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There is only one world. What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves

by Josh O'Donnell

Earth Day is the perfect day to reflect on our relationship with the planet. 

We are entirely dependent on the Earth for our nourishment, our health, and the very air we breathe. We are embedded in a great web of life, sustained by a livable climate, a breathable atmosphere, and easy access to freshwater. However, there are limits to what the Earth can bear. When we exceed those limits, our life-support systems start to break down. And that is what is happening.

Our consumer society operates as if there are no limits and so does our economy. The old-line political parties base their policies on the same assumption. It’s why we no longer see regulations to cap pollution, habitat destruction or limit hazardous chemicals in consumer products.

We have already exceeded the safe limits to growth in the use of gas, oil and coal as our atmosphere and oceans can no longer safely recycle the resulting carbon pollution. As a result, our world is heating up and our ocean waters are acidifying. The consequences for our food supplies and for the farm and fishing families who depend on the land and sea for their livelihoods are concerning. 

There are clear limits to how much habitat can be destroyed in our forests, rivers, and coastal bays before animal and plant populations decline and begin to  disappear. Our provincial biologists recognized this and put a limit on how much forest habitat could be removed. This limit was abandoned in 2014 in order to increase the amount of trees that could be cut by the big forestry companies. 

And what about the limits to the chemical concoctions applied to the land, infused in our food, and baked into consumer products? Mounting cancer rates and damage to human reproduction suggest we have long surpassed those limits.

It is as if we believe that there are two different worlds: the world of people and the world of nature. That, of course, is rubbish. There aren’t two worlds. There is only one world. What we do to the Earth, we do to ourselves. 

The 1972 publication of Limits to Growth shocked the world by examining what exponential growth can do to a world of finite resources. This led to important work by economists such as E.F. Schumacher, Herman Daly, Peter Victor, Kate Raworth, and Tim Jackson. They have proposed strategies for economic development that recognize the limits to growth in a finite world. Sadly, they have all but been ignored by the political apostles of a world without limits. To learn more about this, watch the excellent documentary on Netflix, “Breaking Boundaries – the Science of our Planet.”

One of the things that sets the Green Party apart from other political parties is our recognition that there are limits to growth in a finite world. Greens consider the scale of our consumption as the starting point. How do we ensure the scale of our economy fits within the safe operating limits of our world? To reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and the minerals needed to make electric car batteries, we need to drive less. To ensure there is enough forest habitat to sustain animals and plant populations, there needs to be less clearcutting. To reduce cancer rates and reproductive damage the use of hazardous chemicals needs to be curtailed. 

If we are seriously concerned with the magnitude of the ecological problems we face, these are the kinds of issues that we must collectively come to terms with.  

It takes collective action to change political priorities, and it takes leadership to make this happen. I am talking about acting for the common good. It is the best way forward to ensure the Earth remains hospitable for our children and grandchildren. And it wouldn’t hurt if we took the advice woven into one of Neil Young’s new songs and “Love Earth” while we’re at it.