The complicated marriage between economy, environment and social activism

I get tweets from the Conservation Council talking about the moral obligation we have to protect water habitat and tweets about Bill Clinton and social activism.  It just seem righteous and easy to support environmental or social activism.  And so it should be.   I do believe we measure ourselves as communities and societies through a commitment to social justice and to environmental stewardship.

But it just seems so much more awkward when someone talks about economic development activism, attracting industry, developing shale gas or forestry or whatever.  Even those greedy little entrepreneurs who want to fleece the public and would put the screws to you in the name of profit and that house on Shediac Bay.

For many people, that is creepy.  Advocating for the economy – should be the purview of industrialist or Chambers of Commerce.

But for me economic development advocacy is just as valuable as social or environmental advocacy.  Economic development is not about the entrepreneurs or the industrialists or the purveyors of capital.  They can invest anywhere.  They can park their money in T-bills and never think twice.

Economic development is about the electrician, the hair dresser, the janitor, the reverend, the garbage collector, the cop – it’s about the jobs that are fueled by the business investment.

We want New Brunswick to be a good place to invest not so someone or some company with lots of cash can get richer (although that is a perfectly fine outcome if it happens).  We want New Brunswick to be a good place to invest so that we have enough employment and economic activity to have the kind of communities we want.  We want to be a good place to invest so we can generate enough taxes to pay for health care and schools and, yes, even environmental and social activism.

I realize there is inherent tension between economic development and environmental activism and even in many cases social activism.   But ultimately they are joined in a complex and complicated marriage.    Too much economic development – unbounded – will lead to profound environmental and social problems.    The most pristine environmental protection strategy would turn New Brunswick into one big national park.   But where is the moral obligation to our communities?  To whatever way of life we have been trying to assert in this province?

I guess this commentary is in lieu of seeing Clinton and McKenna wax on in Freddy.   I hope – but doubt – that they provided insight into economic development.  Clinton presided over a period of rapid economic growth in the U.S. and McKenna did some interesting things in New Brunswick.

Now they are both well beyond their humble roots in Arkansas and New Brunswick.  They are focused on solving more grandiose projects in Haiti and Africa and good on them.

But at a much lesser level, New Brunswick needs some good thinking and good advice too.

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2 Responses to The complicated marriage between economy, environment and social activism

  1. I think the difference between the first two – social and environmental activism – and the third, economic activism, is that economic activism tends to be more localized.

    Economic development programs, for example, are usually about city and (maybe) province. If the strategy tanks, you move on. Environmental and social activism, though, are global.

    I think that’s due to the different nature of these. With environmental and social activism, there’s a sense that we’re all in this together. But economic development (as typically represented) pits one city against another, one region against another.

  2. Don Dennison says:

    Shale gas will put us to the test. We should have a more or less consensual model to help guide our efforts to bring in the revenue that our environmental and social ambitions will require, especially in light of reduced transfers.

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