Life in a Fish Bowl

by Carl Duivenvoorden ( Carl is one of 22 Atlantic Canadians trained by Al Gore to deliver presentations of 'An Inconvenient Truth.' His column runs every other Monday in the Telegraph Journal.

What’s good for the environment is often really good for our economic prosperity too. Conserving resources, especially those that come from far away, makes sense because it preserves our environment and keeps dollars in our pocket.

Sound too good to be possible?

The fish tank

To understand, imagine a fish tank. It’s teeming with all kinds of fish, large and small, and it looks just like one you might see at the pet shop, except for two things. One, it has a drain at the bottom with a constant stream of water leaking out; and two, it has a hose at the top, with a steady flow of fresh water coming in.

In general, all the fish in the tank get along well. However, they are happiest when the tank is full to the brim with fresh, clean water. When the water level drops down, the fish get a little stressed.

The interpretation

Now look at the picture this way. The fish tank is the entire New Brunswick economy, and the water is money.

The hose feeding water into the tank represents our exports, things we sell outside NB. They bring dollars into the province.

The drain at the bottom represents our imports, things we bring in from elsewhere. We have to pay for them, so they take dollars out of the province.

By now, you’ve probably figured out what, or who, the fish represent. The only question is, are you a big fish or a small fish?

The last detail is the amount of water in the tank, or the amount of money in our economy. When there’s a lot, everyone is happy and life is good. But when the levels drop, things get worrisome.

Keeping the level up

So the best way to ensure happiness and harmony for all is to make sure our tank stays as full as possible. There are two ways to do that.

The first is to increase the flow of water coming in – or to export more. A quick glance at trade statistics shows that the bulk of our province’s home-grown exports are resource-based: fish, lobster, pulp, paper, lumber, potatoes, French fries and potash. Most of these are commodities, so we don’t have much control over their prices. We could fish more fish, grow more potatoes and cut more trees, but each has its limit. Plenty of arguments are made that we’re already doing some of those things today at levels that are unsustainable. We could ship more potash, but because it’s non-renewable, every tonne we ship now is one less tonne future NBers will be able to ship.

The other – and easier way – to keep our tank full is to reduce the water flowing out the drainpipe, or import less. This is where what’s good for the environment is good for the economy.

You see, New Brunswick’s biggest import is energy. We bring in oil, coal and orimulsion by the boatload. True, much of the oil is turned into gasoline and re-exported. But plenty of it is used here too, to power our vehicles, heat our homes and spin the turbines at Coleson Cove, the largest power plant east of Ontario. Orimulsion is turned into electricity in Dalhousie, and Colombian coal is used in Belledune.

Beyond being the source of most NB greenhouse gases, all of this energy is a huge drain in our collective fish tank – and as you’ve just read, replacement water is hard to come by. How many two by fours does it take to buy a barrel of oil? How about a supertanker of oil?

Plug that drain

Presented this way, the formula becomes pretty simple, doesn’t it? Less fossil fuel energy imported means less greenhouse gas emissions, which is good for the environment. It means more dollars kept in our pockets, which is really good for us.

Want to do your part to keep the tank full and the fish – including those important yet-to-be-hatched baby fish – happy? Here’s the best place to start: use less electricity, use less gasoline. - NB export stats - find trade data on-line