Surviving Sustainability: Towards Enduring Prosperity

Elizabeth Nickson, Research Papers

The first formal definition of “sustainability” was given by the 1987 Brundtland Report or, properly, the Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

However, it is impossible to determine or even guess how future generations will meet their needs, because recent history has shown human ingenuity – our ability tomanipulate new technologies – has created abundance  by an order of magnitude nearly every decade. Rather than scarcity being our future, an embarrassment of riches should be a more likely scenario.

As we have shown in The Failures of Forest Certification, the fears expressed by the participants in the 1987 World Commission on the Environment and Development led tothe creation of an organizational field funded by civil society and all levels of government that, in fact, threatens enduring prosperity. Billions of repurposed tax dollars have been used to harness and halt all resource-based industries, hampering efforts to create environmentally friendly technologies, and choking prosperity. An environmental aristocracy has sprouted and grown. This aristocracy enjoys grace and favours residences on conserved lands, substantial incomes and easy and favourable access to power brokers and media. The creation of fear by this new elite has twisted the well-founded desire of citizens for a healthy environment toward a hysteria that leads people to demand ever-increasing restrictions on industry and the activities of ordinary businessmen and women. It also led to a maze of regulations being placed on any resource-based industry, even straightforward  farming operations. As shown in the previous Ontario case studies, regulators bent on “saving” the environment are forcing small rural operations out of business.

Governments must perform reviews of the following environmental policies and in some cases undertake a rootand-branch reform of these policies. For the past 20 years, many scholars and writers, recognizing the imbalance, have argued for a society-wide revisioning of environmental regulation. However, despite pleas for incentive-based policies, cost-based analysis, reliance on demonstrated real-world problems rather than hypothetical or modelled problems, environment ministries and conservation bureaucracies have remained sclerotic, confiscatory and obstructive of economic activity.

While many solutions to environmental overregulation have been proposed over the last 30 years, few have been taken seriously enough to prosecute in any meaningful way. This paper looks at the following necessary reforms:

  1. Reform of the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and the Endangered Species Act.
  2. Halting of private and public land sequestration and sterilization and a return to the highest and best use of public land.
  3. Reversion to a property rights/private ownership land management system. Legal penalties placed on plaintiffs who sue rural producers and prevent the development of natural resources or rural businesses, when they lose.
  4. Introduction of new methods of governance at the local level to deal with environmental issues and to support local residents as equal in law to senior government actors. Federal and provincial regulations must be consistent with local customs, economies and traditions. Entire regions should not be drawn down based on the current thinking in a resource-use bureaucracy.
  5. A rethinking of the current planning ethic and a move to a more organic and open form of planning, following human movement rather than prescribing what can and cannot be done before it is even contemplated.
  6. Halting rural population decline caused by overregulation, by means of a root-and-branch reform of land-use regulation across all involved ministries.

Nickson – Towards Enduring Prosperity.pdf