Canada’s Financial Post (FP) is running a week-long series entitled “Arrested Development” which investigates how “Canada has turned into a can’t-do nation as surging activism strains economic growth.” The reports cover the stalling or cancellation of various infrastructure projects from oil and gas pipelines (the Keystone XL being probably the most famous) to dams and mines and even wind turbines, thanks to opposition by environmental, community, and/or aboriginal activists.

The reporters identified 35 such projects worth $129 billion mostly in private direct investment and the economic impact of the loss of that investment:  a chilling effect on investors who will choose non-Canadian targets for future investments, slower economic growth, higher unemployment, lower Canadian oil prices, less wealth creation, lower standard of living for Canadians. (This applies to other countries with similarly strong anti-development movements as well).

The FP reporters do an excellent job of covering the different projects and the impact of the delays and cancellations, as well as the industry (investor) and activist perspectives. As the FP articles are easy to access, I will not repeat their content here but focus on the true motives of the activists, the dangerousness of the anti-development movement to human life and well-being, and what business—and government—should do.

It’s possible (although I doubt it) that some of the activists are naïve enough to truly believe (refusing to face reality) that by blocking development, they are “saving the planet”, “protecting” their community (against air and water pollution and noise, say), or “preserving” their “traditional way of life” (hunting and gathering for subsistence living).

But at least the activists’ leaders, such as the uber-environmentalists David Suzuki and Bill McKibben, know better. They are not concerned about improving the planet, the community, or the aboriginal way of life for any human benefit. Quite the opposite, they are human-haters who want to “preserve” the environment for its own sake, which is best accomplished with no humans to impose their “carbon footprint” on the planet—hoping for “the right virus to come along,” as biologist David Graber put it.

And while waiting for the virus to wipe out humans, the environmentalist and other activist leaders concentrate on reversing human progress and diminishing human well-being as much as possible. That includes giving up development projects that would make human life safer, healthier, longer, and more productive. If humans and human progress and development is such a threat to the planet, one wonders why the activists don’t take their self-sacrifice philosophy to heart and do the logical thing: commit suicide. Instead, they want others to sacrifice themselves, give up modern technology and energy, and live their shortened lifespans in misery.

What should business—and government—do in the face of the anti-development movement? Business should reject the activists’ demands for “social license” and unfounded claims about the ills of development and take the moral high ground to show its benefits (which far outweigh the negative effects, such as higher level of noise, some—but manageable and diminishing—pollution, and fewer wilderness areas versus industrial and urban spaces needed for jobs, hospitals, schools, transportation, etc.). Most of all, business should not appease and apologize for the material values they create for the betterment of human life. Of course, business firms must respect the individual rights of others, including property rights, and act to prevent causing any damage and to compensate if they do.

Government’s role—its only proper role—is to protect the individual rights of its citizens, including those owning and operating businesses. In a proper, capitalist society, all property is privately owned, and the property owners (the investors) decide what they do with their property—as long as they don’t violate others’ property and other individual rights by polluting or by causing other damage. Government has no say in development, except when individual rights are violated. Activist groups have no say in development beyond protesting on their own private property or using privately owned media to express their views. Government’s role is not to appease activist groups or to force business to cave into the activists’ demands—but to protect everyone’s rights against the initiation of physical force.

Private development projects are good for human life and help create material values our flourishing depends on, such as energy and other values that energy makes possible. So bring on more development—while protecting individual rights.

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Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada. She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad. Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada. Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book. Visit her website at profitableandmoral.com.

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