A slate of recent letters suggests or outright states that environmental issues are more important than economic ones. Although I agree the environment is to be respected and treated as kindly as possible, I would argue that a strong economy is at least as important as a healthy environment, and that we need to find a proper balance between the two.
There have also been lots of comments to the effect of “We have to learn to live with less.” The suggestion is that we need to reduce the strain on our planet’s resources, and to cut back on the size of the economy, particularly the resource extraction industry. The ultimate aim is to decrease the global population.
However, I strongly disagree that the economy on a global scale should be reduced. Why? We now have seven billion human beings on the planet, mostly in the developing world. This is likely to rise to at least nine billion in the next few decades, a figure that likely is indeed unsustainable in the long run.
There are only a few ways to reduce this figure. Historically, the human population was most effectively controlled by:
* War. Most wars originate when there aren’t enough resources to go around.
* Famine. Obviously the result of a very poor economy.
* Disease. Epidemics break out in overcrowded conditions in areas of inadequate health care. Until recently in human history, this meant everywhere, and is still the case in the world’s poorest nations.
A more recent and somewhat less unpalatable solution is global socialism, where the wealthy countries give abundantly to the poor nations in an effort to equalize income levels. But when you get right down to it, this is a Band-Aid solution, unsustainable in the amount of spending required, despite much of the current rhetoric. Given the debt levels of most of the developed world, it’s unlikely to happen anyway.
That leaves strengthening of the world’s economy (essentially globalization), in order to create the wealth required to provide proper education, sanitary infrastructure and other public services, particularly in the developing world. And that takes money, lots of it. It’s only when education levels are raised to a decent standard that population control can take hold, through the knowledge of effective birth control, empowerment of women, and elimination of harmful superstitions.
Wealth can be most effectively created through primary industries, consisting of agriculture, fishing, forestry, oil and gas extraction and, yes, mining. Everything else is either a secondary industry, which increases the value added of primary industries through manufacturing, or a tertiary industry, such as the retail, service and tourism sectors. They all essentially rely on primary industries at the start of the economic chain.
Public services, and government in general, rely on the private-sector tax base, and are not contributors to the economy of a nation, although they certainly can be locally. The best that government can do is manage its tax-derived funds effectively and encourage investment.
So, although care of the environment is crucial, it needs to be equally balanced by a strong economy if the human race is ultimately to survive without encountering an apocalyptic event.
That’s what didn’t happen during the Peel planning process, where economic considerations were placed last in importance, behind environmental and socio-economic ones. The economy may not need to be the dominant issue, but it can’t be given lesser weight than the other main factors affecting any land-use planning process.