A Money Coach in Canada

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I’m here at the Explorer Hotel in Yellowknife, which has wifi! (and offers wild goose pate – but isn’t that a contradiction in terms?)

Peter Victor authored the book Managing without Growth in which he “challenges the priority that rich countries continue to give to economic growth as an over-arching objective of economic policy”.  Peter is an economics professor in Environmental Studies at York University.  As a green party member, I’m very interested in ecological economics.   Here’s the liveblog, ftw!

Last minute disclaimer:  I’m not an economist;  the information was fast and furious;  please construe this liveblog as my inept attempt to capture the evening – double check everything below in his book!

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Background:

One way of understanding why we’re not taking good care of our home, the globe, is to understand how we “do” economics.

Economics is:  Firms provides goods and services to Households, who provide land, labour and capital.  If that’s all there is to it, it’s easy to imagine an economy that could grow and grow.  Hard to imagine we would ever question growth as an objective.  Here’s a diagram of this.

Missing:  The Environment.  First thing we have to do is add in the Environment.  Let’s include Natural Inputs – flows of materials and energy from Sources and Environmental Service.    How will these Natural Inputs re-emerge in the economy?  as Waste Outputs.  (Side: the only thing that goes and comes from the earth is Energy.)

Most of the information we rely on to make decisions is PRICE.  But our information is becoming less and less reliable re: Price.

Background #2 re: technology

1820 Population 1.1 billion;  1940 population 2.4 billion; 2009,  6.8 billion.

This population, of course, is not equally catered to.  Most of the wealthy are in NA and Europe.

Geek-out moment:  he’s showing slides of computers from 1946 to present, and also slides of phones.

Note: ironically, miniaturization allows us to build and design much larger machines – they can be computerized.  Eg. world’s largest container ship carries 11,000 containers and only employs 13 people.  So technology can work in many different directions.

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Thesis:  Growth is not possible over the long term.  In fact, growth is disappointing.

Despite reduction in energy intensity,  global primary energy consumption is rising.  (ie. individual units are more efficient, but the scale is increasing).  Same with resource extraction – we’re getting better at using less material when extracting, but the net effect is still an increase of using energy.  Peak Oil:  (money coach shudders)  Production started to exceed discovery in 1990.

We need to make a fundamental energy transition.  We’ve done that in the past:  wood – coal – oil/gas, electricity.  We’ve increased our use of energy by over 20 times in the past 200 years.  In the past, it was not hard to switch because it had more readily apparent benefits – cheaper, better, more powerful.  Renewable options now do not have these characteristics.

If you want to freak out a little (money coach’s words), check out the Stern Review. It delineates the impact of each degree centigrade of average temperatures.

Services from planet earth

Approximately 60% of the ecosystem services examined are being degraded or used unsustainably, for example:

World Grain Production per person: peaked in early 1980’s. In decline ever since.

Canada:  collapse of Atlantic Cod (result of big factory ships – made possible by technology)

Rising evidence that growth does not make us any happier.

Gross Domestic Product v. Genuine Progress Indicator Until 1970, gdp and gpi moved together.  After that, gdp keeps rising, but gpi stayed nearly flat.

Since 1975, real income per person has increased, but percentage stating they were “very happy” stayed flat (money coach loves these kinds of stats).

Canada’s substantial economic growth from 1976 – 2006 – our gdp per person grew by 70%, but:

  • Never had full employment in that period
  • Had more unemployed people in real numbers
  • Reduced percentage on low income, but more in real numbers (now 3.4 million)
  • Increased inequality in incomes and wealth

How slowing the rate of growth could help climate change:

1990:  $950,000 GDP, and 592 mt (metric tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions) in Canada.  US, about 10 times this.

Green Growth means starting at 592mt and moving towards less.

Canada now:  747 mt.   We need an 87% reduction by mid-century.   We can achieve that in various ways:

  • reduce energy per output down to 13% of current if we don’t grow our economy at all.
  • if we have 3% economic growth, we have to get down to 0% (I think I got that right?)

