Surviving Sustainability

Publication, Environment, Elizabeth Nickson

Surviving Sustainability is a comprehensive new series of papers of the Frontier Center for Public Policy, and an area of research that is only sporadically treated in public policy analysis. This oversight means that a substantial negative impact on our economic health and civic well-being has been obscured.

When looking at the power and actions of the environmental movement, most analysts concentrate on climate change and energy issues. However, the movement reaches farther, and it has rearranged, with little notice, almost everything dealing with the physical elements of modern life: resource use, land use, development, building, endangered species protection, regulations with regard to air, food and water. Few have noted the wholesale reconfiguration of Canada’s lands and natural wealth, much less analyzed what has happened and whether these rearrangements are useful, necessary and good. While there is no doubt that some environmental policy innovations provide enormous value, far too many are proving destructive.

We live in an age where the term “sustainable” is a stand-in for good. For some, it takes on an almost religious cast. Certainly, sustainability is a societal goal, a stated objective of business and governments from local to international. Yet, the meaning is fuzzy at best. Perhaps it translates to maintaining the quality of life for future generations or taking care of our resources to the seventh generation as native people are said to say. Nevertheless, there are no reliable metrics in sustainability; there are too many unknowns to allow us to easily understand what the policies are or whether they are working. Further, for too many, “sustainability” means the destruction of well-being: fewer goods, limited access to housing, and a forced “changing of consumption patterns”.2 To the less advantaged, it means a drawing down of opportunity, and for some critical industries, it means a never-ending struggle to survive. Some suburban, urban and rural land-use policies are plainly destructive, yet few of us are aware of how destructive they are.

Surviving Sustainability’s goal is to audit the programs, tease out the good, analyze the bad and make Smart Green policy recommendations.

This paper defines the terms of reference within which we will be working. The paper outlines the failure of the dominant green programs and attempts to analyze the failures and how flawed programs became law and practice with so little vetting. The paper describes the founding procedural innovation of today’s environmental movement, which was pioneered by Canada in the late 1970s. Now in use all over the world, refined, enlarged and lavishly funded, the process of environmental policy intrusion has gathered a sophistication and persuasive power that is not fully understood. The paper shows how that power is built and launched in a campaign, as well as showing its eventual effects on a region. It describes the money involved, the strategies of the charismatic personality types every movement requires and the manipulation of charitable foundations both national and international. The paper concludes with the upcoming plans of the movement and a call for dispassionate auditing—economic, social and environmental—of the many transformations the movement has brought to Canada.

View entire study here.


View Appendix 1

View Appendix 2

View Appendix 3