FES professor hopes for a sustainable, no-growth economy in 25-30 years

Fearing social instability, few politicians want to take any steps [on global warming] that will slow their nation’s economies, wrote The Gazette (Montreal) Dec. 15 in a Q&A interview with Professor Peter Victor of York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies and Peter Brown of McGill University. Below are some of Victor’s comments.

The problem I see is that we think the solution to our problem still lies in economic growth…. I think we can show that you can have an economy that doesn’t rely on economic growth…and that you have to make a transition to a system where growth is not a paramount object. I think you can have full employment and you can reduce the impact on the environment and the government can maintain a fiscal balance.

In many ways, the harder question is how do you make the transition from one to the other? In my work, I have looked at a no-growth scenario that is a complete disaster. The very worse that people fear: mass unemployment, increased poverty. You can do good things in very bad ways and really regret it. Alternatively though, other scenarios show you can move to a sort of no-growth over a period of say 25 to 30 years and you can do it through relatively modest change year after year, and it means lower investment, you don’t keep adding to capacity in the same way.

So whether the transition can be done smoothly or not, I am not too optimistic…. You have to recognize that there’s this incredible weight of intellectual energy going into the opposite question. The question is only being addressed by a very small number of people, so we suffer as a result of that in terms of the richness and creativity of our ideas.

Schulich is teaching there’s plenty of green in going green

Business schools across the country are falling all over themselves to appeal to prospective students by making their curriculum a shade greener, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 17. And they’re churning out graduates who are happily making businesses and their bottom lines that same hue.

"Being a greenie used to be a sub-culture, like the hippies in the ’60s. Now it’s seen in business as part of the new economy," explains Schulich School of Business MBA student Ian Howard. "No longer are these graduates trying to find their way in the marketplace. The market is now looking for them," he says.

"Look at any business out there. Any industry you pick is dealing with environmental issues," explains Brian Kelly, director of Schulich’s Erivan K. Haub Program in Business & Sustainability. "They’re not peripheral anymore. They’re core to the survival of these companies. Some people see it as an area where they can put their values to work," he notes.

Howard is not only a student and a believer – he did his undergrad degree in environmental studies – he’s also an entrepreneur. As a partner at the small firm Adapted Consulting, he is working to find new ways to help rural and transitioning communities around the world to improve their economies and environment.

"There’s massive money to be made here," says Schulich MBA student Andrew Hall, 33, who is planning a career trading carbon emission futures. "This is going to be the next dot-com or housing bubble, and it’s possible to be a pioneer in this field."

Talking plants could be our early warming warning system

It may be stretching language to say [that plants] demonstrate primitive intelligence, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 15 in a story about communication between plants. Nevertheless, recent experiments point toward them having a capacity to perform tasks typical of what we call intelligence. At this point, it’s worth listening to a warning from Peter Harries-Jones, professor emeritus of anthropology in York’s Faculty of Arts.

Harries-Jones accepts that plants demonstrate awareness, which he sees as necessary in order for them to undertake active co-ordination and organization in ecosystems. He says, "New evidence of plant communication shows it occurs between plants and other organisms such as fungi, micro-organisms, insects and other animals. It also occurs among members of the same plant species, and between different plant species."

He fears that global warming will disrupt these patterns of messaging. In a paper delivered to a New Orleans conference in October, he quoted Gregory Bateson, a pioneer in communication among organisms in ecosystems, to make the case that the first step in ecosystem collapse could be a breakdown of communication, "as a result of too much fragmentation of complex interactions…. This means," he said, "we should pay the closest attention to any changes in the response of living organisms to each other."

Schulich professor sees debt market tightening up

Canadians are already getting hit in the pocketbook by the debt-market crisis, and it could get a lot worse, wrote the National Post Dec. 15. "It could get a lot more difficult for consumers to get any type of mortgage loan or any type of personal loan," as debt markets tighten up, said Fred Lazar, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York University, sounding a wakeup call for consumers dulled by the big numbers and ugly acronyms of the steadily escalating credit-crunch story.

Carpoolers on the fast track

For York staffer Lisa Dennis of Barrie, her daily jaunt to the Keele campus couldn’t be easier, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 15, in a story about Smart Commute. She and her three fellow riders take turns driving alternate weeks, not only reducing substantial wear and tear on their vehicles, but with a fraction of the environmental impact.

"Some days we chat, some days we sleep, you really do just do your own thing. We work in different departments, so we go our own ways when we arrive. And we have an ironclad rule: What is said in the car, stays in the car!"

It must be working; Dennis, an administrative assistant in York’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, has been carpooling for seven years. Her enthusiasm for the Smart Commute program is obvious. "It not only helps you co-ordinate people in your area, they have something called Emergency Ride Home. If something comes up and I have to get home in the day, up to four times a year I can rent a car and be reimbursed by Smart Commute. I have a young son, and that peace of mind makes all the difference," says Dennis.

New Brunswick‘s world class tenor was a York alumnus

A recent issue of Gramophone magazine contained a review of Siegfreid, the third opera of Wagner’s great cycle, The Ring of the Nibelungen, wrote the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal Dec. 15. The review made favourable comment on a Canadian tenor, Gary Rideout (MA ’76), described by the publication as "one of the best exponents of the role (of Siegfried) at the moment."

A few weeks later, I learned of the untimely and sudden death of a tenor from Hartland, NB, on Sept. 29 after a brief and unexpected illness. Sadly, the tenor was New Brunswick’s Gary Rideout.

