Rees, Nikiforuk, Suzuki, and Dauncey: An Ecological Rumble in the Jungle

Dec 4, 2019 | Norm Reynolds | 5 comments

Recent articles  by Bill Rees and Andrew Nikiforuk on the progressive BC news site The Tyee describing the horrendous challenge that the world faces in trying to stave off impending climate disaster have Vancouver Island’s acknowledged environmental spokes person, Guy Dauncey in a frightful dither over the suggestion that dealing effectively with climate change would mean “energy descent” and “deliberate contraction.”

According to Dauncey, “When we frame our thoughts around the negative language of “energy descent” and “deliberate contraction,” we confirm people’s fear that solutions to the climate and ecological emergencies will wreck their comfortable lives. This is so harmful. It’s like a sports coach telling her athlete that winning a medal will ruin her family life, and besides, it’s impossible.”

Remembering a David Suzuki speech I attended many years ago, it seems to me it is Dauncey’s simile that is off track rather than the arguments of Rees and Nikiforuk. Speaking, many years ago, before a packed hall in Nelson, BC, Suzuki began by addressing head on this issue of perceived doom and gloom in environmental analysis. Suzuki’s words impressed me so much I can remember them almost word for word—after all these years: “You know, people come to me and they say, ‘Suzuki, don’t you ever get tired of all this gloom and doom? Don’t you get tired of telling people about all this stuff going wrong with our environment?’ And here is what I reply: ‘When I take my daughter to the doctor I don’t want a beguiling pat on the back and a list of what is going well! I want to know exactly what is causing my daughter’s aliment. I want to know exactly what it is and what we have to do to get her better. And that is how I deal with environmental issues: we need to know exactly what is wrong and what we need to do to ensure we have healthy people on a healthy planet.’”

Dauncey maintains his high tech, Dawn we now our gay apparel argument that the same economic growth that got us into this mess will get us out of our climate predicament if we just shift gears and veer onto a slightly less traveled energy consumption road by adopting more energy efficient infrastructure and transportation. If he were to employ Suzuki’s doctor metaphor Dauncey would likely say something like this to the doctor, “Don’t give me that bad news bunk. I’ve been taking supplements and I go to the gym for two hours three times a week. I wear a hat when outside on a sunny day.” So the doctor, who doesn’t want to offend such a positive guy fails to mention the racing, irregular heart beat that should have him in for an urgent and immediate stress test that could point to life saving treatments.

To support his la la arguments for economically growing our way to a healthy climate, Dauncey basically ignores the real arguments of both Rees and Nikiforuk.

Rees doesn’t deny that there are some great ideas for dealing with climate change. What he asks us to consider is “…that in the past 50 years, there have been 33 climate conferences and a half dozen such major international agreements — Kyoto, Copenhagen and Paris the most recent — but none has produced even a dimple in the curve of rising atmospheric CO2 concentrations.” Rees points out that while “ renewables are projected to grow by more than 150 per cent… the overall increase in demand for energy is expected to be greater than the total contribution from all renewable sources combined.”

Rees goes on to note that the climate commitments made in Paris  — comprise only a third of the reductions needed to limit  global warming to 2 degrees… global energy use and carbon emissions are rising exponentially at the same rate they were four decades ago.”

Small changes are not going to stave off climate change especially when we frame our response to this life and death threat within our allegiance to growth and the illusion of “rescue-by-technology.”

Seeing climate chaos as an investment opportunity is simply the blinders that keep us from seeing where we actually have to go. It was sad that in the last Canadian federal election polls found that most people were behind the idea of a carbon tax to deal with climate change — as long as it didn’t cost them more than $100/ yr. Ottawa highlighted its commitment to dealing with climate change by buying a pipeline to transport more dirty oil to distant markets.

While Rees’ arguments are often contrary by degree to Dauncey’s view of growing our way to a healthy climate. Andrew Nikiforuk’s views suggesting downsizing, using less and degrowth as essential to climate health are anathema to Dauncey’s.

According to Nikiforuk, our growth is good (always—in all ways) economic rationale is not only destroying our climate–it is destroying life on Earth through ecosystem collapse: “the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services  estimates that current extinction rates could be up to hundreds of times higher than at any other point in the past 10 million years. At sea, a third of marine mammals, reef-forming corals, sharks, and shark relatives are on the brink. Life on land isn’t faring any better. Humans have significantly altered three-quarters of the earth’s land area, leaving more than half a million species without enough habitats to survive. Around 40 percent of amphibians are in jeopardy…we’ve destroyed a third of the planet’s forest cover in the last two centuries alone…We have logged more than a million acres of Canada’s boreal forests each year to make single-use products like toilet paper…We are overfishing a third of the world’s fish stocks and making the seas inhospitable to marine life. Nikiforuk argues, persuasively, that renewable alone won’t end our climate or ecological crisis. Dauncey’s argument that keeping up our spirits by more economic growth will fix the ecological disasters it has spawned is simply a fairy tale arguing for a way of life that is destroying our planet.

