Opinion: each one must recognize the sum of our effects on our planet

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“You know, if you don’t pick up the things you throw on the ground, you will break the world.” – Desirée (last name unknown), 3, upset after finding hamburger wrappers and plastic cups at her local playground.

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Several years ago, like Paul on the road to Damascus, Jim Pattison underwent a conversion.

He embraced environmentalism.

In a 2019 interview with Bloomberg News, he said that the environment was “absolutely, in our company, the number one problem.”

He reiterated that message again with Bloomberg a year later.

“We have to focus on the environment, the environment, the environment. Everything that is negative, in my opinion, that has to do with the environment, sooner or later goes bankrupt ”.

It’s interesting, I thought, that Pattison would frame the greatest existential threat to humanity as a business opportunity.

And it is also interesting that despite having built its business empire in the internal combustion engine, in resource extraction, in the export of coal, in plastics and in a dozen other companies that would make the size of the footprint of carbon of his business empire, Pattison, in this last date of his life, has abandoned the tired old Christian principle of anthropocentrism. Instead, he has declared his piety to a new faith even though, throughout his working life, he embodies its antithesis. Yet here he was in his 90s, telling the world that he had acquired religion and, leaving Genesis, he would no longer seek dominion over earth. He would help heal it.

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Pattison is not alone in this. Anthropocentrism has been a central tenet of Western theologies, but even the Catholic Church experienced the same conversion as Pattison’s in 2015, when Pope Francis published his second cycle, the Laudato si ‘. In it, he lamented the sins of man against nature and wrote that instead of continuing to seek dominion over the earth in pursuit of profit, we must now see ourselves as interconnected with all of creation as part of a “universal family.” .

I have interviewed Pattison a couple of times throughout my career, and he was kind and genuinely courteous in those interviews, and without an ounce of personal importance, many businessmen feel the need to negotiate, perhaps because, as a billionaire , did. I do not have to.

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In previous interviews, he had been asked about a business practice of his that, when I first heard it, seemed so unlikely that I suspected it must be apocryphal, that is, his habit, when he first ran his car dealership, of firing the worst. car salesman performing every month.

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Yes, he had said, it was true.

But sitting there in person, I had trouble squareing the cruelty of that admission to the small, affable, soft-spoken man in front of me. Behind that steel trap mind, I thought, there was more steel.

But that was, and is, Pattison’s contradiction: the small stature contradicted the gigantic appetite and intellect. Even the often-used diminutive of “Jimmy” or “Jim” instead of James has always struck me as a contradiction, as if to put a smiley face on a monster.

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Businessman and philanthropist Jim Pattison poses for photos during the Canadian Walk of Fame ceremony in his honor, in Vancouver, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019.
Businessman and philanthropist Jim Pattison poses for photos during the Canadian Walk of Fame ceremony in his honor, in Vancouver, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Luckily, my life intersected with Pattison’s after those interviews. Several years ago, I found myself at VGH’s Jim Pattison Pavilion and, just a week ago, I was a patient at the Jim Pattison Center for Surgery and Ambulatory Care in Surrey. My daughter, a nurse, worked at BC Children’s Hospital, another recipient of Pattison’s philanthropy.

He directs his donations, he said, where they will make a difference, and they often go toward medicine and children. In 2017, he donated $ 50 million for the construction of the 176-bed Saskatchewan Children’s Hospital (since renamed Jim Pattison Children’s Hospital), and that same year he donated $ 75 million for the construction of the new St. Paul Hospital. When a 2006 windstorm downed nearly 10,000 trees in Stanley Park, he donated $ 1 million to restore the park, in part, he said, because it was where he had proposed to his wife.

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His philanthropy was instilled in him at a young age: His parents, who were never wealthy, volunteered at an evangelical mission in downtown Eastside when they moved from Saskatchewan. Pattison was six years old. They took him on mission with them, and he volunteered there with his father for the next 20 years. His philanthropy, as I expected, has made a difference, even if only peripherally, in my life.

But what about your business empire? What difference has that made in terms of the environment?

In the name of capitalism, job creation, or profits, the world has given entrepreneurs like Pattison a great license. In 2017, the Jim Pattison Group had 545 locations worldwide, employed 45,000 people, and had revenues approaching $ 10 billion. The pandemic has benefited him especially. According to Forbes, his net worth increased by $ 7.2 billion between March 2020 and April 2021.

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Despite concerns about the growing concentration of wealth in the hands of billionaires, the ultra-rich have become indispensable engines of the economy. Their business empires create their own ecosystems, with increasing overlapping dependencies between employees, local businesses, and government finances.

Dismantle those empires? Nationalize them? It is not probable. Not in a capitalist democracy like Canada. Too many people depend on them. Economies would collapse. Eat the rich and people starve.

It produces a certain rigidity in society and makes change difficult, at least in terms of climate change. Pattison himself recognizes it.

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“We have to, over time, transition to things that are more environmentally friendly and we are working on that,” he said in the Bloomberg interview. “But you can’t snap your fingers. It doesn’t happen overnight. “

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Do we have that time that Pattison alludes to?

Climatologists say maybe not, that the rapidity of climate change has begun to outpace previous models: witness the increasing severity of droughts, storms, wildfires and snowmelt.

This, of course, is not just Jim Pattison’s fault, or entrepreneurs like him. We are all accomplices.

In terms of climate change, each of us, in the end, must recognize the sum of the effects that our individual chemical reactions have had on the earth, and in the sense that Pattison and I are the same, out of habit or laziness or ignorance or the convenience or the ambition or the hunger to make money, we are trapped in the same destructive ecosystem. It is an ecosystem in which I have participated in the creation. So this column is not intended to be an attack on Pattison, although I am sure some will see it as such.

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But I wrote about Pattison because, knowing of his belated adoption of environmentalism, I was wondering if this was remorse at work, or a man in his 90s feeling the breath of mortality on his neck and wondering, like everyone else, what will be his true legacy?

I can’t speak for Pattison, but I can speak for myself. And at my age, I must admit the truth that any admission of the damage I have done to the earth does not avoid the habit of a lifetime, which is why I would tell a three-year-old that she is wiser than she is. years, who will inherit my legacy:

I have broken the world, Desirée, and I knew exactly what I was doing.

Pete McMartin is a former Vancouver Sun columnist

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