Tom D'Aquino's Environmental Blind Spot

Ignoring the environmental damage of unrestricted commerce, Tom D'Aquino argues that business and money are are the only solutions to saving the current climatic crisis.

By Maggie Hughes
Published January 18, 2008

"What is more important - environmental policy or economic policy?" A recent debate at the Ashbury College Foundation in Ottawa asked just that question last month.

Jonathan Westeinde from Windmill Developments and Dale Marshall, a policy analyst from the Susuki foundation, were the debaters for the environmental argument.

Tom D'Aquino, Chair of the Canadian Council for Chief Executives (formerly the Business Council on International Issues), along with Deirdre McMurdy, a journalist with the Ottawa Citizen, argued that you can't have a healthy environment without a healthy economy.

D'Aquino would have us believe that only a strong economy could allow us to have a healthy environment.

In his words, "Only the best brains and technology will give us environmental improvement," while stating at the same time that "poor economies have poor environments" - as if it is the uneducated poor who cause poor environments.

Quoting D'Aquino: "In societies where people lack the necessities of life, environmental concerns are quickly forgotten. The result is toxic waste and air pollution. Environmental ills are often the norm in developing countries, but rare in the most advanced ones."

Ironically, he quoted an Aboriginal chief from 1855 at the beginning of his presentation:

This we know, the earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. Whatever befalls the earth, befalls the sons of Earth. Man did not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand of it, whatever he does to the Earth, he does to himself.

Oddly, D'Aquino still failed to see that it has been global production that squanders natural resources, burns fossil fuels to obtain more than nature can replace, and causes the escalating release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that has altered the very planet he lives on.

When Westeinde asked why was it that the wealthiest nations were the greatest economic plunderers of other countries' resources, D'Aquino countered that it takes money to rectify the pollution that the poor countries live in.

D'Aquino admitted that he has been aware of the damage that has been done to the environment since 1989. If that is so, then how can he argue that business and money are are the only solutions to saving the current climatic crisis?

It is developed countries that have produced more pollution than at any other time in history. In fact, if you consider history, it is the industrial revolution with its dependence on fossil fuels that have caused climate change.

The Growing Gap

The Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA, which D'Aquino worked so hard to promote, let global commerce run out of control for nearly two decades. This would explain the discrepancy of our last ten years of unsurpassed wealth, in which 90 percent of Canadian citizens barely kept up with inflation.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently released a report titled "The Growing Gap", authored by Hugh Mackenzie, which states that between 1992 and 2004, all the benefit of Canada's economic growth went to the top ten percent of income earners. The bottom 90 percent barely kept pace with inflation.

Within that top ten percent, 70 percent of the wealth went to the top one percent.

To use one of his visual analogies, the rich are floating on top of the water, the middle class are drowning, and the minimum wage earners have already sunk to the bottom.

It isn't just the top hundred executives (a group that includes Tom D'Aquino, who makes over $8 million a year). There are those executives working for American-owned corporations that are not reported on the Canadian stock exchange and they, too, earn millions.

Mackenzie states it is these same executives who are lobbying for tax cuts and arguing for less government spending on social benefits, hospitals and environmental policies.

Over 60 million dollars has been saved by tax cuts, but these savings have not "trickled down" to the very people that still pay for infrastructure, like roads, sidewalks, hospitals, and schools. Those are paid for by the rest of us.

"Progress" in the Wrong Direction

You would think that since poverty disparities are so great in this country, politicians would be making some changes. What we have seen are politicians actually making things worse.

The capital gains inclusion cuts from the Provincial Mike Harris and Federal Paul Martin governments in 2000 allowed three quarters of the CEOs' income in stock options to be considered capital gains, which are taxed at half the rate that the ordinary income is taxed.

When you think about the $8.5 million that these top executives make, roughly $2.3 million is in salary, the rest is in stock options.

This would explain the reluctance by these same CEOs to take faster action on climate change, because many of these stocks are in oil and related industries.

It may also explain Tom D'Aquino's bizarre hypothesis that it is the poor who cause environmental damage, and why more money is needed to hire the best of the best to find a way to make sustainable environment become equal to sustainable development.

For those interested in saving the planet, sustainable development means environmentally sustainable. For D'Aquino, it means we must continue to increase our stock options.