Dilemma – if we don’t spend enough money, more people unemployed.  What makes an economy grow?

  • what we spend money on (consumption)
  • new equipment
  • gov’t expenditure
  • trade
  • what we produce

If we do business as usual to 2035, what would happen?  Gov’t debt goes doen, gdp per capita goes up, green house emissions go up, poverty goes up (yes, goes up).

What if we eliminate all growth? Disaster:  unemployment, poverty, stabilized gdp per person, gov’t debt becomes unmanageable.

The real issue is whether its possible to challenge the “growth at any cost model”.

A better model is low/no growth scenario.  poverty comes down, gdp goes up, unemployment goes down.   How?  (nerd moment coming up)  Macro demand (C,I,G,X-M) and supply (K,L,t)  stabilized;  Carbon price; Shorter work year;  More generous anti-poverty programs.  What would change:  new meanings and measures of success;  limits on materials, energy, wastes and land use; more meaningful prices; more durable, repairable products; fewer status goods, more public goods; more local, less global; education for life not just work; reduced inequality.

(interesting sidenote of interest to this money coach  about status – it’s a zero-sum game.  One person purchases for status, then another does, so original person back to where they started, so they buy again)
We must knock economic growth off its pedestal.

(Nobel Prize winner) Robert Solo’s endorsement:  “It’s possible that the US and Europe will find that either continued growth will be too destructive to the environment and they are too dependent on scarce natural resources, or that they would rather use increasing productivity in the form of leisure”

Can our universities adapt fast enough to this way of thinking?

Can our religious institutions adapt fast enough to this way of thinking?

Can our legal systems adapt?

Will it take disaster to make it happen, or could we look and think ahead?





Thursday June 11, 2009
I didn’t know, did you know? I didn’t know that last year Stephen Harper formally apologized to the First Nations, Metis and Inuit people of Canada for their Residential School Experience that was imposed on them.

Today was a Day of Reconciliation, initiated by the Assembly of First Nations.

Here are some facts every Canadian should know (I didn’t until recently):

  • approximately 250,000 kids were forced by law to go to residential schools in Canada, starting in 1850
  • these were kids age 6 – 15
  • the intent was explicit:  “To kill the indian in the child”
  • it is estimated that a minimum of 35% and maybe as many as 60% of these children died within five years of being sent to the school, possibly as genocide
  • by all accounts, the schools were replete with abuse beyond the primary abuse of forbidding use of their language, breaking up families, forcing christianity on them, cutting their hair (a shaming event)

I ask you:  If your children were stolen from you, and you were helpless to prevent it;  if you knew they were being brutalized in a school far, far away (returning home with broken bones, and many times never coming home at all – they had died);  if you knew that they were being converted to a foreign religion, were not allowed to speak your language, were having your culture beaten out of them, would you not be wild with grief?  Enraged?  Humiliated?  Suicidal? Turn to alcohol?

So years later, the churches and the Gov’t have apologized and have set up a fund of $1.9 Billion.

We all know, of course, that the money and the apologies, while deeply symbolic and important, don’t heal.  And they don’t reconcile – well, not much.

How does an entire population recover and heal?

How can families become healthy, when generation after generation were not parented, but sent en masse to abusive schools?

How can meaning in life be recovered when languages – those purveyors of meaning and entirely unique worldviews – are all but extinct?

How can self-esteem reinfuse a population that has been so broken?

How does a government ever regain credibility?

I am sure the Peoples who lived and loved here will find their way to healing and fullness of life – indeed, many already are.

For my part, all I can say is how deeply I value and esteem the culture and thoughtfulness and spirituality and connectedness to the land of my fellow Dene, Metis and Inuvialuit citizens who share their traditional territory with me.

