “environmentalists” must ask in regard to these kinds of trends is, “Where does the process take us?” Do we wait, passively, until the growth process takes the planet to the 9 billion plus mark?   Do we grow until nature says “Stop,” as it surely will, or do we begin an active discussion of the processes that envelope us? These are the issues. These are the questions that should be asked in every political campaign in which our “leaders”, perhaps in ignorance, take us one increment further along the road to greater environmental risks.

Such questions and issues must begin to be part of every discussion and every hearing as additional “development” projects come before society. The fact that project review formats and terms of reference may not openly permit such discussion, in this day and age, can only serve to emphasize their ultimate limitations.


To a large degree it is the political process that reflects the direction of a society. In a deeper sense this process reflects our relationship to our environment and to nature. The political discussion that we have heard is one in which the core of the debate is about the “individual” as opposed to the “collective”.  As such, these two perspectives are both about how we use the planet and about how nature may serve our species. It is in this context that we presently try to “write the rules.” A look at the conditions around us tell us that now such “rules” of societal operation are short-sighted. Too many people in our society live with their eyes on the stock market and their hands on their wallets. The environment is an abstraction “somewhere outside.”

My sense of the situation is that we are at a “break-point” at which the “political” context must also reflect rules of nature that are common to all species. Such a transition would reflect intellectual process as much as political doctrine. It would reflect, in the fullest sense, that we cannot “grow forever.” It would also reflect that “all things are interconnected in nature.” The Nuu–Chah-Nulth people on the west coast of Vancouver Island embraced this concept long ago in their expression, “hishuk ish ts’awalk.”

Historically, people have made positive transitional leaps in regard to some things in society, in particular, how they should operate and govern themselves. I think that we are due for another step. I believe that it is time that we recognized nature as a partner and a regulator rather than as a servant and a collection of resources. This idea is an abstraction on one hand, but a powerful reality on the other. In its fullest sense, the concept has no home in any present political organization. It is a concept based on perceived relationships rather than how we gain and own material wealth.  As such it may be elusive, and making it work would require new dimensions to our thinking and social depth. However, the consequences of failure to reach for and attain it, because we opt for “business as usual”, may be disruptive and dangerous.

My last hope is that it is not already too late.

G. F. Hartman, Ph.D.


WikiLeaks cables: Saudi Arabia cannot pump enough oil to keep a lid on prices


From the Guardian – Feb 8, 2011

by John Vidal

US diplomat convinced by Saudi expert that reserves of world’s biggest oil exporter have been overstated by nearly 40%

The US fears that Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest crude oil exporter, may not have enough reserves to prevent oil prices escalating, confidential cables from its embassy in Riyadh show.

The cables, released by WikiLeaks,
urge Washington to take seriously a warning from a senior Saudi
government oil executive that the kingdom’s crude oil reserves may have
been overstated by as much as 300bn barrels – nearly 40%.

revelation comes as the oil price has soared in recent weeks to more
than $100 a barrel on global demand and tensions in the Middle East.
Many analysts expect that the Saudis and their Opec cartel partners
would pump more oil if rising prices threatened to choke off demand.

Sadad al-Husseini, a geologist and former head of exploration at the
Saudi oil monopoly Aramco, met the US consul general in Riyadh in
November 2007 and told the US diplomat that Aramco’s 12.5m barrel-a-day
capacity needed to keep a lid on prices could not be reached.

to the cables, which date between 2007-09, Husseini said Saudi Arabia
might reach an output of 12m barrels a day in 10 years but before then –
possibly as early as 2012 – global oil production would have hit its
highest point. This crunch point is known as “peak oil“.

Husseini said that at that point Aramco would not be able to stop the rise of global oil prices because the Saudi energy
industry had overstated its recoverable reserves to spur foreign
investment. He argued that Aramco had badly underestimated the time
needed to bring new oil on tap.

