Look upstream

Economic changes are not always good news for the people

By Dr. David Bowering

I have recently retired from a long career in public health. During those years, I was part of a growing understanding of the importance of looking “upstream” to learn how to address the chronic disease problems that threaten to bankrupt our health care system.

Lack of physical exercise, smoking, and unhealthy eating are “upstream” of the expensive problems of diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Going further, poverty, lack of education and economic inequality are “upstream” of smoking, poor eating habits and sedentary life styles.

When one goes even farther upstream all the way to the source, one finds an economy that encourages the rapid exploitation of resources in a manner that ensures that economic inequality  gets worse and worse, that the air and water are increasingly polluted, especially in those regions and neighbourhoods where people are already poor and disadvantaged.

One finds an economy that dumps carbon into the atmosphere as if it didn’t matter, and that produces and propagates spin on behalf of governments and their  corporate sponsors in a way that is designed to soothe and fool people rather than inform them.

The insanity of pretending that perpetual growth is a sign of a healthy economy when almost all of the trade is in non-renewable fossil fuels, the astonishing lack of government interest in and support for energy conserving and alternative energy technologies, the strategic abandonment of science that shows our dependence on a healthy environment in all of its biological complexity, and our astounding gullibility as time and again, get-rich-quick boom and bust scenarios are sold to us as if there was no other alternative, are all symptoms of the malaise flowing  from a fatally diseased economic model.

The good news is that a great many people understand this. The bad news is that so many of us feel overwhelmed given the success the global energy traders have had at controlling the media, most western governments, and the levers of the toxic economy that make them rich at the expense of the rest of us and of the earth itself.

How can we turn this around and how can we possibly build an alternative future in which healthy human values rather than corporate profits are the touchstones that we live and work by?

We can start as individuals who refuse to accept a world view that is simply healthy, unsustainable, and ultimately dishonest.

We can take responsibility as citizens and as parents and grandparents for what we consume and more importantly for what we don’t consume.

We can stay out of our cars a lot more than we do now.

We can educate ourselves in the realities of what we propose to trade for what. Is trading bitumen obtained at great price to our own water supply and environment in exchange for plastic crap made in Asia really a good idea?

Is losing a healthy river with its wild salmon a risk we should run given our own love of unspoiled wilderness in a world in which much of this immeasurable richness has already been lost?

We can grow more of our own food and insist that the food we buy is grown as close to home as possible.

We can work to build families and neighbourhoods and communities that are healthy; where people have the courage to say no to damaging mega projects that turn even the nicest towns into soulless strip malls featuring all of the fast food  and big box franchises you can find literally anywhere on earth where the sellout has taken place.

We can continue to try to make our democracy work while accepting the fact that the federal and provincial governments whose political futures are tightly tied to the dangerous schemes and gambles of the energy corporations will be the last to come to their senses and that it will be community by community and at the local government level where the changes will have to start.

Here in the Northwest we have a golden opportunity to show the world how this can happen.

We have the leadership and cultural strength of most of the First Nations people in the region on side.

We have allies literally around the globe, and there are many of us who understand that this is a watershed in our history that demands of each of us that we put ourselves on the line if push comes to shove.

The more we see expensive commercials implying that spawning sockeye would love to see the “safest pipeline ever” cross their spawning beds and tankers that for some reason will be the first safe ones in history cross the estuaries and oceans they depend on for life, or corporate fly fishermen implying that no one loves the environment like they do, or pastel ads showing a future only a kindergarten child could believe in, the more we know what we have to do and who we are dealing with.

In the case of the toxic economy, “upstream” is a long way from here, but if we start in the place where we live, we can have an impact that will begin to work its way up to where the damage is being propagated.

Importantly, we and our children and grandchildren will have a better chance at a healthy sustainable future.

Dr. David Bowering has recently retired as the chief medical officer for northwestern B.C.