Fighting a culture of waste

In southern Canada and across the United States the national celebrations on July 1 and July 4 always involve the discharge of a significant amount of gunpowder into the lower atmosphere.

In southern Canada and across the United States the national celebrations on July 1 and July 4 always involve the discharge of a significant amount of gunpowder into the lower atmosphere.

The Chinese developed the mixture of mainly potassium nitrate with charcoal and sulphur around 2,200 years ago. This propellant still provides the thrust for most of today’s fireworks.

In the land of the Midnight Sun we can see only a dull puff of smoke along with the boom if we shoot them off right now. We just have to wait until the Sourdough Rendezvous in February, well bundled up against the -20 or -30 degree temperatures, for our chance to really appreciate fireworks lighting up the night sky from Shipyards Park.

The massive fatal explosion at a fireworks plant last week near the community of Coteau-du-Lac, west of Montreal, near the Ontario border might put a pinch in eastern Canadian fireworks supplies this season. Somehow I doubt this though. Dueling lakeside cottagers in the Laurentians this summer will surely find enough fireworks at whatever cost to provide the desired flashes and booms to disturb the loons. We and our economic system apparently seem to have an inherent need to destroy things whether by blowing them up or through our planned obsolescence consumer cycles.

The term “creative destruction,” associated with the work of the economist Joseph Schumpeter from over half a century ago, captures a key idea in the conceptualization of the capitalist business cycle. As he notes in his Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, our economic system “incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one.” Professor Schumpeter argued that this blind pursuit of profit no matter what the consequence would cause the system to undermine and destroy itself.

On the occasion of World Environment Day earlier this month in Rome, Italy, Pope Francis seemed to indirectly echoed Schumpeter when he stated: “What is in charge today isn’t the human person but money. Money is in command. And God our Father has given us the task of caring for the Earth not for the money, but for us: for men and women. This is our charge. Instead, men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption. It is a ‘culture of waste.’”

Focusing in on food, the head of the Roman Catholic Church continued, “Human life, the person, is no longer felt to be the primary value to respect and care for … This culture of waste has also made us insensitive to a squandering and wastefulness of food … Consumerism has caused us to get used to the daily excess and waste of food, which we are no longer capable of seeing for its true worth, which goes well beyond mere economic parameters. Remember, however, that the food that is thrown away is as if we had stolen it from the table of the poor, from those who are hungry!”

Pope Francis pointed out a way forward. “I invite you all to reflect on the problem of the loss and the waste of food … Let us all make the serious commitment to respect and care for creation, to be attentive to every person, to oppose the culture of wastefulness and waste, and to promote a culture of solidarity and encounter.”

As we celebrate Canada’s 146th birthday on Monday maybe we should also recognize the work we have before us in order to achieve a just, sustainable economic and political system that could foster that culture of solidarity and encounter here.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

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