worthless treasures

The territory's industrialists are euphoric. The resource-extraction biz is booming. Geologists are traipsing through the wilds looking for new riches, helicopters are whupping, trucks are rumbling and cash, of course, is flowing.

The territory’s industrialists are euphoric.

The resource-extraction biz is booming. Geologists are traipsing through the wilds looking for new riches, helicopters are whupping, trucks are rumbling and cash, of course, is flowing.

Life in the Yukon is good.

Wait a minute, that’s not quite accurate … business is good, the territory’s life is under siege.

It has been so for decades, but during the territory’s occasional boom times, things deteriorate more rapidly.

It is a real-world example of how, in our society, economics runs roughshod over natural systems.

This is the point David Suzuki was making last week.

We value the metals, not the so-called overburden – the life-giving plants and soils and water that hide them.

We treasure the timber, not the living trees.

And we squander water, using it as a cheap, convenient way to push petroleum products from cracks deep in the earth, or using it as an easy place to sink acid-generating tailings for millennia.

Our economic system considers rivers, trees, soils, grasses – even the air we breathe – of little, or no value beyond their industrial uses.

Don’t believe it?

Today, gold is $1,607.25 an ounce. What’s air worth?

Or water? Coke pegs it at $2 per 500 millilitres in the grocery store. But what’s Minto paying to use water in the territory? How much is it using, precisely?

And if you say lead, zinc and copper are virtually worthless, you’re bound to be assailed by some mining wonk. They’ll say you’re an idiot – that you’ve forgotten, or don’t know computers, cars, bikes and numerous other tools of convenience and leisure are made from metals.

There’s lead in that car battery, they’ll argue. There’s aluminum, copper, tungsten and gold (among other things) in that computer you pound away on.

It’s a common argument, designed for people hooked on the luxuries that make life easy.

The problem is, those luxuries are subsidized. Nobody pays their true costs because the cost of environmental degradation is not considered in the price. The environment is worthless.

So, looked at in broader terms, you should wonder who really has forgotten what’s useless and what’s valuable. What’s scarce, and what’s plentiful.

Is it the people, like Suzuki, trying to get society to place an economic value on the fast disappearing, life-sustaining systems of our planet – water, air, soils, plants, animals, insects?

Or is it those who don’t, allowing our oceans, lakes, rivers, forests and air to be hopelessly degraded and treated as dumps in the blind pursuit of mineral wealth and profits to manufacture the trinkets, widgets and gizmos our rapacious society values so dearly?

These are big questions.

Currently, business in the territory is good. But, unless we place more value on our still-functioning ecosystems, our lives are going to be much less so.