After high school in the US, Gary returned to Canada and obtained a masters degree in English from York’s Faculty of Arts and began a successful career in real estate in the Toronto area. But he continued to pursue his love of singing, performing in amateur dinner theatre groups. After one of his performances, someone suggested he obtain professional training. Gary decided to give up his career in real estate and pursue his first love.

Vancouver honours the dance master who started York’s degree program

As a young man in Edmonton after the Second War War, Grant Strate spent his days articling for a law firm for $75 a month, wrote The Vancouver Sun Dec. 15 in a story about a gala event celebrating Strate’s 80th birthday. After passing his bar exam, his career trajectory seemed clear. He was on his way to a life as a lawyer.

But as he toiled away at the lower levels of law, he used his spare time to dance. In the spring of 1951, Celia Franca arrived in Edmonton. Miss Franca, as she was known to those around her, was on a national talent search for dancers for a new Canadian ballet company. One afternoon she came to Mets’ studio. Strate danced two solos he’d choreographed.

"Ridiculous as it now sounds, Celia liked my performance well enough to ask, ‘Will you join the Canadian National Ballet?’ I heard myself reply, ‘Of course!’ " Strate said in Grant Strate: A Memoir.

Leaving law behind, he accepted Miss Franca’s invitation, moved to Toronto and was one of 28 dancers on stage when the National Ballet held its premiere on Nov. 12, 1951. He became the National Ballet’s first resident choreographer and created more than 50 ballets, including two for the Stratford Festival with Glenn Gould. After leaving the company in 1970, he created the dance program in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts, the first degree-granting dance program in the country.

GO restores Barrie train after 15 years

For the first time since 1993, Barrie commuters will be able to take the GO train to work Monday morning, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 15 in a story about the $25-million expansion. GO officials expect the service [which stops at York University] will start with about 300 passengers a day, 150 each way, with eight trains – four in each direction – making the run to Union Station in the morning and the evening. But Barrie ridership is expected to swell in about two years, and more service could be in place by 2009.

The first three double-decker GO buses will arrive in January. After road testing, they should begin Highway 407 service between Oakville and York University in late April. They can run only on the 407 toll highway because they don’t fit under most city underpasses, wrote the Star.

  • The move was made possible by the rehabilitation of tracks north of Bradford that were left all but abandoned after the provincial NDP government of Bob Rae slashed GO service to Barrie in 1993, wrote The Globe and Mail Dec. 17.

The track work cost $25 million, a bill shared by Ottawa, Queen’s Park and the City of Barrie. With provincial help, Barrie bought the tracks for $3 million after GO service was cut, to ensure it could be restored some day.

The service will allow students from Barrie who cannot afford to live away from home to take the train to York University, said Gary McNeil, GO Transit’s managing director.

  • Barrie Liberal MPP and York alumna Aileen Carroll (BEd ’89), had nothing but positives to say about GO’s arrival, wrote the Barrie Examiner Dec. 17. “The people of Barrie have been battling the highways for so long,” she said. “They’ve been waiting a long time for this day.”

Gord and Donna-Marie Grant won’t likely use the GO Train, but climbed aboard to get a feel to tell their children about it. “My daughter’s hoping to go to York University. So this would be good for her, too,” said Donna-Marie.

Born to build

Stepping into the family business can be hard for anyone, but it can be especially tough if dad or granddad is a multimillion-dollar land developer or home builder, wrote the Toronto Star Dec. 15 in a story about second- and third-generation GTA developer/builders who have risen above any suggestion of nepotism and proved their mettle One was York alumna Meena Sharma (MBA ’07), 28, vice-president of RegalCraft Homes.

Sharma says knowing the market before you even build is essential. She completed her MBA at York’s Schulich School of Business, concentrating in real property studies, to combine theoretical knowledge with the practical experience she gleaned working with her father, Madan Sharma, a former engineer and head of the company.

"We have been successful because we do not do cookie-cutter layouts," she says. "We also know there is a market for the specific details; people want that choice."

Her firm has also designed homes tailored to people with disabilities, a niche that has been neglected too long, she says. And when it comes to talking about environmental sustainability, Sharma is very passionate.

A brief, irreverent history of the Red Chamber

In 1984, I published Survival of the Fattest: An Irreverent View of the Senate, wrote Larry Zolf in the National Post Dec. 17. My book dealt with all the bagmen, tycoons and scandals that went hand-in-hand with the corporate nature of Senate membership…. I also debunked the great feminist myth of the five Canadian women who, in the fall of 1929, successfully challenged the prevailing idea that women were not legal "persons" entitled to sit in the Senate. The Famous Five were…nowhere near as laudable as the brilliant Liberal women Pierre Trudeau later appointed to the Senate – such as Therese Casgrain, Lorna R. Marsden [York president emeritus] and the legendary Florence Bird.

Maclean’s piece needs response

On Dec. 4, I announced at a news conference that human rights complaints, including those of four Osgoode Hall Law School graduates/students, had been launched against Maclean’s magazine with respect to the article The Future Belongs to Islam, written by Mark Steyn and published in October 2006, wrote Faisal B. Joseph, lawyer for the Canadian Islamic Congress, in The London Free Press Dec. 17.

The Muslim Canadian Congress’s proposal of a rebuttal article seemed reasonable – so reasonable, in fact, that four Osgoode graduates/students, who are complainants in this human rights case, were able to come up with it on their own months before the complaint was filed.

On air

  • Myra Novogrodsky, professor in York’s Faculty of Education, spoke about a new course on genocide for high school students, on CBC Radio’s “As it Happens” Dec. 14.
  • York alumna and singer Amanda Martinez (IMBA ’99), was featured on Bravo-TV’s “Arts & Minds” program Dec. 15.