The Case Against Urban Sprawl – Part 1

The proposed Orillia Boundary Expansion is considered necessary to accommodate the level of growth mandated by the Ontario Growth Plan to the year 2051. My concern is the disparity between the pro-growth messages scattered through the 2019 Orillia Strategic Plan (Realizing Our Potential) the Ontario Growth Plan and the consensus scientific view, expressed with increasing urgency for more than fifty years, that population and economic growth are the primary causes of global warming, pollution, resource depletion and other existential threats to all life on Earth.

The UN climate change conference, COP – 26, took place in Glasgow Scotland from October 31 until November 12. Although the need to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions 50% by 2030 has been widely accepted for years, and while sincere undertakings continue to be made, emissions continue to increase and the world becomes ever warmer, with consequent droughts, fires, floods and storms.

During 2019 and 2020 more than 13,000 scientists from 156 countries, including Canada, signed a Climate Emergency Warning that stated the world’s people face untold suffering due to the climate crisis unless there are major transformations to global society. The warning included the following recommendations:

Population: Still increasing by roughly 80 million people per year (220,000 per day), the world population must be stabilized—and then gradually reduced.

Economy: Excessive extraction of materials and overexploitation of ecosystems, driven by economic growth, must be quickly curtailed to maintain long-term sustainability of the biosphere. Our goals need to shift from GDP growth and the pursuit of affluence toward sustaining ecosystems and improving human wellbeing, by prioritizing basic needs and reducing inequality.

William Rees, Professor Emeritus UBC, developed the Ecological Footprint concept, which quantifies the area of biologically active land required to support one person in a particular location at a particular standard of living/consumption. This concept facilitates quantitative analysis. Given that the average Canadian E-footprint is eight hectares , a little simple arithmetic demonstrates that Ontario, with 14.8 million residents and with 85% of its area composed of shield or swamp, is already overpopulated and greatly dependent on imports. Note: The Hudson’s Bay Lowlands constitute 23% of Ontario’s area but supports less than .03% of its people (5,000) and the shield is 61% of the area but accommodates only 7% (950,000) of the population.

Professor Rees and colleagues have researched the issue for years and eloquently presents the case for de-growth in a YouTube video. (See link below)

Other similar warnings have been issued for decades and in 2008 Peter Victor, Professor emeritus  (York University) published: “Managing without Growth: slower by design, not disaster” , which links economic growth to environmental problems and shortages of energy and material resources. “Growth has not eliminated poverty, brought full employment or protected the environment. Results from a simulation model of the Canadian economy suggest that it is possible to have full employment, eradicate poverty, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and maintain fiscal balance without economic growth. It’s time to turn our attention away from pursuing growth and towards specific objectives more directly relating to our wellbeing and that of the planet.” (See link below)

The Orillia Strategic Plan clearly recognizes that residents have concerns related to climate change and the environment. The Healthy Environment theme states that environmental responsibility should be at the center of the Strategic Plan, that environmental initiatives will reduce Orillia’s environmental footprint and these positions will positively impact on the quality of life and attractiveness of the city.

Affordable housing, quality of life and environmental sustainability were the concerns most frequent expressed by residents in survey responses and on “Vision Boards” related to the Strategic Plan. Slow population growth, was not identified as a concern by residents during public consultations that preceded drafting of the Strategic Plan, nor is growth mentioned in either the Vision or Mission statements.

Every day, news of the tragedy and cost of humanity’s failure to heed scientific evidence related to population and economic growth accumulates from across Canada and around the world. I therefore suggest that rather than study what land might be appropriated to accommodate growth Orillia could perform a much needed leadership role by challenging the provincial directive, as Hamilton has done, and promoting study and discussion of a better and sustainable course for Orillia and Ontario.


William Rees – Why Degrowth?

Managing without Growth. Slower by Design, not Disaster

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