One cable said:
“According to al-Husseini, the crux of the issue is twofold. First, it
is possible that Saudi reserves are not as bountiful as sometimes
described, and the timeline for their production not as unrestrained as
Aramco and energy optimists would like to portray.”

It went on:
“In a presentation, Abdallah al-Saif, current Aramco senior
vice-president for exploration, reported that Aramco has 716bn barrels
of total reserves, of which 51% are recoverable, and that in 20 years
Aramco will have 900bn barrels of reserves.

“Al-Husseini disagrees
with this analysis, believing Aramco’s reserves are overstated by as
much as 300bn barrels. In his view once 50% of original proven reserves
has been reached … a steady output in decline will ensue and no amount
of effort will be able to stop it. He believes that what will result is a
plateau in total output that will last approximately 15 years followed
by decreasing output.”

The US consul then told Washington: “While
al-Husseini fundamentally contradicts the Aramco company line, he is no
doomsday theorist. His pedigree, experience and outlook demand that his
predictions be thoughtfully considered.”

read full article


Is There Enough Oil to Pay Our Debt?


From JeffRubinsSmallerWorld.com – Jan 5, 2011

by Jeff Rubin

2010 left us all with a mountain of debt. Whether you’re a taxpayer
in the UK, Ireland or the US, it must already be pretty clear that
you’re on the hook for a lot of IOUs borrowed from your future. You may
not have borrowed the money yourself, but your government has already
done it on your behalf, running up massive, record-setting deficits.
What’s not clear is exactly how your government is going to pay that
debt back.

With students already rioting in London over huge tuition increases, and general strikes
the order of the day in places like Athens and Madrid, chances are slim
that incumbent governments will survive long enough to cut their way to
fiscal solvency. That’s not to say the fiscal brakes aren’t on (they
are—at least everywhere but in the US). But the deficits are so
gargantuan (as an example, Ireland’s is equal to one third of the
country’s GDP) that the twin tasks of slashing spending and hiking taxes
could last decades, provoking all kinds of social and political
push-back during that time.

Given austerity’s slim chance at success, you might ask why
government borrowing rates in the bond market, though rising, aren’t
much higher. History would suggest that the yield on a ten-year US Treasury bond should be close to double what it is, given the size of Washington’s borrowing program.

The reason it’s not is that creditors and debtors both share a common
belief that a powerful economic recovery lies just around the
corner—one so powerful, in fact, that tax revenues will suddenly fill
government coffers and let bondholders be paid the huge sums they are
owed while at the same time sparing taxpayers an otherwise draconian

The only problem is that the economic growth everyone is counting on
is powered by oil. And as you’ve probably noticed, that’s getting more
and more expensive to burn.

Read full article

Locally grown food, like these heirloom tomatoes from Tsawwassen's Earthwise Community Garden, could play a major role in dealing with both our economic and environmental challenges

How to Deal with our Economic & Environmental Challenges Together


“The economy is a subsidiary of the ecosystem…The only place where the environment and economy are separated is in the human mind.”

– Dr. William Rees, UBC Professor, Founder of the ‘Eco-footprint’ concept

Perhaps the most foolish and dangerous misconception of our time is that we must somehow choose between the economy and the environment. We hear it all the time. “We can’t establish green house gas emissions caps until we get our economy out of recession.”…”The environment’s important, but so are jobs.”…”We need to balance the economy with the environment.”

It’s a false dichotomy which has become the go-to defense of big polluters and the governments that enable them. We heard it with Fish Lake in BC, where Taseko Mines said they needed to destroy a fish-bearing lake to build a giant gold and copper mine. But, of course, they told us it would bring nine gazillion person-years worth of employment.

We hear it from Enbridge, the company that wants to build a pipeline from the Alberta Tar Sands to supertankers on BC’s North Coast. They too are fond of tallying up their person-years. (However, they leave out the fact that the majority of these jobs will go to people from out of province – and that they’ll last only a few years, while we’re left with the enormous environmental and economic risks from their project long after the jobs disappear).

