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What gets under my skin

Over the last few years that I’ve been the National Executive Director of CPAWS, I’ve been a pretty calm and rational leader. I’m not easily flustered. Some have even called me unflappable.

However, there is one thing I’ve heard over the years that flaps me.

Decision-makers and leaders of industry sometimes claim that I’ve been sterilizing the land. I, and the whole conservation movement in Canada have been STERILIZING the land.

The first time I heard this, I struggled to figure out what it meant. It seemed ludicrous. Here we are trying to maintain healthy ecosystems, species’ habitat, clean air and fresh water. Essentially trying to ensure that nature is abundant and diverse – that our land and water is teeming with life. How then would we be sterilizing the land?

It appears that we do so by making it off limits to the extraction of natural resources. We are sterilizing the land economically.

I’m not what most people would call a radical. I believe that our economic health is an important consideration in all public decision-making. Let me restate this for emphasis: I believe that our economic health is ONE important consideration in all public decision-making. It cannot be the only one or we will undermine our own future survival. (To see more about the economic case for parks and protected areas, check out my blog from November)

The root word for economy and ecology are the same. They come from the Greek ‘oikos’ meaning household. Economy and ecology are about the ways we manage the wider ‘household’ of our planet and our relationships. Managing this household so that it is fruitful and sustaining life is crucial. Undermining natural ecosystems in order to create economic prosperity has some serious long-term implications. It would be like a family taking their whole earnings for the month and going on a vacation instead of paying their mortgage. It catches up to you. The planetary household has a finite budget and no credit cards to carry a balance.

As the human population on the planet grows, so does our demand for resources. At this rate, we will need three planets to maintain us in the lifestyles to which we’ve become accustomed. Despite celebrating Star Wars Day yesterday (May the 4th), I think new inhabitable planets may be a ways into our future.

To say that there are limits to resource extraction on this planet is not a radical statement. To claim that conservation is in some way ‘sterilizing’ the land is more than a little disingenuous. Let’s have a rational discussion about how to sustain and encourage an abundance of life for our entire household of living creatures, of which humans are but one.