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When push comes to shove

The U.S. is currently facing a recession, with growth slowing, housing prices falling and job losses increasing. If it spreads…

By Ian Bickis , in Blogs This Business of the Environment , on February 4, 2008

The U.S. is currently facing a recession, with growth slowing, housing prices falling and job losses increasing. If it spreads north, it could mean bad news for Canadian environmental programs.

The link might not be evident at first, but most environmental solutions currently being pursued require lots of capital, either from business investments, government support, or public patronage. In all cases, money may begin to dry up in times of economic hardship.

Increased fuel economy regulations was sited as one of the reasons for downsizing a GM car plant in Oshawa, Ontario. Indeed, Autoworkers Union leader Buzz Hargrove has criticized the “insanity” of the green movement in the past. Increased electricity costs from hydro projects are partly to blame for several sawmill closures in B.C. Both excuses are weak, other forces are much more to blame, but using environmental regulations as a reason puts it in the mind of the public.

Governments and Businesses will hopefully be able to think far enough ahead not to abandon those pricey, beneficial projects. But individual consumers are much more fickle, and sales of roof-top solar panels and hybrids would surely decline. Editorials like this one in the Vancouver Sun illustrate public frustration over an increasing proportion of their money going to ‘green’ projects.

When money becomes tight, peoples real values emerge as they have to assign priorities for their money. For many people, being green is more a casual compliance with the popular values of today, rather than a conscious commitment.

The major advantage for the environment in a recession would be the drop in consumption. It’s bad for business, bad for jobs, but reduced consumption is probably the best thing we can do for the environment. It’s difficult to discuss, because people quickly dismiss the notion as politically unsound, but there’s something to be said for moderation.