Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Shifting Sands

Last week the Globe and Mail ran an excellent eight-part series of in-depth articles about the Canadian oil patch - the oil sands of Alberta - under the title "Shifting Sands":
Part 1: An empire from a tub of goo
Part 2: The kinder, gentler energy superpower
Part 3: Why Cape Breton shakes in the echo of this distant boom
Part 4: Life on the cold side of the country's hottest economy
Part 5: Frugal Norway saves for life after the boom
Part 6: The climatic costs of rapid growth
Part 7: Looking for solutions to the carbon conundrum
Part 8: Canada, the world and the oil sands
I thought Part 5 in particular was very interesting. I had read before about Norway's ultra-sensible treatment of their significant oil revenues, but this was a good summary, and the comparisons with Alberta and Canada were very telling, I thought.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A black and white issue

During this last week, the Toronto District School Board trustees have narrowly but definitively passed a contentious motion to open the door to what it's proponents are calling "Afro-centric schools".
It has generated no end of acrimonious discussion on local talk radio, and a fair amount of bad feeling, as much in Toronto's black community as anywhere else.
The final vote was a narrow 11-9, which maybe indicates just how contentious it really is, and was essentially just a vote on the broad principle (as opposed to principal) involved, especially as it seems far from clear just what "Afro-centric" means, and no locations or grades or firm budgets or even firm timing have been finalized (although, timing-wise, September 2009 has been put forward, and cost-wise we seem to be looking at almost $1 million).
The province of Ontario has been unequivocal in asserting that no new provincial money will be available for it, so any investment in such a project will have to come out of current capital and operating budgets, and the Board is notoriously underfunded already.
So it seems to me that worsening the underfunding of the rest of the school system on a point of principle is wrong-headed. But maybe that point of principle is sufficiently important and sufficiently "right" for us to overlook this? Unfortunately, no.
Undoubtedly the proposal is well-intentioned, but in my opinion and, that of many other commentators both, black and white, misguided.
The intention and primum mobile of the proposal is to address the school dropout rate for English-speaking students of Caribbean descent, which is up to 40% and clearly unacceptable. This proposed solution - which as far as I can tell involves attempting to integrate the history, culture and experiences of blacks in society into the regular curriculum (sort of a Black History Month all year round) - is supposed to miraculously fix that. As though learning about Marcus Garvey and Granville T. Woods is going to encourage these kids to merrily skip along to their schools in the mornings, and leave behind their gangs and street crime in preference for homework and exam revision!
Possibly more worrying is the movement towards segregation and marginalization it would represent. Angela Wilson, the who put forward the motion, claims "It's not about segregation, it's about self-determination" but, whether it is "about" segregation or not, that would be the end the result, and personally I don't want to go there.
I have heard too many black teachers and black mothers from risky areas argue against the proposal to be persuaded by it, and it seems like a dangerous first step down a slippery slope in the wrong direction.
By all means pump more public money into public education and into the most troubled parts of our community (whether they be predominantly Caribbean or not), but this is not the way to go.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Are there limits to growth?

An article by Doug Saunders in this weekend's Globe and Mail touches on something I have always wondered about, and now has me wondering all over again: Do we always have to relentlessly pursue economic growth? Will the world necessarily grind to a halt without it?
The conventional wisdom has always been that constant economic growth, as opposed to economic stasis, is necessary, and that without it endemic poverty and mass unemployment would result.
The article mentions the Club of Rome's "Limits to Growth" report back in the 70's and Herman Daly's theory of steady-state economics. In the current climate of increased environmental awareness and increased worldwide democracy and health improvements, is it time to re-visit these concepts?
I am no economist, but I have always, since back in the 80's, questioned the assumption that economic growth (and as much of it as possible) is a given, mainly with the intention of encouraging equality in an ever-polarizing world, and to alleviate the environmental pressures which growth inevitably brings.
I know it is all tied up with increasing and ageing populations, free trade vs. managed economies, etc, etc, and I don't profess to have all the solutions. And neither do The Club of Rome or Herman Daly for that matter.
But I can't help but wonder if, in a changing world, we shouldn't be letting go of some of these perennial underlying assumptions, in much the same way as the once sacrosanct theory of monetarism had it's day and then was all but abandoned when it's drastic side-effects became too severe and untenable.
I will do some homework on steady-state and zero-gowth economics, for my own edification, but unfortunately I am not the one running the world.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Dear Diary...

The worst possible reason for a blog entry is to assure people that I am still alive.
Clearly, given that my last entry was a full month ago, very little recently has caught my notice and/or exercised my imagination enough to galvanize me into putting index finger to keyboard.
I have absolutely no interest in the US primaries, no comment on the high-profile trials of Lord Black and the pig farmer from B.C., and the campaign to rescue Christmas from the grips of politically correct bureaucrats leaves me cold. Benazir Bhutto assassinated? Chaos and rioting in Kenya? Lamentable, but hardly surprising.
I think I have been a bit discouraged by the complete lack of interest in my blog. I wasn't exactly expecting a deluge of correspondence and a flaming, dong-dong, online discussion or anything of that sort. But I thought that maybe the odd indication that someone somewhere is actually reading these pieces might not be too much to expect. As it is, I have absolutely no evidence that anyone apart from me has ever come across these pages, which is a bit depressing. Does that sound pathetic?
Maybe I should just call it Dear Diary...