These companies and our governments consistently create the impression that we must decide between the economy and the environment – which is short-sighted, self-interested nonsense.
The first step to dealing with both our mounting economic and environmental challenges is recognizing that the economy, as Dr. William Rees says, is a subsidiary of the environment. No fish ecology, no fishery. No forest, no forestry. No energy, no economy. No farmland, no food, no us. 

We also must come to see that due to impending Peak Oil and the age of increasingly costly, scarce, dangerous, and unreliable fossil fuels, the kind of globalized economic model we have today is unsustainable. Not just environmentally unsustainable. Unsustainable, period – because it depends on a finite and dwindling resource. So regardless of whether it contributes greatly to climate change, we simply don’t have the resources to maintain this system, as former CIBC World Markets Chief Economist Jeff Rubin explained in his essential 2009 book, Why Your World is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller.

In it Rubin relates the skepticism he’s received from the energy and banking intelligentsia over the past decade – even after correctly predicting the rise of oil to an all-time high of close to $150/barrel in 2008. He emphasizes that the key to adapting to this new world lies in the re-localization of just about every function of our economy – and the scaling down of everything we do in terms of our energy and resource-indulgent lifestyles. In other words, smaller and more local is better. This from one of Canada’s top economists and energy experts, no less.

Ponder for a moment the madness of our economic system today – and BC’s role within it. We put our ecosystems at risk by chopping down trees and mining coal – which we then ship, in raw, unmanufactured form, across the Pacific to China in tankers burning the dirtiest fossil fuel in the world (bunker diesel) – where the coal is consumed in electric plants to power the factories in which people labour under awful conditions for paltry wages, building the logs we sent them into tables that are then shipped all the way back to us…all so we can save a few bucks at Canadian Tire (which is a misnomer today, incidentally). 

Of course, we get precious few jobs in this bargain. What we do get is coal smoke and diesel fumes in our air shed, climate change, and a crappy table that lasts a fraction of what it used to when we made them ourselves.

And this insanity has made abundant sense to flat-earthers like the New York Times’ vaunted Thomas Friedman (Rubin’s alter-ego). But it doesn’t make sense at $150/barrel oil, nor at $200 or $300. And that, according to Rubin and many other experts (including the late, great oil banker Matthew Simmons), is where we’re headed – very shortly. Consider that in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, some 12% of the world’s shipping fleet ground to a halt, with 500 behemoths hidden off the coast of Singapore for the better part of a year – a small harbinger of what is to come.

Yet Rubin somehow sees an upside to these unavoidable challenges we face – namely, in dealing with them we could create local jobs, clean up our environment, and rediscover how to live modest but fulfilling lives. Rubin writes, “Distance costs money. That will be the mantra of the new local economy.” The closer goods and food are produced to the markets in which they are consumed, the lower the transportation costs and reliance on fossil fuels. But with that we also get the twin benefit of fewer green house gas emissions (transportation accounts for upwards of 30% of North American GHG’s). Hence, once again, what’s good economically is also good for the environment.

So to both the BC NDP and Liberal leadership candidates – and to Michael Ignatieff, for that matter – I humbly submit: Build your platform on addressing both the economy and the environment together. Tell people it won’t be easy, but we can and must develop a greener, healthier, more economically and energy efficient British Columbia and planet. 

Here are some planks to consider in that platform:

-Get back to growing our own food. In BC, we currently rely on imports for over half our food. We need more of our own farmers and food-producing lands – which means an investment in agricultural education and the protection and development of land that families and small-scale local farmers can afford to till to feed their own communities.

-Stop raw log exports. Truly sustainable forestry practices with local mills and enhanced manufacturing would ensure we get maximum economic benefit from one of our most important resources, while minimizing the environmental costs.