If we went with our ailing Earth to an objective and competent Earth Doctor he would tell us gravely, “your Earth is not well and you have to get off this economic growth dope you’ve been mainlining if our Earth is to heal and we are to survive. “

Norm Reynolds

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This week’s “Conversation” is heavy. It needs—NEEDS! an introduction.

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  1. Janet S

    So how do economic growth junkies get off the drug? Rehab for billions.
    Withdrawal is raw and painful. The tendency to slip back almost certain.
    As we face our day to day challenges and savour the delights of the upside of our humanness, how the heck do we move forward quickly enough. Millions, nay, billions are depressed, sedated by the enormity of this Crisis. Millions are trying on the solutions and looking for the positive and creative inspiration. Human creativity and imagination got us here. Greed too. Lacking was the 7 generations” thinking. And even First Nations drive big trucks and consume heavily at Walmart while protecting the land and its species.

    So when you have a diagnosis of cancer and if you have really strong desire to live, a deep gratitude for being alive, you can look to the treatments that have horrible side effects and may put your body into remission for a time or you can allow the cancer which is happening to perhaps kill you sooner. Perhaps not.
    You can use pain killers and carry on till you can’t. Till you die. It’s the fear of death, withdrawal, deprivation, not having, change, that we humans face constantly. As far as I know the fear factor may not exist for other species. But how can we know?

    As a daily activist who walks the walk a good deal more than most people I know and who does drives a car and who advocates for change in our consuming habits, I get tired of always being conscious and of feeling like I should really make a much bigger statement. Lay down my life.

    What the fuck’s an average human to do? Do we look down at a newborn grandchild with the feeling that this new life just contributes to the problem. Just another stress on the planet? Do we gaze upon their tiny hands and feet and wonder what is in store for them. How bleak it could be. Will be? Or can we hold them, nurture them with love and hope and empathy for having been born human. For their great potential. Can we look for the joy and peace and teach our children well about awareness and treading lightly. Appreciation for the wonders. The great mystery of all of life’s unfolding.

    We experience joy through creating. A symphony. A garden. A painting. A car. A train. Fuel. We are resourceful. Self centred. And thin on foresight and either ignorant of or incapable of consistently determining long term consequences of our inventions, of our consumption, of greed. And we are so much more than all of that. Humans are all the good guys and the bad guys.

  2. Guy Dauncey

    Norm – my goodness, Norm, you have so completely misrepresented my response to Bill Rees. Did you even READ my response? I showed as evidence that the people of Copenhagen are well on their well to a successful energy descent in which they use 90% less energy, and to Copenhagen having zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. They are doing it by cycling, walking, using transit, and by district heating, and by the future embrace of electric vehicles. Never once did I claim that we could solve our problem by techno-fixes and economic growth. You know me better than that.

    The people of Copenhagen have made precisely those downsizing, energy descent changes that we all need to make – my point was that they are not suffering or shivvering in the cold, or as Bill Rees claims, wrecking their comfortable lives – his phrase, not mine. They are demonstrating the changes that we all need to make, and showing how we can live on the other side of the energy descent with greater community and companionship, and more cycling fun. My response, for those who want to read it, is here:

  3. Rob Mielcarski

    Dauncey is representative of most citizens in that he denies all data and facts that conflict with his happy story. This genetic behavior is central to homo sapiens and is explained by Ajit Varki’s Mind Over Reality Transition MORT) theory.

    Nothing will change in a positive direction until we confront our tendency to deny reality.

    • Norm R

      Fascinating: this MORT theory that humans evolved rapidly spurred by the denial syndrome. But climate change seems to escalating at a rate that doesn’t allow us to first of all solve the denial syndrome. So what do we do? Is Dauncey right afterall–all we have time to do is act ‘as though’ there is a readily available solution to climate change? If so what becomes of all the social justice and ecosystem/species extinction that our ever growing economy is cranking out?–issues that may be as potent and deadly as climate change itself.

    • Norm

      I can see your point. What are the next/essential steps in “confront(ing) our tendency to deny reality?


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