With another mention of Clouds of Change in the latest Cambie Report podcast, as well as Gord’s post yesterday (plus past posts on the topic), it’s worth sharing some of the back story.

As late as the 1980s, the climate science conversation was still terra incognito within civic government. So, as with today, it came down to the people who decided to lead the conversations, and bring them to action — first and foremost, the City of Vancouver Task Force on Atmospheric Change.

Recalls Task Force member, and Vancouver city councillor (1999-2005) Fred Bass:

We met every Saturday morning for a year, to look at recommendations to the city about global warming. And I saw the CO2 curve going up like that.

And I’m enough of a scientist, and also I think a fairly good assessor of information, that when I saw the CO2 curve going out of control, I thought, “This is terrible. This is awful.”

Many of the people who participated are still around; a few, like Mark Roseland, principal researcher on Clouds of Change, former professor and Director of the Centre for Sustainable Community Development at SFU, and now Director of the School of Community Resources and Development at Arizona State University, are not.

A key part of the research I did for Clouds of Change is based on seeing what’s been done elsewhere.

So every time they said it was impossible, I could say well yeah but they’re doing it in Seattle. They’re doing it in Toronto. Or they’re doing it in Sweden.

That was really important — we weren’t just talking about stuff that was a green utopia. There are other places where they also have budgets to worry about, they’re also politically accountable at election time, and they’re doing it.

It’s very, very powerful to be able to lead by example. And that was the argument — let’s lead by example.

These excerpts are part of a new post on Van Bikes, exploring the people and culture of the time that led to Clouds of Change. Gord also makes an appearance in the story; many of those on the task force (page 29 here), plus those quoted in the post, are indeed still in the region, still talking about this.

It would be interesting to get a sense of how today’s process differs from what we’ve already seen in 2019, and what will unfold in the months and years to come.

Photo credit: James Crookall, 1937. City of Vancouver Archives.


  1. The Clouds of Change was written nearly 30 years ago, a superb published cognitive framework for environmental thinking that proved to be a very useful template for the SEFC policy statement. It is fair to say that important strides have been made by Vancouver when it comes to reducing carbon emissions in our region and we even have set an example on the world stage with the Olympic Village. However, measured against zero carbon emissions means that we have a long way to go. World wide carbon emissions continue to rise and species diversity continues to decline.

    After 30 years we have to conclude that, it is the urbanization process in all it’s complexity, along with the armaments necessary for its defence that has become a machine devouring the surface of the planet. Humans to their own detriment have turned out to be poor stewards of nature having locked themselves in concrete towers remote from the slightest stirring of organic life, dependent on shipments of supplies and materials from the natural world arriving by metal pipe or metal can carried by metal boat, metal truck, metal plane, and mostly controlled by metal robots in one way or another. Urbanization?

    1. Growing your own veggies in your own backyard the Amish way is likely better.

      What population could we sustain that way though, say in the Fraser Valley? 50,000 ? 35,000? 100,000? Certainly not 2.5M !!

    2. I would argue that it’s the suburbanization in all it’s lack of complexity that is the problem. You cite the Olympic Village as a positive example, albeit one that still demonstrates how far we need to go. By almost all measures, urban lifestyles are lower footprint than suburban ones, and not just by a little bit.

      We’re not going to undo our desire to live close to economic opportunity which is increasingly in cites. OV is too small on it’s own to constitute a fully diverse, walkable mixed-use neighbourhood but the ingredients baked into it are scaleable in a positive way. The reality is we have to solve the GHG and other resource problem within the context of growing cities. Anything else is guaranteed failure.

      Thankfully cities offer so much opportunity to live small and light that is hard to beat with any other living arrangement. It needn’t be all “concrete towers remote from the slightest stirring of organic life” either. On the other extreme it can even include single family homes so long as that isn’t the dominant land use. It must include easily accessible parks and wilder green space. Living tighter leaves more space for nature. We still have to ensure that we make the effort to protect it rather than ignore what we don’t see or experience in our daily lives. But movements to do just that come from cities at least as much as elsewhere.

      I agree we need to re-localize our necessities for life. We need to develop a circular economy. We can do much of that in and near to cities.

  2. Olympic Village is certainly a step in the right direction but it’s still very car friendly, with a main square ringed by three block faces of on-street parking. The beer-oriented restaurants also seem to draw a lot of longer-distance traffic, by automobile – less than ideal. The City’s long overdue institution of pay on-street parking is welcome but it does seem that car access could easily be decreased without affecting essential property access, with the selective closure of parts of Walter Hardwick in particular.

    Perhaps not coincidentally, the weakest part of Clouds of Change was its transportation component, which was undersized and understated relative to its impact, and municipal control. But a prescient report that was well ahead of its time to be sure.

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