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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Loudest voices don’t say smartest things

(January 26, 2021)

If you follow the news cycle, it is impossible to escape the fact we live in a time of strong opinions.

Every time I pick up my pen to reflect on the events of the day, words like “incompetence,” “arrogance,” “negligence” — even “stupidity” — immediately spill onto the page. Whether it is about politics, pandemics or pipelines, I feel angrier and more frustrated every day.

But I also feel like I’m at a wedding social (remember those?) when the party really gets going. As the volume grows, communication is reduced to yelling a few words right into the ear of the person sitting next to you. Everyone is competing to be heard, but no one is getting through. (I always wished there was some giant gong that could be struck when the decibel level got too high, some sign that would make everyone stop and reset their volume to a normal level.)

After all, in life and at wedding socials, it’s not the loudest voices that make the wisest observations. And if words matter as much as I believe, we also need to be careful which ones we choose to use ourselves.

When it comes to the pandemic, the quietest voice in the room is saying “follow the science” — instead of being blown about by the winds of political expediency or battered into accepting the demands of special-interest groups. Simply put, dead people don’t shop — and sick people don’t work — and right now, we have too many of both.

Every single time restrictions have been relaxed, anywhere, there has been a further wave of disease that makes things worse than before. As for the mental-health impact of lockdowns, it is worse to keep saying things might get better, soon, instead of being honest about the longer term. Whatever the public-health guidelines are going to be, put them in place for at least six months at a time, or people will lose trust in the judgment of those now making these decisions every couple of weeks.

For example, I have believed from the start that there won’t be a return to “normal” face-to-face classes at universities until the fall of 2022 — if we are lucky. If everyone adjusted to that more realistic timeline, instead of planning four months (or less) at a time, it would help us all make better decisions about how to live and what to do until then.

As for politics, if we learned everything we needed to know in kindergarten, the past four years have demonstrated that many current politicians were not paying attention to their lessons. Maturity and politics are words not often used together these days; instead, petulance, immaturity and tantrums are commonplace on both sides of the border. Of course, no one gets things right all the time, but mature leadership (however old you are) recognizes its mistakes and corrects them.

Looking at Manitoba, Premier Brian Pallister has been hard of hearing throughout his entire political career, so it is no surprise to find it getting worse with age. Unfortunately, the ideological voice in his head has always been the loudest one in the room for him, especially when others start to yell. Admitting mistakes is never easy for any politician, but not admitting them can lead to a Trumpian nightmare that hurts a lot of innocent people, as we have seen.

For example, Bill 57 — the Protection of Critical Infrastructure Act (PCIA), introduced without details on Nov. 2 ­— is effectively an authoritarian smackdown of people who protest against the immorality of government actions. The PCIA is guaranteed to inflame and antagonize, and probably will be found to be against the charter rights of Manitobans, too.

It is more in line with Trump’s version of America than with a progressive Canadian province, in which we need to live and work together toward a sustainable future for everyone, regardless of politics.

So, in light of how well that kind of divisive approach has worked in the United States, Bill 57 should be withdrawn, offering the reasonable explanation that there is already ample protection for the welfare and safety of Manitobans within existing legal frameworks. Coupled with an apology, this would go a long way toward setting the stage for the thoughtful public conversations we will need to have about managing the growing climate crisis, with all of its social and economic implications, as the pandemic eventually recedes.

Finally, in terms of ending our political addiction to doing more lines of pipe, the incoming Biden administration has thankfully already demonstrated more wisdom and maturity than our own government. The fossil-fuel industry is only an investment option for those with money to burn (such as banks and pension plans). Everyone else is already investing in green energy and sustainable development, instead, and so should we.

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