Is more Poison our only option?

The Site C dam is once again being touted as a necessary and viable way to meet BC’s growing demand for electrical energy. Some, including some environmentalists, although expressing concern about the various environmental and agricultural impacts from a dam at Site C on the Peace River in northeastern BC, suggest that it might be the best option for increased electricity generation because the alternative is more electricity generated from oil, gas, or coal, all of which would increase global warming.

This approach of assuming that at some point in the future we will need additional energy stems purely and simply from the toxic companion assumption that we need continued growth in the consumption of material resources.

If that is the assumption, then we will have to identify new energy projects forever. If the planet were getting bigger, if magic were real, or if there were a free lunch, then perhaps perpetual growth would be sustainable. (Most economists clearly believe in one or more of these ifs – magic, free lunch, or a growing planet. Unfortunately they never tell us which particular illusion they believe permits the otherwise oxymoronic notion ‘sustainable growth’.) Since it appears that none of these ‘ifs’ are likely to materialize, we have to confront the issue of sustainability and the growth in material consumption that is central to it. In other words, at some point we have to ask ourselves – have we enough? That point is now.

We should not accept, for even a moment, that the options are Site C or some equivalent energy from oil, gas, coal, or nuclear. Those are all a single venomous option – continued growth with centralized power systems, with ever increasing consumption of resources and with the inevitable destruction of our life support systems that that entails. Vital clean air, clean and sufficient water, healthy soils, biodiversity, and functioning ecosystems are in ever decreasing supply, already. We need the energy savings from the vaunted ‘Factor 4’ or ‘Factor 10’ economies to make even our current consumption sustainable. We already need massive restoration efforts to repair damage to our life support systems. (there is plenty of supportive literature out there on the destruction of our life support systems – for a recent mainstream analysis refer to the 2005 UN publication – The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, and its sub reports including the one on Biodiversity)

I suggest that a powerful case can be made that if we need Site C, or its equivalent oil, gas, coal or nuclear energy generator, then we consume too much; we are, manifestly, well into the realm of unsustainability. Our footprint already exceeds Planet Earth (refer to the work of UBC professor Dr. Bill Rees, a world leader in sustainability analysis), which, deceptively, appears possible for a short while as we use up the endowments of clean air, clean and sufficient water, healthy soils, biodiversity, and functioning ecosystems which we inherited. The scary reality is that at the rate we are using up these endowments they will only support us for a short while.

Why can we not accept that we have enough stuff and get on with finding the most environmentally benign methods of producing that stuff and the most socially fair means of divvying it up? It is about time we got past the infantile stage of demanding more, more, more. It is time to begin cultivating a respectful relationship with the planet we live on and all the life it contains. That respectful relationship is central to sustainability; whilst ‘more, more, more’ is inevitably unsustainable.

And to start in that direction all we need to do is take advantage of the many technologies currently available to enhance energy conservation. The potential from energy conservation alone in this province is huge, far greater than the 900 MW from the proposed Site C dam.

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