Category Archives: economy

Hearing David Suzuki

I had the opportunity through work to attend the 2009 Canadian Public Relations Society Conference in Vancouver this past June. The second afternoon luncheon was delivered by David Suzuki. I was so inspired and impressed by his talk. Now, that I have finally gotten around to writing my report on that conference and the Suzuki talk, I would like to offer it here for your reading pleasure.
The Challenge of the 21st Century: Setting the Bottom line – David Suzuki

I have never had an opportunity to hear David Suzuki speak and it was by far the highlight of this conference. He was very well received, in particular given the corporate community that was gathered for the event and how his message often conflicted with corporate interests. My notes became sparser as the talk went on and I became more enthralled in the presentation, I apologise in advance for gaps.

Suzuki opened by stating that the environment and health care are the same issue, so if health care is ranked as the number one issue with Canadians, then the environment must be part of that discussion. He expanded to point out that if we are going to talk about climate change then we will have to talk about energy. All of these issues are interconnected and all of them have economic implications. There is little doubt that the future economy will be in green jobs.

Suzuki shared warning signs about how our environment is being affected by human activity. He shared about how his father and he would row out along the edges of English Bay and fish, and how that is impossible today due to overfishing. In fact, we’re fishing our way down the food chain: sardines and anchovies are the next big culinary delicacy because 90% of the big fish are gone. He talked about floating islands of debris, 150 feet thick, as large as Texas, existing in the middle of the oceans and how carbon dioxide is settling over the ocean, getting absorbed and converted into carbonic acid. He said every human has over 5 pounds of plastic absorbed within us.

Humans were once a local tribal people and we now have to ask ourselves what the collective impact of 6.7 billion of us is. Humans are now the most numerous mammal on the planet and carrying out the simple act of living comes with a massive ecological footprint. But, we don’t just carry on with simple living – technology amplifies the problem. Over 90% of teenage girls rate shopping as their number one leisure activity. We have an economy now that is so far beyond our necessities in life; that has shifted from providing our basic needs to servicing our extravagant wants. We buy all of our goods without any notion of where it comes from.

He then described how all human DNA can be traced back to Africa and he asked the audience to think about the first generation of naked hairless apes – who would have thought that they would become the dominant animal the whole world over. He argued that the only reason humans have become so dominant over the next 150,000 years is because of our superior intellect. Humans are curious and inventive. It is with that inventiveness that we have created this environmental problem, but it is also how we will solve it. We can affect the future by our behaviours of today; we can avoid the dangers and exploit the opportunities.

He criticized climate change deniers, saying that in this age of information explosion, you can find information to verify any misguided belief. Of note for educators, he argued that we need to have a greater degree of literacy to help them manage the information they receive.

In 1900, there were only 14 cities in the world with over a million people. In 1936, the world population was $1.4 billion and most people were farmers, who have an intimate understanding of the direct impacts of nature and climate. Now, there are 6.7 billion people and 400 cities that have a population of over a million. We don’t have a strong understanding of where our food comes from and where our garbage goes; as long as we have a strong economy, we don’t have to worry about it because it happens.

He noted that economy and ecology have the same root word (ecos, which means home) and we need to put the eco back into economics. He said the economic system is so fundamentally flawed that it can’t be fixed and that the last thing we should be doing is trying to get it up and running again the way it was.

Suzuki concluded by talking about how the economy can be structured to benefit the envioronment. He pointed out that Sweden has had a carbon tax since the early 1990s and while BCs tax is $10 per Tonne, Sweden’s is $100 per Tonne and its economy has actually grown by 44% in that time. He said we have to look at our natural resources differently. As long as forests are standing they are providing all sorts of functions from providing shelter for animals that we eat, to aiding the water cycle and converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. Yet, a logger once pointed out to him, “what you environmentalists have to understand is that unless you’re willing to pay to keep those trees, then you can’t save them – they’re not worth anything until they are cut down.” After hearing that, Suzuki realized that the logger was right and he reiterated his thesis that environment and economy are the same issue and we will need an economic solution to solve the environmental problem.

Save the economy – get rid of the flat tax

In my post yesterday, I examined provincial personal income taxes for a variety of income earners. I realise now that I wasn’t clear on my main thesis.

The primary point I wanted to make is that flat tax systems extraordinarily benefit high income earners – and do so at the expense of middle class workers.

My analysis showed that an Albertan earning $40,000 pays 40% more in income tax than her counterpart in British Columbia. At the same time, the Albertan making $200,000 pays 18% less than a similar west-coaster.

But let’s also keep in mind two important considerations.

Dollar for dollar, that high income earner is saving $4,000 out of his $200,000 while the low income earner is paying an extra $700 out of $40,000. Who do you think notices that difference more?

Secondly, my calculations do not include deductions. How much tax do you think that $40,000 earner is deducting because of RRSPs, political contributions or investment dividends? Now, how much do you think that $200,000 earner is deducting?

But, more importantly let’s think about the impact on the economy. Plain and simple, economic activity is generated by spending. The healthiest thing for us, economically speaking, is to have people spend money and to have them spend it locally. By injecting cash into the local economy, local people have jobs – local people with jobs means more people spending money locally.

Cash in the hands of working people gets cycled around the economy and spent over and over and over again – generating economic activity.

Cash in the hands of the wealthy doesn’t get spent as much. A greater percentage of their money is saved or invested – removed from the local economy.

It makes much more sense to shift the tax burden from the working class and move it towards the wealthy. First off, they can afford it more and secondly they will benefit indirectly from the economic activity generated by the spending of the working class – whether its because of bonusses, businesses or returns on investments.

It’s time that Alberta got rid of the flat tax, for the benefit of all of us.

Federal Election

Wow – its been well over a year. I want to try this again. I want to be more brief this time.

Stephen Harper must have been busy last night. No, not celebrating his victory. He must have been busy creating his economic plan.

Just like when I was in University, Harper left it until the last minute to create his plan for the economic crisis – or as he likes to call it the era of global economic uncertainty. He must have created it last night, or else why wouldn’t he release during the campaign?

This makes me sick. Dion talks of having a plan but never talks about the details. Harper talks about taking it easy and not rocking the boat, then releases a six point plan after the election?!?! Shouldn’t we be using the campaign to debate the merits of each plan and decide which one we want to carry forward with. But like Kim Campbell said, the election is no time to be discussing serious issues.

The only reason I can come up with why Harper didn’t release his plan (because its not too controversial) before the election is because he actually had two plans ready to go.

That’s right, one for a minority and one for a majority government.

Now, wouldn’t we all like to know what he really wanted to do.