Qualicum Institute: Advocating a science-based understanding of ecological, social and economic survivability

Decision makers* ignore science at our peril

*Decision makers = Politicians, policy advisors, city planners, civil servants etc.

Decision makers rely on unproven economic theory instead of science
Decision makers rely on economic theories instead of science

“Why don’t we elect our airline pilots?” The answer should be obvious! We don’t want economists, lawyers nor teachers flying our airplanes unless they have passed all the requirements to be qualified airplane pilots.

Similarly, we would like to see our elected decision makers base their policies on solid, ecological and physical sciences (See “It’s Not Rocket Science.“), rather than on outdated and disproven social and economic theories (see examples below).

Unfortunately, ecologists and other scientists are not normally drawn to politics – and so, we get federal and provincial policies using Sustain-a-babble to bolster claims that “sustainable development” (i.e., sustainable growth) is possible and that “economic growth and a healthy natural environment” are not mutually exclusive.

Part of the problem may be that decision makers take a short-term (aka election cycle) view of issues,  while scientists monitor trends over the long term. For example, global warming may appear to be going down, if viewed over periods of 5 – 10 years. This can allow the shorter-term decision makers with ammunition to use anything but science to base decisions.

Decision makers do not use science to view global warming
Decision makers base policies on shorter time lines than those in science.

Evidence that decision makers ignore science: 2017 petition to the Federal Government

The most telling evidence that decision makers are knowingly, or unknowingly, ignoring science can be seen in our “Why you should be alarmed” section. Because despite all the promises made, carbon dioxide continues to rise and biodiversity continues to fall.

The Qualicum Institute has repeatedly challenged elected federal, provincial, and local decision makers to adopt a scientific basis for their economic development policies, only to be ignored.

For example, on 16 June 2017, the Qualicum Institute submitted Environmental Petition No. 4081 to the Office of the Attorney General of Canada, titled: The relationship of science to the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy. The petition was directed to several federal departments, including Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The petition consisted of nine questions, but the primary question, contained our central concern:

“What peer reviewed science—not neoclassical economics—is the government relying on to make the claim that we don’t need to choose between a healthy environment and a strong, growing economy?”

Despite our specific request for peer-reviewed science, we did not get it.

Minister McKenna, where is the science?

To support the government’s claim that Canada does not have to choose between a healthy environment and economic growth, the response from Minister McKenna2 pointed to a “significant body of published research” that related chiefly to economic theories, such as the Porter hypothesis and the Kuznets Curve, but neither of these theories have stood the test of time.  

The Porter Hypothesis claims:

that strict environmental regulation triggers the discovery and introduction of cleaner technologies and environmental improvements, the innovation effect, making production processes and products more efficient.3

but this has not been found to be true:

A study of OECD countries, however, showed no evidence of permanent effects of environmental policy tightening on productivity following the introduction of environmental measures, regardless of the type of regulation (ibid)”.

The Kuznets curve, is a 1950/60’s theory that stated:

“… as an economy develops, market forces first increase and then decrease economic inequality. The Kuznets curve appeared to be consistent with experience at the time it was proposed. However, since the 1960s, inequality has risen in the US and other developed countries.4

In other words, both of these economic theories are no longer valid. We examined the rest of “the significant body of research” stated in the Minister’s response  research and dispute the government claims as unconvincing and lacking scientific rigor. 

Our conclusion?

“…this government’s economic growth policies are founded on discredited theory, wishful thinking, and a perilous tendency to discount future harms in the interest of present benefits.”

 We sent our response5 to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change as well as The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, and also to Elizabeth May and Andrew Weaver of the Green Party of Canada but received no response to our comments.

2022 Petition to the Federal Minister of the Environment and Climate Change

A more recent petition (441-01068) to the Minister of Environment and Climate Change delivered through Rachel Blaney, the North Island and Powell River Member of Parliament, requested that the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change: 

  1. Ensure that all future federal government economic initiatives are founded on a scientific understanding of the limits of economic and population growth;
  2. Align the national economy with Canadians’ well-being and within the carrying capacity of the environment-not wealth generation or economic growth;
  3. Ensure the health and welfare of all Canadians by moving to a low-carbon-emission, steady state economy with a stable population and a stable level of resource consumption kept within ecological limits; and
  4. Prevent further biodiversity loss, restore our degraded life-supporting ecosystems, and protect at least 50% of all regional ecosystems.

The petition was presented to the House of Commons on December 14, 2022. The Government response, tabled on January 30, 2023, seemed promising (see the petition and tabled response), though still failed to directly recognize and address the root cause of climate change and the biodiversity crisis: economic and population growth. 

For example, the response references the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework. This too is a positive sounding document, except it too relies on “sustainable development” (see Sustain-a-babble) and fail to mention economic growth as the key driver of biodiversity loss. 

Take action so decision makers base policies on science

These two examples, and many letters to local governments over the years (see publications and more) show a failure of governments to move beyond policies based on economic growth. But, given the undeniable effect climate change is now having on the “economy”, governments may be ready to change course. Perhaps if a majority of concerned citizens follow the recommendations on our “Take Action” page, we may approach the critical mass required for politicians, policy advisors, city planners, academics, civil servants etc. to take action and devise policies that reduce and reverse the harm we are are causing to the biosphere that supports us. 

References

Stop ecological overshoot caused by economic growth

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