One of the stranger aspects of the NB Power deal is watching committed environmentalists fighting hard against a proposal that will move the province from 63% of its electricity production from burning fossil fuels to zero within 10 years (it is possible that will be extended but the Premier on the radio would commit to only 10 years).
And another sign we are living in bizarro world, a heard a university prof who has been advocating for environmentalism – and pushing hard for massive reductions in carbon emission in the province – arguing that the Heritage Pool is a ‘serious problem with the NB Power deal because power beyond the pool will have to be purchased at market rates’. This should be a golden opportunity to double down on energy conservation efforts in the province. Ask Liz Weir about just how much work there is left to be done to get our homes and businesses to energy efficiency.
I realize the opponents of the NB Power sale of its energy generation (that’s all it is now) are throwing everything at the wall to see what will stick but this is about as weird as I have ever seen. I debated the thing with a guy the other day who was adamant that a) the deal was a greedy grab by industry to get cheap power and b) the very next argument out of his mouth was that industrial rates under the deal will be far higher than under the status quo. Which is it?
But that actually isn’t my main point today. It’s a lead in to another subject that I have blogged about in the past – the issue of environmental sustainability. It is not an area where I have any real subject matter expertise but I have observations.
Why do we just assume consumption is on an upward growth trend forever? I was at a conference a couple of years ago (before the recession) on the Atl. Gateway and the expert was confidently predicting a doubling of cargo from Asia into North America within 20 years. I remember thinking at the time how much crap can we import? How many cars, how many 50 inch TVs, how many toys, video games, clothes can we consume? isn’t part of sustainability containing the demand rather than just trying to make the supply more environmentally benign?
I would say we should work to reduce consumption in North America – energy and goods. I don’t think there is much correlation between the accumulation of stuff and happiness. I have visited Latin America 14 times and I see no correlation.
Some will say that this kind of talk is heretical for an economic developer. Isn’t my goal to increase economic activity? Yes and no. My goal is that places like New Brunswick would have enough economic activity to support the population and the costs of our social and common infrastructure.
Consumption – is actually at the lower end of economic value add. Think about the economic value chain of a product like an iPod. If a NBer buys an iPod for $200 – only a fraction of the economic activity associated with that iPod stays in New Brunswick. The plastic used in the process is from the US, the manufacturing is from China (?), the R&D is in California, the profit is mostly in California, the marketing activity is in California, the customer service is in India (?).
All New Brunswick gets is about $5-$10 in low value add retail wages and a little transportation activity.
Think about it another way. If we cut our non-essential durable and non-durable goods consumption in a place like New Brunswick by a half – there would be more than enough money left over to fully implement the 100-mile diet for all New Brunswickers – at a much higher value add than consumptive retail.
Just rambling again today but in my mind these issues of sustainability, conservation, corporate responsibility and the business expection of a reasonable return on invested capital are starting to converge.