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Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXVIII–Growth is Great! Except It Isn’t.

Today’s Contemplation: Collapse Cometh LXVIII

(originally posted September 21, 2022)

Chitchen Itza, Mexico (1986). Photo by author.

Growth is Great! Except It Isn’t.

Today’s contemplation is an open letter I am sending (perhaps presenting in person, I haven’t yet decided[1]) to my local town’s council and a developer regarding a ‘proposed’ development that is moving ahead directly across the street from our home. It is not the first time I have spoken up about such community projects but will probably be the last given I have lost all faith in our local council to understand the perils and act on them, since they continue to not only pursue but cheerlead the continuing expansion of our community. ‘Growth is great, it benefits everyone’ is a refrain often posited by them.

That we reside in a significantly environmentally-sensitive region of my Canadian province makes the continued ‘development’ of the lands particularly problematic[2]. There’s always discussion of ‘sustainability’ and ‘environmental awareness’ in such proposals but these are little more than greenwashed window-dressing to impact perceptions; marketing to help sell the narrative that our ‘leaders’ are acting ‘responsibly’ and that the pursuit of ‘sustainable growth’ is a noble and just action.

While they appear open to community dialogue and consultation, I have come to consider this appearance to be a charade; theatrics to give the impression of being ‘democratic’ and ‘consultative’ — which I have also come to understand about almost all ‘politics’. Little, if anything, about my decades-long experiences and observations about our Town ‘representatives’ leads me to conclude they actually understand or even want to know about the growing predicament they are contributing to — I can just imagine the overwhelming cognitive dissonance it would create; better to be immersed in significant self-deception and ignorance.

Dear Whitchurch-Stouffville Council and Mr. Spratley,

Mr. Spratley, in your recent letter to the community about the proposed development you are spearheading at 14622 Ninth Line, you claim to be pursuing “…responsible community and community-based development with the health of the lake in mind.”

Apart from not being directly consulted, as you claim you have done with all residents that live close to the proposed development, I must challenge you on your idea of ‘responsible community development’, especially in light of your proclaimed concern over the health of the lake.

The nature of what is considered ‘responsible’ has been shifting the past number of decades. Land use can and should no longer be viewed through a purely economic lens where everything is viewed as a commodity to be turned into a profit — especially land in ecologically-important regions, which the Oak Ridges Moraine certainly is. Such an antiquated view completely ignores and/or minimises the negative environmental and ecological system impacts human ‘development’ causes.

The Ontario government itself has recognised the importance of the moraine, stating it is “… an environmentally sensitive, geological landform…”[3], and thus the motivation for them to put in place policies to protect the ecological systems of the moraine (even though they often bypass such protections by encouraging and permitting continued settlement expansion despite repeated promises not to).

Of particular concern is the impact development has on the very important aquifers and contamination of them by human development. Musselman’s Lake sits in one of the areas identified as being highly vulnerable to such contamination. And the development you are proposing increases greatly the risk to the lake and regional aquifers.

In fact, there is growing evidence that allowing land to return to nature is a far, far more responsible act in terms of long-term sustainability and ecological enhancement than forcing land system changes and increasing population density — both of which serve to destroy/degrade the natural systems every species, including humans, depend upon for their very existence. But, of course, there’s no ‘profit’ in that.

The dangers of humanity’s continuing pursuit of the infinite growth chalice on a finite planet should be self-evident to everyone, but sadly this is not so. Perhaps because we continue to believe we stand outside nature and its ecological systems, and can control them. Or because we have grown to perceive everything from an economic perspective, where land is only viewed as having ‘value’ once it has been ‘developed’ and built upon. Possibly it’s because we have allowed those who stand to ‘profit’ from such a perspective to influence excessively and unreasonably our sociopolitical systems and sociocultural narratives and beliefs.

No amount of greenwashing by having a ‘butterfly parkette’ can counter the ecological damage of constructing a dozen homes (possibly many more) on a parcel of land that is located in an environmentally-sensitive region. That such a development is even being considered for the Musselman’s Lake area of the Oak Ridges Moraine is a travesty. Council would be wise to turn down the application and amendments.

The very fact that you are in need of plan amendments to allow the use of wells to provide water for these homes because the current water system is already ‘maxed out’, speaks volumes to the overuse/overpopulation of the area that currently exists — to say little of the rather undemocratic way in which the Town forced area residents to abandon fully-functioning wells several decades ago to hookup to Town water…at a significant personal cost.

Finally, your contention that “[t]he smaller size of homes compared to the overall lot size…respects the lake and the policies that guide development” is somewhat misleading in that it is not necessarily the footprint of a home that has a negative environmental impact on a region, but the number of people that occupy it. While a large home may have oversized influence upon the resources used to construct and maintain it (e.g., fossil fuels for heat), most of the environmental consequences flow from the density of a settlement. Putting more homes and people into an area has an outsized impact given all the waste produced and resources required to sustain each person.

You may actually be sincere in your wish to do what is ‘right’ by this development, although seeking to build far more homes on the lot than established by current plans suggests you are not. Regardless, the evidence that is building in this world about the negative consequences of human expansion is coming down on the side of your proposal being detrimental, very detrimental, not beneficial.

That developments continued to get approved by our Town Council with amendments to increase significantly the number of dwellings and density is very telling about their actual concern with environmental/ecological responsibility as well — it’s non-existent.

That we continue to ignore the signals being sent to humanity by the planet and its fellow species speaks volumes about our continuing misuses of our finite world and whether we actually are acting ‘responsibly’ in our behaviour and actions. The evidence is continuing to mount that we are not. In fact, that we are doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing — degrowing our existence.

Steve Bull

Please consider visiting my website. It contains many relevant site links and articles. It also allows you to help support my internet presence via the purchase of my ‘fictional’ trilogy — Olduvai.

[1] I am aware that presenting an in-person comment is likely to be received better than a written one but I have never felt comfortable speaking in public, despite having put myself in a variety of situations where I have had to. It’s one of my least favourite actions/behaviours.

[2] We reside in a region called the Oak Ridge Moraine and look out over two nearby kettle lakes. The area is part of some very important aquifers for our province.

[3] https://www.ontario.ca/page/oak-ridges-moraine

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