Ryan Parton, Business Gazette

The island nation of Tuvalu is a Polynesian paradise that’s home to just under 10,000 people. If you had the power to destroy that island – and tell those 10,000 men, women and children that they have to find new homes in a familiar land – how much money would I have to give you for you to do just that?

Criticism to Justin Trudeau’s national carbon pricing plan, and indeed just about any environmental measures that intend to slow down climate change, typically boil down to a similar, if slightly more disguised, argument. “It will hurt the economy.” “We’ll lose jobs.” “Middle class Canadians pay enough tax already.”

In other words, “We don’t want to stop living our grotesquely decadent lifestyles and we refuse to pay for the consequences of our consumption patterns. We’re willing to let people die from the effects of climate change, and we’re eventually willing to die ourselves. Just don’t take away my SUV.”

Is that too harsh? In 2012, the World Bank reported that we’re on track for a world that’s four degrees warmer by century’s end. That’s enough warming to drown Tuvalu and many other low-lying areas, and it would almost certainly trigger increasingly devastating weather events that would kill and displace many. (On the upside, Vancouver’s ridiculous housing market might finally cool down when much of the city is underwater.)

I would love to see North American culture move away from the accepted yet preposterous notion that the only measure of success is economic prosperity. We’ve become increasingly wealthier, yet we feel less and less satisfied with our lives. We work long hours. We’re tethered to our Smartphones. We look to economic indicators such as GDP to assess how we’re doing as a nation.

In Bhutan, where they measure “gross national happiness,” studies show that citizens are actually getting happier. I don’t know if they’re any richer, but does it really matter?

Getting back to the issue of carbon pricing, why shouldn’t we pay for the full cost of our addiction to fossil fuels? Is it fair that we externalize the consequences of our over-consumption to the people of Tuvalu and other poor, low-lying areas? Instead of arguing over how much we should pay for carbon, or whether a pipeline should go west or east, wouldn’t we be better off in the long term just keeping the stuff in the ground?

Sure, such a policy would be unfair to provinces like Saskatchewan and BC, which are poised to profit handsomely from resource development. But does that mean it’s bad policy? Not at all. It’s responsible policy.

We know that fossil fuels are killing us. Our lifestyle is changing the climate, and in all likelihood it will lead to devastating consequences for humanity. So do we keep on trucking for the sake of the economy? Or are we willing to make some short-term sacrifices for long term benefit?

If you could save one person’s life simply by parking your car for a week, would you do it? Or would you rather murder than give up an opulent lifestyle we’ve somehow convinced ourselves is “normal”?

Comment below or email ryan@businessgazette.ca.

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