The Livable Region
July 3, 2007

Serious change

As far as I know, this didn’t get reported in the MSM.  (Sean Pander passed it along.)

Last night Vancouver City Council passed a motion establishing a target of carbon-neutrality for all new construction in the city of Vancouver by 2030. This is a bold move and will be extremely important in shaping the next stage of the Green Building Strategy, Ecodensity, our Climate 2030 Plan, and the development of our own civic facilities.

Other aspects of the motion include targets to reduce community-wide GHG’s 30% by 2020 (the year of perfect vision) and 80% by 2050.  These targets further strengthen the need for improved transit and active transportation infrastructure, programs, and policies.

In addition, these targets put Vancouver in line with what was adopted by the European union earlier this year and are consistent with the targets adopted two days ago by the US Conference of Mayors.  The key now is to distinguish ourselves by delivering results.

Possibly, because there have been a lot of these kinds of initiatives recently, the significance of them has been discounted.  And indeed, if they’re not acted on, they should be discounted.  But I believe action will be forthcoming, and it will come because of a force beyond words, beyond deniability.
Nature, of course. 
As the climate actually changes, as the consequences are personally felt, the demand for a serious response will steadily escalate. And the reverse will be true.  If there is no change of significance in the climate, the deniers and doubters will prevail. 
What has happened in the last half year to our natural environment has been sufficient for our leaders in the public and private sector to shift their bets.  And as the bureaucracies beneath them increasingly understand the seriousness of their commitments, change will accelerate. 
Sadly, it takes crisis and catastrophe to motivate this change, providing grim satisfaction to those who believe it necessary.   It’s a strange kind of hope: for natural disasters great enough to force the rate of change but early enough to avert the worst of consequences.  

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Hey, Peak Oil fans, this just out:

The following documentary produced by Irish national television … predicts what Peak Oil is going to do to the country:
Some statistics from the program:
– they use more oil per capita than the US!
– Because of suburban sprawl, Dublin is on track to becoming as large as Los Angeles but with four times less population.
Of course, we all know that this can’t last.
Ironically, the program is preceded by an advertisement for a Ford Mondeo.

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This is Newcastle, Australia, where the weather is still too unstable to pull this grounded tanker off the beach on to which it was blown a few weeks ago. 
I got this on Michael Kluckner’s blog, where he reports in on the weird weather. The pic is from Christine Allen’s sister – and there’s more where that came from here.
Hmm, tornadoes in Manitoba, too, along with extreme incidents elsewhere.  What could this mean?

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The Sun reported on the Premier’s speech to the Board of Trade conference “A Climate for Change” – another indication of the green shift that has occurred in the last half year – but they left out the passion.   Campbell, when he gets going, can take on the demeanor of a televangelist, with very much the same message: you have the power, you can change society.  If you believe!
Imagine the cynicism.
In the sessions afterward, reference to the ‘religion’ of environmentalism came up all right – but not in a dismissive way.  Business people are quite aware of the public shift in attitude because they’re aware of their own – and their kids’ – change in perception. Twice during the conference school children were given time to speak, sometimes in stage-managed way, but with messages that Campbell took as his own: if we can change our own behaviour, we can make a difference.
While it is ever so easy to dismiss all this as political greenwashing, that would be a misreading.  From what I’ve heard, and from what I know, Campbell is convinced of the urgency to address climate change.  He has not only affirmed that in the last Throne Speech; he has set a target – 33 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020 – and has demanded serious plans from government ministries.
I’m told that few civil servants took it seriously when he laid out a plan for government to be carbon neutral.  But they do now – now that there are targets aligned with a vision, and a leader who pushes the politics.  That’s how Gordon Campbell led the city when he was mayor, and why Vancouver underwent the transformation it did.
There’s still room for cynicism, of course.  Every time Gordon Campbell acknowledges the success of downtown Vancouver – its lack of freeways, its compact fabric – I wonder why he so far cannot change the framework for the Gateway Project.  Gateway is about building out the Valley around the car and the truck, about keeping the traffic moving, about reinforcing the sprawl.
At some point, Gateway will have to be reconciled with the Premier’s vision, or the vision will have to revised.  Given the Premier’s passion, I’d hope for reconcilation.

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Do you have to be rich to be green?
Sustainability, it seems, is associated with affluence – at least if the projects proclaiming their green-ness is any indication. And it isn’t just because the cost of green technology is that much greater. (Indeed, if a project is well planned from the beginning, recent research indicates, there’s no necessary surcharge to be a LEEDer.)
At the Gaining Ground conference in Victoria last week, developer David Butterfield gave a stirring talk on his Loreto Bay project – a vacation spot in Baja California. He was rightfully proud of its commitment to sustainability, and also aware of its paradox: most people will fly there, many to their second homes. By any standard, this is a project available to only a minescule fraction of the world’s population, whose carbon footprint will be comparatively gigantic.
How many times is it pointed out that Al Gore flies around the world to give talks on global warming? Having flown to Australia myself to speak of sustainable urban development, I’m aware of the 8.5 tonnes of carbon allocated to me as just one passenger (and the $154 Australian dollars needed to mitigate it.) But I’m rich enough to afford it. – and aware that the rest of the world would like my options. I know what is more sustainable, and it’s not mitigation and carbon credits. It’s staying at home.
It may be that at this stage, the rich will lead the way by modifying their high-consumption tastes, and thus provide a model for others. But the trend so far seems to be to modify the technology, to spend even more to buy the Prius, than to do with less. The tough choices are thus avoided.
Phillipe Starck, possibly the world’s most high-profile designer of luxury goods and interiors, spoke, well, starkly, about this dilemma the other day in Milan, according to Reuters:

