“Growth for the sake of growth doesn’t interest me.” Well, what’s this, another wacky environmentalist spouting nonsense? No, it’s actually Steve Williams, the CEO of Suncor, quoted on the cover of the September edition of Alberta Oil. While Mr. Williams was not really taking on the idea of growth, he does suggest that growth must have a purpose.
Two recently released Canadian reports have converged on the question of growth and its purpose. Both present compelling evidence suggesting that in Canada, growth and well-being might be at odds.
Last week, The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) released its 2012 report on 64 indicators of well-being. It includes measures of community vitality, health, education, leisure and culture, living standards and the environment.
The CIW report “uncovers some troubling truths about the connection between our well-being and the economy.” The CIW finds that “as the gap between those at the top and those at the bottom continues to grow in Canada… societies with greater inequality are shown to have worse health and well-being outcomes.” And that since 2008, “even though the economy as measured by GDP is in slow recovery, the well-being of Canadians continues to decline.”
The CIW also reports that since 1994 the health of our environment, as measured by indicators such as ocean diversity (down five per cent), ground level ozone (up six per cent), greenhouse gas emissions (up 10 per cent) and our ecological footprint (up 17 per cent), has deteriorated. The authors point out that “the environment domain speaks volumes about the tension between the relentless pursuit of economic growth and the finite reality of a planet experiencing massive climate change and dwindling natural resources.”
One of the most oft-repeated refrains in Canadian political debate is that health care is a drain on the economy. It is hard not to conclude just the opposite — that the economy is making us (and the planet) sick. In a report released this week by Carleton University researcher Linda Duxbury, we find evidence of just that. In Revisiting Life-Work Issues in Canada, Duxbury reports on two decades of research into work-life stress.
She finds that, since 1992, levels of stress for Canadian workers have gone up and life satisfaction has gone down. And no wonder — over half of surveyed employees “take work home to complete outside regular hours.” Employees reported that work regularly interfered with family life and that work-life conflict is associated with “higher absenteeism and lower productivity.” Yet, for all this effort by workers “there has been little career mobility within Canadian firms over the past several years.” It should come as no surprise that the evidence shows women bear the brunt of work-life conflicts.
The 2011 Sustainable Calgary State of Our City report and the Calgary Foundation’s 2012 Vital Signs report are consistent with both Duxbury and the CIW.
We see lots of signs of economic growth in Calgary, and not all of them good. Anyone who commutes via the over-subscribed LRT has experienced the downside of growth. What about getting to the airport, or anywhere else on the Deerfoot, during the ever-expanding ‘rush hour’? Against our better judgement, urban sprawl continues to eat up farmland. Yet our provincial government, through its tarsands land lease policies, low tax regimes and deregulation, promotes economic growth without any objective assessment of its contribution to well-being.
Maybe Suncor’s CEO was on to something without realizing it. The prescription for well-being in Calgary, might just be to chill out. Apply the brakes to economic expansion or at least stop stoking the fires of growth.
As Janine Benyus, author of Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Design, so eloquently mused: “Restraint is not a popular notion in a society addicted to ‘growing’ the economy, but it is one of the most powerful practices we can adopt at this point in history.”