Quoting Mackenzie: "Expecting corporate leadership on climate change is an oxymoron."

Maggie Hughes hosted The Other Side, a weekly independent podcast. The Other Side looked at the issues that mainstream media tends to downplay or ignore, using interviews and lectures to show the effects that economic, corporate and political policies have on society. Maggie died in November 2012 after a long struggle with multiple sclerosis. The Hamilton Independent Media Awards were established in her honour.


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By balance (anonymous) | Posted January 18, 2008 at 16:04:15

I'm sorry, Maggie, but you appear to have deliberately distorted d'Aquino's message. The proposition that was debated was, "Should a healthy environment take precedence over a healthy economy?" He argued that both are important (granted, you seem to disagree). He did NOT say that the poor cause environmental damage. He said that in poor countries, environmental protection often takes a back seat to the more pressing need for basic food and shelter. In wealthier societies (meaning industrialized societies), there is typically much more public pressure to protect the environment, tougher environmental laws and more scrutiny of the actions of polluters.

If you disagree with that, one can only conclude that you have never traveled in the developing world. I invite you to breathe the air in Linfen, China, or take a swim in the Ganges River. Unlike you, Maggie, many people the developing world are struggling to make it through the day. I can assure you that, if given the chance, they wouldn't sneer at economic growth as you seem to want to do.

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By Bill S (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2008 at 04:47:02

Balance. Maggie is everything but balanced. Have you ever heard her quirky viewpoints on her radio station? It's all about distortion, I'm afraid.
Maggie is committed to espousing the message of her extreme views: money is bad. NDP is good. Don't try to convince her otherwise. I have tried. It doesn't work.

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By Maggie Hughes (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2008 at 15:27:04

To balance, I would suggest that you go and listen to the actual debate, several times - before you suggest I am distorting words.

As for Bill. S.... so you do listen to the show. If you think I am so off track - why do you listen?

As you say you have "tried" to educate me or "straighten" me out... I don't even know who you are. I only know one "Bill" and he doesn't use a computer, so just who are you ? Let's actually meet sometime.

In fact I don't remember "anyone" trying to tell me my views are out to lunch.

As far as leaning left, in this city that "is" balance. I would be very pleased to air the debate once again, or more than once for those that like to dismiss what they don't agree with.

The show is called "the Other Side" for a reason.

By the way, I wonder where either of you actually heard the debate in the first place? Would it be even discussed if the show did not run it?

As far as my views being distorted, at least I am in good company. The majority of the shows feature some of the best minds on NAFTA and climate change. Including the Canadian government.

Instead of attacking me, try listening to the guests on the show and at least have the courage and maturity to identify yourself while your busy slagging an opinion you don't agree with.

Since I am struggling with MS, there are some shows that aren't as wonderful as others, but at least I am trying to look at life from a different perspective, and attempting to find alternative voices.

What are either of you doing to educate yourself?

I would be more than happy to meet either one of you, if you can find the actual courage to identify yourselves... instead of hiding behind blog names.

Call the station, leave a contact number and your real names.


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By BillS (anonymous) | Posted January 19, 2008 at 17:15:11

Maggie, your thin skinned response sort of proves that you brook no opposing views. I do listen to your program when I have the time and am amused by your 'stretching'. Fair enough, we are all entitled to do that but I would suggest that you might rename the program to "The Far Side".
Perhaps I will contact you and have a coffee. Not that it'll do much but dialogue is always good.
As for your MS, good luck with the debilitating illness. I hope you don't think I was taking a shot at that!

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By JT (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2008 at 09:49:01

My two cents in defense of Maggie:

If she's too far left, she's one of the small folk on that end of the rope. On the other end of the rope is the Spec, CH, ML. Who's gonna win THAT tug-of-war, d'ya think? I give respect to anyone who even tries.

jamie tennant @ cfmu

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By Mike Smith (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2008 at 11:12:15

While I have not seen the primary source in which you are referring to Maggie, it is not unusual for elites to make the argument that a healthy environment is dependent on a healthy economy. As the global economy is slipping into a recession it is in the interests of Mr. D'Aquino to shift the debate from the environment and climate change to economic growth. While a healthy economy is important, the inherent destructive nature of our economy predicated on the idea of infinite growth by destroying the world through invasive resource extraction, production, distribution, and disposal is in essence the cause of our environmental crisis.