And, on a personal note, along with my church and my government, I too say:  I am so, so sorry. And I am so grateful for your presence in my life – it makes my life richer and more worthwhile.

ps:  this gets at the spirit of it although some of the lyrics aren’t quite right:

Dr. M. Elizabeth Snow
Vancouver, BC, Canada

Why I Bought A Smart Car

I am a thoroughly cheap frugal person. I’m sure it comes from the many, many years I spent as a starving student1. So when I got a car that required me to have a car, “how much is a car going to cost me?” was one of the first things I wanted to find out. The two3 main things I considered were: (a) how much the actual car would cost and (b) how much gas would cost me.

I knew the following things:

  • I will be using the car mainly for driving to work (35 km each way) and then driving around to various sites in the Lower Mainland for meetings. This driving will pretty much all be on my own.
  • The other thing I will use my car for is to drive to hockey, where I’d either be driving on my own or with one other passenger.
  • I don’t need any bells or whistles. Truly, the only requirements I have for the car is that it it fits me and my hockey equipment and has a cup holder for my ever present travel mug of coffee.

a. Cost of the Car

I have long had a crush on the smart. I also loved my old Honda Civic. And being a member of the Car Co-op, I’ve driven all sorts of different cars lately, so I know that I like the way the Toyota Corolla drives, but I hate the Toyota Yaris.

There seems to be a misconception that the smart car is really expensive (perhaps it’s because it’s made by Mercedes Benz?), as evidenced by the countless people who have said to me “Aren’t those EXPENSIVE?” when I say that I’ve bought one. But here’s a quick comparsion4 of the cost of each of the base model with no extra options added for each of these cars (and a few hybrids thrown in for good measure):

Car Cost After Taxes & Other Fees
Toyota Yaris Hatchback (2008) $15,144.45
smart fortwo Pure (2009) $16,227.75
Toyota Corolla (2009) $18,070.85
Honda Civic DX Coupe* $20,792.00
Toyota Prius (2008) $30,591.65
Honda Civic Hybrid* $32,385.80

*Honda doesn’t indicate on its website to what year’s model they are referring.

And not all base models are created equal. For example, the Corolla didn’t include things that the smart fortwo comes with standard, like keyless entry, power windows and a first aid kit and the Toyota website allows you to choose the older model (2008 or 2009) of their cars, which may not still be avaialable, so if you have to go with a 2009 or 2010 instead, the cost would be slightly more than what I’ve listed here.

So, you can see that the smart is a fair bit cheaper than the other cars I’ve considered and significantly cheaper than the hybrids. (The only one that is cheaper is the Yaris Hatchback, which I *hate* driving).

b. Cost of Gas

The other big thing to consider is how much gas is going to run you. So here’s a comparsion of the fuel economy of these cars. The measure of fuel economy is given in litres of gas per 100 km. So the lower the number (i.e., the fewer litres of gas you burn when you drive 100 km, the better). The measure also gives you an easy way to see how much gas is going to cost you – for example, if gas costs $1/litre, then a car that gets 5l/100 km will cost you $5 in gas for every 100 km you drive.

Here is the fuel economy given for each of these cars on their respective websites:

Car Fuel Economy (L per 100 km)
City Highway City & Highway
Combined
Toyota Yaris Hatchback (2008) 7.0 5.5 6.3
smart fortwo Pure (2009) 5.9 4.8 5.4
Toyota Corolla (2009) 7.5 5.6 6.7
Honda Civic DX Coupe
(manual transmission)
7.4 5.4 not given
Toyota Prius (2008) 4.0 4.2 4.1
Honda Civic Hybrid 4.7 4.3 not given

You can see from this table that the one cars that get better fuel economy than the smart are the hybrids, which cost almost double what a smart costs to buy. I also noticed that all the cars except the Prius get better fuel economy for highway driving than for city driving – I dont’ know what the signficance of that is, but it kinda jumped out at my when I was compiling the numbers.