-Re-localize manufacturing in general. Our dependance on China and other low-cost labour markets has hollowed out a manufacturing base that we will surely need to develop our own goods in the near future.

-Get serious about protecting and rebuilding sustainable local fisheries. That means moving aquaculture to closed-containment, protecting and restoring fish habitat, and better managing our fisheries. That means saying “no” to things like the Raven coal mine proposal on Vancouver Island, which could destroy one of the finest oyster fisheries in the world (employer of 600 people). The seafood we’re blessed with on BC’s coast is an ecological and economic gift, which if we take care of will take care of us – as this past year’s surprise sockeye return reminded us.

-Preserve our wild places for sustainable wilderness tourism. And focus more on Canadians, many of whom have yet to experience some of the treasures in their own back yard. This would lower the industry’s dependence on emissions-heavy international travel.

-Build a proper network of public transit and pedestrian infrastructure for people movement – and electrified rail and short-sea shipping for goods movement. The construction of public transit creates far more jobs per dollar than highway paving. And by getting some of the 70% of single occupant commuter vehicles off our highways, we can free up space for goods movement, reducing lost economic productivity from gridlock – all without having to destroy our farmland or add to suburban sprawl.

-Make conservation the key focus of our energy policy. The private power industry is the antithesis of conservation, as it makes money through increased consumption – which is why it has forced grossly expensive purchase contracts on us for power we can’t use and must therefore sell at a considerable loss. Conservation is the only truly zero-impact form of energy and it frees up clean public hydro electricity to sell to our neighbours at a profit, which goes toward our schools, hospitals, and keeping our taxes low. We also need to make homes and businesses more energy efficient and, importantly, more self-sufficient – through things like small-scale wind, solar, heat pumps, and geothermal power.

If it seems that looking out for the environment and/or public interest are unpopular with the electorate, look no further than Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall’s intervention in the sale of Potash Corp. to foreign mining titan BHP Billiton, or recently retired Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams’ reclaiming of a public hydro resource from Abitibi Bowater when they shut their pulp mill down (breaking their resource-for-jobs deal with the Province). Both were extraordinarily popular decisions with the public – in Williams’ case, he described it as the best decision of a brilliant political career. Meanwhile, a full 80% of British Columbians favour a ban on coastal oil tanker traffic – and politicians with the guts to fight for one will be duly rewarded. These platforms aren’t a tough sell with the public at all – only with a select few individuals and corporations with far too much influence over our political system.

One of the features of the Peak Oil era is that we will have less and less capital to implement the above changes. Which is why we must cease immediately building out-moded, unsustainable infrastructure and energy projects. Every dollar that we spend on paving highways over farmland is a double-whammy. Not only is it depriving us of a far more important use for that land, but it’s taking already scarce money away from public transit alternatives. Consider that for roughly a seventh the cost of the upgrades underway to Highway 1 and the Port Mann Bridge in BC’s Lower Mainland, we could get the old Interurban commuter rail line back up and running, servicing the same corridor far more efficiently and getting commuters to work faster, cheaper, more comfortably and safely.

Instead of fighting with all our might against these irrepressible forces, why not turn around and go with the flow? We must ask ourselves, is it worth all that effort and long term pain, just to forestall the end of this status quo by maybe a few more years – after which we will be far worse off for not having been proactive in changing our ways? 

We might do to ask ourselves a few more questions. Like, is bigger really better? Has global “free” trade worked for most average citizens around the world – or has it simply afforded wealthy individuals and corporations better access to cheap labour and foreign resources? Are we happier as a society today than we were fifty years ago? (Skyrocketing obesity, diabetes, cancer, and depression rates might suggest that we are not). Finally, is the planet better off?

Building a future based on the inextricable relationship between the economy and environment would present the ultimate in public policy achievements – a win-win for everyone (or almost everyone). 

It also just might get someone elected as the next premier of BC or prime minister of Canada…and help save the planet, which never hurts.