Imagine a Joyful Economy (with James Gustave Speth)

Published by Wood Lake Books

James Gustave (Gus) Speth and Peter Denton – world experts in their respective fields – are two voices to which we should listen.

Co-chair of the Next System Project, Speth argues that despite victories in environmental law, habitat protection and conservation, the momentum of the destructive path we are on, driven by profit and the desire for perpetual growth, has only accelerated toward planetary catastrophe.

“We desperately need a new American Dream,” says Speth, “a dream of an America where the pursuit of happiness is sought not in more getting and spending, but in the growth of human solidarity, devoted friendship, and meaningful accomplishment; where the average person is empowered to achieve his or her human potential; where the benefits of economic activity are widely and equitably shared; where democracy and civic participation flourish at all levels; where the environment is sustained for current and future generations; and, where the virtues of simple living, community self-reliance, good fellowship, and respect for nature predominate. These traditions do not always prevail today, but they are not dead. They await us, and indeed they are currently being awakened across America.”

Looking at Christianity’s role, Denton sees both complicity in the destruction of the natural world, and the positive role it could still play. “Faith is entirely personal and individual, but it can also be collective and communal. Faith can mobilize whole communities into action, to ends which are both practical and which bring glory to God – and which transform our world in the direction of a sustainable future, one better choice at a time.”

James Gustave Speth, Author

James Gustave “Gus” Speth is a Senior Fellow at the Vermont Law School and at the Democracy Collaborative, where he serves as co-chair of the Next System Project. In 2009 he completed his decade-long tenure as Dean at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. From 1993 to 1999, Gus was Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme and chair of the UN Development Group. Prior to his service at the UN, he was founder and president of the World Resources Institute; professor of law at Georgetown University; chairman of the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality (Carter Administration); and senior attorney and cofounder, Natural Resources Defense Council.

Peter Denton, Author

Peter Denton is an ordained minister in the United Church of Canada, with a Ph.D. in Religion and Social Sciences (McMaster). His 30-plus years of interdisciplinary teaching and research have focused on the nexus of science, technology, and society. Adjunct Associate Professor of History at the Royal Military College of Canada, he is the author or editor of six books, including Gift Ecology: Reimagining a Sustainable World (2012), Technology and Sustainability (2014) and Live Close to Home (2016) and, since 2015, also a regular contributor of pungent op eds to the Winnipeg Free Press. Involved in various roles since 2012 with the Civil Society Unit of the UN Environment (United Nations Environment Programme), in 2014 he was honoured as an elder among the Maasai for his ongoing development work in Kenya.

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Where have all the Tories gone?

My mother’s current garden, 20 years in the making

(March 29, 2021)

Pete Seeger’s song Where have all the flowers gone? epitomizes the circular futility of refusing to deal with what is really wrong in our world. We always return to where we started, and the cycle of heartbreaking loss begins again.

The song’s first verse blames the young girls for picking all the flowers, instead of just letting them grow, and everything else unravels from there.

One spring day, long ago, when I took the shortcut across what is now the Living Prairie Museum field on my way to Athlone School in St. James, the prairie crocuses were in full bloom. So I took a paper bag and half-filled it with crocuses as a gift for my mother. My nine-year-old brain thought this was a great idea — my mother admired those spring crocuses, especially because her garden then was mostly new subdivision gumbo.

I still remember the mixed emotions on her face as she looked into the paper bag that I offered to her — pleasure at the gift, but dismay at what I had done. No scolding could have been more effective, and to this day I remember that lesson.

So I am reluctant to cut down trees — even dead ones, which the woodpeckers love. Weeds have their place in the cycle of plant and insect life. The edges of our small oak bush randomly blossom with prairie roses, wild plums, highbush cranberries, and other surprises. The clover and dandelions feed the bees when there is not enough else in bloom, as our perennial garden slowly accumulates plants that will carry on for the rest of the summer.

It was a fundamental lesson in conservatism. Every good gardener and farmer is conservative. Nothing is changed just for the sake of change; nothing is uprooted or thrown away that could be used by someone else; the soil is tended, fed, watered and thoughtfully cultivated. There is a harvest at the end, but the process (and the life that is nurtured throughout) is just as important, because next spring will always follow winter.

I thought of this conservative philosophy as I watched the Pallister government finally reveal more of its mystery legislation, in what is best described as a systematic effort to uproot or dismantle the democratic freedoms all Manitobans currently enjoy. It has long been said that the Progressive Conservatives under Brian Pallister’s leadership are not progressive. It now also needs to be said they aren’t conservative, either.

That brings me back to Pete Seeger’s song, only rewritten to ask “Where have all the Tories gone?” Certainly, a new cycle has been started on Pallister’s watch, because like fellow Reform politician Stephen Harper, he has gifted the next government a winning legislative agenda: all they need to do, for the first six months, is to repeal his bad legislation and try to repair damage already done.

Bizarrely, Pallister’s legislative assault is aimed most at the people to whom conservatism is important — those farmers and others who live closer to the land, in rural Manitoba. Farmers have already lost their local agricultural support offices, told instead to go online or drive to the city. The “ag gag” laws don’t help their image, because everyone is now unfairly lumped together with factory farms that animal activists protest are inhumane — protected by the “Big Brother” of government against problems (and enemies) most farmers don’t have.

School trustees may be invisible or irrelevant in the city, but in rural areas, they are important elected officials, respected for caring about local children and giving the community a voice in how local schools are run and taxes are spent. (My mother later became a rural school trustee, by the way.) To be told all education will now forever be handled from Winnipeg, by a handful of government-appointed minions, is another blow against rural autonomy.

I suspect rural municipalities are next to be hit. They have already lost control over outside businesses plundering their land, because they can be overruled by the Municipal Board of government appointees (located in Winnipeg) if they refuse anyone.

Worst of all, the very people whose life philosophy these rural conservatives share — the environmental activists who work to conserve and protect the environment for our children and theirs — are now all potential criminals. Free speech, freedom of assembly, the right to protest bad laws, to preserve land rights, clean water and air — all dismissed by a government more concerned with corporate power than natural justice. Bill 57 (the Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act) smacks of American Republican values, not conservative Canadian ones.

Where have all the Tories gone? Pallister isn’t one — never was — and that should worry any Progressive Conservatives still left in Manitoba. They need an alternative, soon.

Actually, we all do. Pallister is not just some kid plucking flowers this spring. He is deliberately ripping out perennial plants — just because he can.

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