And then there’s financing

There are a number of financial incentives to buy the more eco-friendly vehicles. My smart car had no Provincial Sales Tax (P.S.T.) due to a provincial incentive for buying an eco-friendly car and there was a $1250 “spring rebate.” The dealer was offering 3.9% financing, but I chose to go with the Vancity Clean Air Auto Loan, which provides lower loan rates for people who buy fuel efficient cars. Specifically:

Only the smart car, the Prius & the Civic Hybrid fall into that first category. The Civic, the Corolla and the Yaris, along with 13 other cars, get the slightly higher prime + 2% rate. Given that the prime rate is so low (2.25% on the day I got my loan), prime + 1% is a pretty sweet deal!

So there you have it. In addition to the fact that I’m totally in love with the smart – so cute, fun to drive, less impact on their environment than most other cars, parkable in the tiniest of parking spaces, high safety rating – it’s also a pretty good deal financially speaking.

Also, for the record, this blog posting is not paid for in anyway – I just love my smart and want to share my smart enthusiasm! Actually, I’m becoming something of a smart car evangelist… perhaps I should ask them for commission? 😉

.1People talk about the “ivory tower” of academia, but let me tell you – they must have spent all the money on ivory, because they certainly don’t spend it on grad student salaries2
2Assuming you are getting any salary at all.
3I assumed car insurance would be the same no matter what car I bought, since I knew I wasn’t going to be buying a Ferrari or anything.
4These prices are all taken from the car companies’ respective websites, which conveniently have a “build your own car” tool that allows you to pick whatever options you like and find out how much the car you want will cost after taxes and fees. The price for the smart fortwo is the price that I actually paid.

Dr. Beth in Dr. Car

Dr. Beth in Dr. Car,
originally uploaded by Kalev.


Anybody remember The Lord’s Day Act? It has a fascinating history in Canada, and was ultimately thrown down in 1985 by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms – believe it or not, by a drugstore in Calgary.

It was one thing to be struck down, but another for retailers to start keeping their shops open. When I arrived in Vancouver in 1989, Sundays were still muted yet most def Open For Biz on Sundays.  At the time, I thought that was just great.

In recent years, I’ve questioned the wisdom of taking the brakes off of the economic engine. Granted, basing a Day of Rest on a particular religion’s belief was outdated, but did we lose more than we gained by eliminating Sunday as a widespread day off?  Is Canadian culture (whatever that is, case in point) the better for it?

What would happen if stores and even entertainment venues were not available to any of us, across Canada, one day every week? What would we do with our time? Might we:

  • Enjoy more relaxed and fun times with our friends and family?
  • Connect with our local community?
  • Rediscover quietness?  Become OK with solitude?
  • Potter around our homes and get things done that we otherwise never get around to completing?
  • Find we are more grounded and thoughtful in our lives because we had space, regularly, to take a deep breath?

I may find out up here in Yellowknife:  Most of the city still shuts down on Sunday.  It’s weird going by malls, on a Sunday, that are darkened and the doors locked.   Yellowknife’s no more religious than anywhere else, that’s for sure, so I can only guess that the local merchants have collectively opted out of opening on Sundays.

It irritates me from time to time, and I wonder about the economics of it – I mean, all that business NOT being done, staff NOT being hired,  sales NOT being made 52 days of the year (that’s the equivalent of nearly 2 months!  Think of it!) – yet even today I noticed myself turning to gardening and reading a book, since there weren’t many commercial options open to me.   If my blog posts increasingly have a sense of zen to them over the coming year(s), you’ll know why!

Photo Credit: The Media Mentor

Photo Credit: The Media Mentor

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Photo Credit: Silver Fox

I popped by one of my all-time-fave-blogs (along with squawkfox ‘s), called Wisebread today and their post was especially useful: a primer on Bargain Shopping. It’s worth the 4 minutes it will take you to read, so pop by if you can.

One of their pointers was to look for meat on special at less than 50% the usual price. Me? I’m excited when M&M’s gives me 4 for the price of 2.

Have I been a chump all these years? I’ve never thought to hope routinely to pay only 1/2 price on my meat.

That raised a further question: I love sniffing out deals, but do I REALLY know if I’m getting a deal?

Readers, what are your standards? What do you consider a true “deal”?