COLUMN: Solberg – False choice between going green and having jobs

- May 14th, 2012

Environment or economy? Not a choice

by Monte Solberg

As the federal government presses on with its plan to allow more oil to move to Canada’s west coast, some environmental organizations are brooding. Several are taking out ads condemning the Conservative government for proposed changes to environmental regulations contained in the budget. They do this in bad faith.

Greenpeace and others on the fringes of the environmental movement would ban oil, coal, nuclear power, ethanol, hydro dams and of course flatulating livestock. But something else is going on here. Even when we do find abundant and cleaner sources of energy, such as natural gas, they want to stop that too.

If you piece it all together, you realize that in their ideal world Canada would be, as the prime minister recently noted, one big national park. Mind you, it would be a national park with no economy, no jobs and, of course, poorly maintained washrooms. The happy news is we can have both enhanced protection for the environment and a stronger economy. That assumes it’s desirable for humankind to become more prosperous.

Yet many people in the environmental movement think prosperity is the problem. If so, they should admit it instead of allowing their supporters to think we can stop development and also maintain living standards.

I propose a change in the climate of political, economic and environmental discussion. The question isn’t whether we develop our resources. People need jobs and humankind needs our resources. The question is how we do it so that it actually improves the environment.

Recently, John Lounds, president of the Nature Conservancy of Canada, appeared before the House of Commons environment committee and argued for biodiversity credits.

In exchange for allowing resource development to go ahead, industry would pay to set aside and protect other sensitive habitat as compensation for the disturbance their projects create. The compensation would be used to protect more ecologically valuable habitat possibly miles from the actual project.

Obviously all of the other environmental, health and safety standards would still need to be met. Oh yes, and that newly protected property would typically still be available for recreational use, and perhaps even agriculture depending on the property.

This really isn’t a new idea. It happens all the time at the municipal level. Often the rule is that for every acre of wetlands a developer disturbs, three new acres of wetlands must be constructed.

Adopting that approach would strengthen both the economy and the environment. Companies could plan with certainty. They would know that if they met the normal environmental standards and purchased their credits, their projects would proceed. They would avoid the even more costly delays that are part of the current process.

Biodiversity credits, new technology and common sense standards can help Canada lead on the environment.

But when environmental groups oppose all development in the name of nature, those without jobs see nature as the enemy. Meanwhile, a glorious opportunity to protect our most important natural areas is missed and society is the poorer for it.

Categories: Contributor Columns

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