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Stimulating ecocide 

Nova Scotia's craptapulous $1.9 billion economic stimulus package is chock full of old school, unsustainable spending.

Nova Scotia has leapt the bandwagon and launched a craptapulous economic stimulus package: $1.9 billion of vague promises, spread over three years. Fifty-million clams is for energy conservation and $1 billion for roads, bridges and highways.

Two years ago, before the curtain was drawn to reveal that those big numbers in our gross domestic product mean little in the real world, premier Rodney MacDonald released another set of promises, called the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act. That document stated as its prime directive: "The health of the economy, the health of the environment and the health of the people of the Province are interconnected."

Now we're stimulating roads at 20 times the rate we're stimulating energy conservation. Either the EGSP Act was a lie, or its authors have amnesia.

The stimulus plan is the latest in this government's legacy of using platitudes to obfuscate its true intentions. "It's hard to respond to something when we have so little information as to what this really means," says Christine Saulnier, provincial director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. "But just funding shovel-ready projects doesn't do it. All the issues we faced prior to the recession, like affordable housing and childcare, are still there."

Building roads does nothing to end a recession. Instead, it drives us further down a dead-end road built on a fundamentally unsustainable, fossil-fuel-dependent way of life, which has concentrated wealth into a few hands while 1,252 people in HRM are homeless. It's like curing a paper cut by chopping off your finger.

This mess was caused by "debt-fueled growth," says Ron Coleman, senior researcher for Genuine Progress Index Atlantic. The GPI is an index of sustainability, wellbeing and quality of life that uses a range of indicators including civic participation, leisure time, living standards, natural capital and human impact on environment. "Yet more debt is being touted as the solution," Coleman observes. "Only it's government debt instead of individual debt. The GDP-based accounting system has failed to provide any early warnings to the economic crisis, whereas the genuine progress index has been fairly clear about it: our debt is increasing faster than income."

Monetary debt, the numbers-on-paper variety, isn't really the problem, though. The problem is with the real-world debt we are accruing to the environment. "If I were a tree or a fish I'd want this [recession] to last longer," says Coleman. "We are polluting faster than the natural world can filter; using resources faster than the natural world can replenish. The natural world needs some rest and relaxation."

But, hypnotized by growing numbers, we have long ignored that reality. Apparently some of us---not surprisingly the powerful ones who have the most to lose from any real change in how we work and live---are determined to keep digging our way through these troubled times, deeper and deeper...and deeper.

If Government is determined to spend, there is an archipelago-length list of projects it could invest in that would, rather than compound ecological debts, create a sustainable economy in which we can all participate.

An example from Ontario, where the provincial government created a $200 million fund for green technology: "The Emerging Technologies Fund supports the kind of investment that drives innovation, secures jobs today, and creates jobs tomorrow," says John Wilkinson, minister of Research and Innovation. When he says tomorrow, he means long after Nova Scotia's new roads have been built.

The Ecology Action Centre has put together its own long list of ideas, which includes among other things: investments in building retrofits, active and rail transportation routes, energy efficient pulp and saw mill technology, sustainable energy storage facilities and marketing locally produced food, including seafood, organic meat and produce.

West of here they understand the real economic value of local food. Toronto-based Sprott Resource Corporation just invested $27.5 million to hire and train aboriginal farm-workers on the prairies, with a focus on sustainable, environmentally responsible land use, providing 17 bands an equity stake. For less than three percent of the cost of our new roads a private company has created 250 new jobs.

More radically, Coleman urges the fully employed to relax---and work a little less. He says governments should reward companies that share the work, employ more people at reduced individual hours. "Focus on reducing work hours, sharing work so that no one is unemployed or disadvantaged." Last week Michelin saved 95 Nova Scotian jobs with this strategy and the support of a federal work-share program.

"People would consume less and have more free time with friends and family," Coleman adds. "They could do more volunteer work." He's right, and I'm sick of this stimulus bandwagon, anyway. Time for my nap.

If you 're not too busy, you could email Chris Benjamin at chrisb@thecoast.ca.

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