Onto the Sustainable Scrap Heap: If any group has ‘sustainable’ in its name, Ottawa should end its funding

Commentary, Climate, Frontier Centre

Only 74 days to “the Future We Want,” according to the website of the Rio+20 UN conference on Sustainable Development. However, despite consciousness-raisers such as the UN’s Happiness of the World Report, which attempts to claim that people might be happier if Jeffrey Sachs planned their lives, and a recent cast-of-thousands London fretfest titled Planet Under Pressure, sustainability is past its due date. The Canadian government not only appears eager to dissociate itself from Rio’s collectivist “We,” it looks keen to jump off the SD bandwagon, just as it has dumped Kyoto.

Sustainable development is a mushy concept rooted in the belief that markets are unsustainable, the climate is in crisis, and that Global Salvation requires vast cabals of bureaucrats, NGOs, consultants and corporations to hatch top-down solutions. Since market prices are “all wrong,” the way to a more modest anti-materialist, carbon-constrained future is through globally co-ordinated taxation and the promotion of energy alternatives. The problem is that both the science of catastrophic man-made climate change and green industrial strategy have come off the rails.

Stephen Harper’s government has been doing a good deal of ideological house cleaning recently, from making sure that rules on limits to charity politicking are being met, to chopping green-agenda-driven agencies. The latter is far more significant. Ironically, Ottawa provides much more support to “radical” programs directly than it does through charity tax breaks. That is about to stop. One obvious example is the closing of the National Round Table on the Environment and Energy (NRTEE), which was ostensibly there to give objective advice, but in fact represented a broken record of climate alarmism and Sustainablespeak, a wonkish organization that spent its time producing voluminous reports recommending more wonkery.

Rights and Democracy is another sleeper cell that has been deep-sixed. Apart from being dysfunctional, it had inevitably become involved with SD-related anti-development agendas in the Third World. Ironically, the agency was created by the Mulroney Tories, who appointed former NDP leader Ed Broadbent as its first head. David Somerville, head of the National Citizens’ Coalition, noted at the time that Mr. Broadbent’s appointment demonstrated “just how irrelevant philosophical convictions are to the prime minister.” Now Canada has a Prime Minister who appears at least somewhat committed to being genuinely ideological, that is, pursuing a coherent vision of the way the world works, and taking action to prove it.

Ottawa is also cutting funding to the Canadian International Development Agency under the guise of making aid more “focused,” but CIDA too had become deeply involved with faddish sustainable causes that did more to slow development than promote it. It is no coincidence that CIDA was a creation of Maurice Strong, the grand old man of Sustainable Development. Mr. Strong, who has been crying apocalypse for over 40 years, is a key advisor to the organizers of Rio+20, but admits that the event isn’t quite the must-attend shindig he masterminded in 1992. He has suggested that the event be jazzed up a bit, perhaps by “using the occasion to present very prestigious and high-level awards for exceptional contributions to sustainable development.” Mmmm, wonder who he has in mind. Mr. Strong also suggests an “Earth Gala.” What next? Dancing with the Sustainable Stars?

If Ottawa is looking for other places to cut unsustainable ideologically saturated fat, it might simply run down the list of all government-funded organizations with the word “sustainable” in their title, such as the International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) and Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC). The IISD (another of Mr. Strong’s creations) receives most of its funding from abroad, and gets more than twice as much from UN agencies as from the Canadian government. There is no real reason, however, why any part of its budget, which, according to its last published report, was over $17-million, should come from Canadian taxpayers, since it promotes nothing but job-destroying policies (although it does create a good deal of work for people who write reports with titles such as Building Next-Generation Stakeholder Information Systems for Integrated Indicator/Future Scenario Projects, and Gender Equity in Commodity Sustainability Standards.)

Sustainable Development Technology Canada is another, much more expensive, boondoggle. It purports to take good ideas about alternative energy and climate mitigation over the alleged funding “Valley of Death” between the lab and the market. The problem is that any genuinely good — that is, money-making — idea will be able to find all the private-sector support it needs. The bigger issue is that there are very few good ideas in climate-scare-related technologies, as the recent trail of solar bankruptcies worldwide indicates. If they can’t make it through Death Valley by themselves, let ’em die.

SDTC is mixed up with the great unworkable mess of Canadian R&D policy. After the budget, its CEO, Vicky Sharpe, whistled the happy tune that her organization fitted hand in glove with the government’s emphasis on innovation. She came up with the astonishing claim that SDTC support led to growth rates twice those of unsupported business. So the answer to higher growth is more government involvement? Doesn’t sound too plausible, even if, nay especially since, that notion appears to be supported by the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. Ms. Sharpe said she looked forward to working with government to incent private business.

Here’s a simpler idea. If it has “sustainable” in the title, scrap it.