On child poverty and car pollution: are economists teaching us the right lessons?

Income inequality is one of the leading causes of economic, social and environmental crises and a key driver of insecurity around the world, Dr Mark Rash has argued in the city of Toronto. Rash, a board member of the Ontario-based Public Health Association, is most concerned about the devastation to the environment if carbon emissions continue to grow.

In a letter to Toronto city council, Rash questions the province’s policy on enforcing reductions in vehicle COvents to 60% of 2010 levels.

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In Ontario, Ontario requires car manufacturers to produce vehicle with a greenhouse gas emission reduction of 60% of 2010 levels. In April, the Ontario government proposed removing its requirement for vehicle makers to meet that reduction target for the 2019 model year.

Income inequality

Dr Rash is vice-chair of Toronto Public Health’s new committee on income inequality, which aims to raise public awareness of the extreme inequality in Canada and help reduce the growing gap between rich and poor.

“Income inequality is a global problem, and when you start looking at where the most growth has been, it’s not in Africa and it’s not in Asia,” Rash says. “It’s in Canada, and it’s in Toronto.”

Rash argues that 1% of the wealthiest 1% controls 44% of Canada’s wealth. He also argues that most Canadians don’t know how many people are working in minimum wage jobs in Canada.

Children and families

As a member of the Ontario-based Public Health Association, Rash believes that addressing childhood poverty is crucial. “The single greatest injustice in the world is that children are routinely denied the right to have a quality, affordable childhood.”

He explains that while most children get health care as adults, access to adequate childcare is a serious issue in Canada. Rash says: “We need universal, publicly funded childcare because children become adults early, and the consequences for the rest of society tend to be quite serious.”

Global climate change

Rash has been drawn to the role of social justice in tackling climate change, particularly in Canada, which ranks second highest in greenhouse gas emissions in the developed world.

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“We have a responsibility to our children that we didn’t have to our predecessors,” Rash says. “I was living in New York in 1974, and the worldwide temperature was 101F, if I remember correctly.”

He notes that between 1872 and 1950, the world’s temperature rose by about 3C. “After 1950, it goes backwards by about a degree, so the current global temperature of 65F, even if it never rises any further, will eventually cause further catastrophic effects.”

Given the extent of environmental catastrophe Rash says we should expect that rising temperatures will lead to extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, and will significantly increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. He points to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in Puerto Rico after hurricanes Maria and Hugo and the devastation of the island in the aftermath of the floods that followed hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“The loss of Puerto Rico is almost totally attributable to the lack of coordination between the different administrations [in the US], which is really surprising. I thought Puerto Rico would be pretty resilient because they’re known for their resilience, but they’re not that resilient.”

In Ontario, it’s currently illegal to transport an animal into a correctional facility on a horseback – an attempt to prevent overcrowding in jail. Many inmates have had a horse or two during their time in jail. “Eleven years ago, there were 900 residents in a Ontario prison where it wasn’t possible to have an animal because of the financial burden and costs to keep it on a horse,” Rash says.

“We should be preventing the cycle of overcrowding, which is just one of the factors behind runaway poverty in Canada, and we should be going after criminals and those who are depriving our children of the right to a fair childhood and a decent existence.”

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