The designer, who decorated the private apartments of former French President Francois Mitterand, said people should only buy essentials.
“The most positive action is to refuse…to buy. But if you need to, the minimum is ethical. To go back to the essence of things and ask myself: do I need this?” he said.

He still designs luxury yachts, even as he speaks to their uselessness. But he is “keen to turn other accepted views of what is luxurious on their head.”

“In the future, there will be two choices: luxury as it exists, mostly linked to the crazy rhythm of fashion, and also new brands with … time value considerations, based on ecology, progress, timelessness.”

Presumably, the value added for these new brands will be expressed in the price. But is this really any closer to the solution?

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Are you better off? Cascadia Scorecard 2007 gives British Columbia its annual check-up.
Sightline’s annual state-of-the-region report finds some big wins in the Pacific Northwest, but shows that we still struggle when it comes to energy efficiency, economic security, and curbing sprawl.

See how BC stacks up in the 2007 Scorecard.

Here are some of the Northwest stories you’ll find in the Scorecard:

  • Northwesterners ease off the gas. We’re using less gasoline per person than we have since the late 1960s, and we’ve cut back almost 10 percent since 1999. Find out about our energy use.
  • We’re adopting smart policies that can improve life here now and in the future. From ambitious climate policies to increased insurance coverage for low-income children, Cascadia is making some good choices. Learn about local solutions.
  • Measuring what matters helps us decide where to put our attention and energy next. The Scorecard shows that the Northwest needs to improve economic security for middle- and low-income families, and that electricity use in our home and businesses remains stuck in high gear. Knowing where we stand today helps us choose the right solutions for tomorrow. More from the Cascadia Scorecard 2007.

Download a free pdf of the report
Tell a friend about the Scorecard

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 My Business in Vancouver column this week:

Leaders need to view sustainability as a policy of national defence
More than ever, politicians are confounded by the Gap. And I’m not talking jeans.
Between the outer edge of what is politically possible and the inner edge of what is necessary, that’s where you find the Expectations Gap.
Leaders, of course, have always been aware of the difference between what people say they want and what they’re prepared to do.  A good illustration was the Vancouver Sun poll on how British Columbians would personally respond to the challenge of climate change. Over three-quarters said they’d be prepared “to make significant changes in lifestyle”; less than half would pay an extra hundred dollars a year in income tax.
Because taxes are the sincerest form of commitment, few politicians want to be that sincere. But not much is left, after the lightbulbs have been changed, that would make a difference. Still, damn it, nature didn’t get the memo. And now that planetary systems are becoming less predictable, the Expectations Gap could narrow too, in unpredictable ways.

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George Monbiot asks the question in The Guardian that we should be asking about Gateway:

… it should be pretty obvious that more roads and more airports will mean that our rising use of transport fuel becomes hardwired – the future health of the economy will depend on it. So the government must have examined this question. If our economic lives depend on continued growth in the consumption of transport fuels, it must first have determined that such growth is possible. Mustn’t it?

Can you guess the answer?  Here.

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I’ve often wondered what sort of worldview comes from being raised on Vancouver Island. Thomas Homer-Dixon is its most thoughtful native at the moment, and he has an important piece in today’s Globe and Mail.
Here if you subscribe.

Prepare today for tomorrow’s breakdown

What causes societies to collapse, and are our modern societies at risk of collapse themselves? Many of us, today, have the intuition that things are out of control and that our societies could crash. We see headlines about extreme weather, impending oil shortages, avian flu and horrible terrorism in distant places. Some people, especially those of a religious disposition, even think we’re entering end times. Parallels with ancient Rome are common; images of doom abound in preaching and fiction.

Not cheery reading on a day like today.  But worth it.

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It’s taken awhile, but finally some in the media have made the connection between climate change and the Gateway Project.   Saturday, the Sun’s Suzuki issue.  Today, from the Globe and Mail ….

Campbell’s expansion plans at odds with going green

VANCOUVER — Only a few short months ago, he was the toast of tree huggers everywhere.
Gordon Campbell had pledged to do his bit to save the planet, and even British Columbia’s notoriously skeptical greenies felt compelled to raise a glass of carrot juice in his honour.
But that was February, this is May. Now some of the country’s leading voices on climate change are coming out against the Liberal Premier. The shift in wind direction has been astonishing.
Behind the mood change is the provincial government’s Pacific Gateway initiative. Under the $3-billion plan, highways in the Lower Mainland will be expanded and a bridge twinned to alleviate the worst traffic congestion in the country.

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