The world is not made for humans, nor do we have a god given right to take what ever we want and trash the place. Even if it is for economic "growth", progress, civilization, or any other motive.

These ideas the corporate media never challenges, and I am glad there are spaces like this that these ideas can be discussed.

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By real balance (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2008 at 19:46:52

I know Maggie, and she is neither "too far left" nor "thin skinned". Tenacious, tough minded and intelligent is more like it, and she has nothing to apologize for, period. Especially not to likes of you, "Bill S" and "balance" (a misnomer if I've ever seen one).

To get to the core of the issue, Freidmanite, never-ending-expansion economics simply doesn't work, not for the environment or any other enterprise the family of man puts it's collective hand to. As THE prime example, these policies have managed to turn the US, once the world's largest ever lender nation, into the world's largest ever debtor nation... in less than a 1/2 century. Just ask China which holds the bulk of that US debt. But no mind, all that formerly collective/public wealth has been funneled into the pockets of the elite 5%, of which D'Aquino is one.

Gee, Bill S and balance, ya think D'Aquino and his wealthy buddies have been holding out on you? If you were multi-millionaires like Mr D., I'm guessing you wouldn't be here arguing how many environmental angels could fit on the top of a corporate pin.

So D'Aquino and his ilk are looking for another "market opportunity" to exploit, now they've got "free trade" and "defense and security" well in hand. Corporations generously dipping into the public trough once more to miraculous fix the environment they purposely destroyed in the first place... who can find fault with that?

Sure there's 1800's pollution and work standards in those "poor" countries. Because the Freidmanite corporations need to be able to appropriate the resources and labour there at the lowest possible cost. Pollution control and human rights cut into profit margins.

Can you say "colonialist robber barons"? Sure, knew ya could.

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By signmein (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2008 at 00:43:26

To Bill, what do you do for a living. I am just curious? Maggie volunteers her time, recording as many sessions of debators and interviews or other when she is well and as well as when she is not. Attacking Maggie on her views, I am sorry Bill,did you say what you did for a living? only makes me believe that like the government they never do what they say, promises are always broken even in writing. Maggie has always given the up most respect and voice especially to those who have fallen beneath the cracks of social services, our government keeps them there and maggie tries to get them out to the other side, thanks maggie.

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By Alex Patterson (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2008 at 08:50:52

The comment, above, about China and the Ganges is a perfect illustration of what's going on here. China is not a "poor" nation, in fact, it is undergoing an economic boom at the moment larger and faster than anything the west has ever seen. A new city-scale coal-fired-power-plant is being built every week to keep up with demand (or, on the greener side of destructive energy projects, there's the Three Gorges Dam), and the enevironment is suffering tremendously. This is a direct outgrowth of western-style ideas of industrialized consumer affluence, and given the amount of participation by large Canadian corporations, I don't think we can honestly claim it as any sort of opposing model.

A healthy environment doesn't require a healthy economy. A healthy environment IS a healthy economy, which provides for all the life-forms within, with a level of efficiency and sustainability not dreamed of in human endeavors. The environment was healthy long before we had much of an economy, and truth be told, has been declining ever since.

Is Canada cleaner than Mexico? Or Indonesia, or Honduras? Yes, but where was your shirt made? Shifting production to poor nations and leaving them to deal with the legacy of poor working conditions and toxic byproducts does not prove that we are clean, only that we don't like to be confronted by the dirty stuff.

Canadians use more energy than any other nation, per capita. Our consumption of other natural resources isn't far off. There are very clear links between the affluence of our nation and huge swaths of ruined landscapes, both at home and abroad. The same could be said for America, Britian, Japan, or even (but to a lesser extent) western and northern Europe. While we have stringent laws on certain pollutants (which often aren't enforced), the total impact we have is so many times greater than a Kenyan, Columbian or Indonesian, that any attempt to paint us as "green" falls flat on its face.

The simple fact remains that if the rest of the globe were to attempt our level of material indulgence, the pollution problems of today will pale in comparison. And yet, in the face of nations such as China and India attempting such things, we've found no better solutions than griping at Kyoto meetings and handing them entire sectors of our economy. The hypocrisy of the first world is going to have to end if we aim to avoid a global catastrophe, whether or not the economists and executives of wealthy nations like it.

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