Our ubiquitous deadly addiction

Lac Mégantic. Kalamazoo River. Gulf of Mexico. Red Deer River. Prince William Sound. What do these and countless other locations all have in common? No doubt about it: Big Disasters caused by Big Oil.

How about record floods in Calgary, Toronto, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg — and around the world: Europe, China and elsewhere? Hurricane Katrina. Superstorm Sandy. Record droughts as well, with crop failures and uncontrollable fires.

What do they have in common? Not much doubt about it: Big Oil again, aided by Big Coal. The connection here seems a tad difficult for some to grasp, since Big Oil Pushers are retooling centuries-old, well-established, basic facts of chemistry and physics. To justify their short-sighted lust for wealth and power, they spin completely new tales of reality .

The elementary scientific facts in a nutshell: Oil and coal contain carbon. Burning them sends carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. It accumulates there and in the oceans, changing the chemistry and physics of the air and water. It changes climate and acidifies the oceans. Hence, climate disasters and dying ocean life.

The message can’t be clearer. By hook or by crook, we must kick the habit. If we don’t, we’ll have it kicked for us, but good! Do we want to be junkies to the end, pulling the rug of survivability out from under our children and grandchildren? Or would we rather be the junkies who finally turn it around to extend our lives and the life of the world around us?

It appears the only way to do this is to find and then elect a crew of daring leaders who will challenge a wide range of assumptions underlying the way we run societies. A very tall order, and it could well be too late.

Two huge assumptions have to go: First, the belief that unregulated, profit-driven, consumption-driven free markets can govern themselves and in effect, run the world; and second, the apparently unquestioned faith that economic growth must continue ad infinitum.

Way back in 1972, some widely respected economic scholars published The Limits to Growth, showing that the economic growth model had to end. A few years later, Herman Daly demonstrated the flaws in accepted growth theory and suggested possible policies for a new economic order in Steady-State Economics. Since then follow-ups have been published, as well as countless other studies of alternatives to growth.

Why have these scholars largely been ignored by governments and prestigious institutions? For the answer, we need only follow the money. For one thing, steady-state and related solutions would increase the cost of resource extraction. We know who wouldn’t like that. And for another, most of them involve sharing the wealth. We also know who wouldn’t like that.

So folks, it might help a little if we all became less intimidated by the dominant market theorists and familiarized ourselves with more forward-thinking models. And let’s demand of our leaders to do the same.

Freda Davies

Published in The Chronicle-Journal, Thunder Bay, July 20, 2013