The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report last week put the heat to Canadian Conservative feet. The panel stunned many by declaring that the profound cuts in greenhouse emissions needed in the next five decades would only cost 0.12 per cent of global gross domestic product annually.
How awkward for the Harperites, who justify their climate change plan with dire predictions about Canada's fall into recession should we cut back on fossil fuels.
Of course, as we have all noticed, the Big Debate on global warming has switched in the last few months from an enviro theme to one that's merely financial. Way back when something could have been done to prevent the damage that's now inevitable, the Globe, National Post and Conservative party leaders were global warming deniers.
Unrepentant after promoting a historic error of disastrous consequence in the 90s, they're now equally confident in their judgment that we can't kill the goose that lays the golden egg which for them means economic growth, not Mother Nature.
But thanks to a new study, we now have some numbers to measure the actual meaning of a revved economy during some of the wealthiest years of history in one of the richest, most blessed areas of the world: Ontario. This is important info to throw against the biggest myth of our time: that economic growth, driven by fossil fuels, increases human well-being.
According to Armine Yalnizyan's Ontario's Growing Gap, released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives on May 7, the richest 10 per cent of Ontario families used to make 27 times more than the poorest way back in 1976. Now it's 75 times more.
What's more, 40 per cent of families "have seen no income gains or, worse, actual income losses" over 30 years, she reports. And that's so despite the fact that people on the bottom four rungs of the ladder work many more hours than they used to. Families in the fourth-lowest-earning group, for instance, have increased their working hours by 17 per cent since 1976.
Until global warming, the hidden cost of that growth-is-good myth was only evident to a small minority of party-pooper environmentalists.
But now it's clear that four times as much doesn't mean four times as much for everyone. Growth has helped the rich become the über-rich, but whether it's helped them enjoy their Crackberry way of life is something only their therapists know for sure.
When that big-is-better myth was stated baldly during the 1950s, it seemed preposterous. As Kenneth Boulding, one of the great economists of that era, put it, "Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist."
The surging economy was the silent partner of the social contract in Western democracies during the Cold War years, and today it's the big promise of better times ahead held out to people sweating it out in the post-colonial world.
Most of the world has signed up for a banquet ticket in the belief that a bigger pie means a bigger slice for all, without all the class struggle of figuring out who gets how much from a smaller pie. But in terms of quality of life, we're long past the point of diminishing returns. The growth money is going for Crackberries, heat-and-eat packaged meals, weight-loss programs, longer commutes and other forms of self-abuse.
Many of these masochistic pleasures cost people more per hour than they make on the job, which is why wise people in earlier times spent more time doing odd jobs at home and less time on the job. In terms of the time it takes to cook a home alternative, for instance, takeout meals make sense only for people clearing more than $20 an hour less than half of all employees.
As well, economic growth comes from more and faster machines, all powered by fuel, and most displacing workers from once secure jobs.
The world's poor are competing to do the bidding of the rich, and will work for any wage.
The "reserve army of labour" wrenched out of the global countryside by agricultural mechanization the very same force behind the biggest hikes in global pollution is at the intersection where economic inequality hits global warming hits economic growth.
From this view, a slowdown in economic growth may be a problem for the über-rich, but few others need to lose much sleep. Most will be better off and greener slicing a bigger piece from a pie that hasn't been supersized for growth.