Climate Change
February 11, 2019

Clouds of Change: An Oral History

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.

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In the current PriceTalks episode with Christine Boyle, we reference ‘Clouds of Change’ – the 1990 report and recommendations from what was maybe the first task force to address climate change at the municipal level.

Here it is:

 

As the councillor who initiated the process, I continue to be impressed by its prescience.  It helped change the way City Hall thought about the related issues of greenhouse gases, energy, transportation and land use.  It led to good things – like sustainability pioneering at the Olympic Village; it reinforced a lot of good things – cycling, energy conservation, recycling.

And while its targets for greenhouse-gas reductions were ambitious (and not achieved), it underestimated what can happen when there is global determination – like the targets for ozone-depleting-gas reduction (which were achieved.)

So conscious were we of the danger to the ozone layer that a related response was prioritized as recommendation #5.

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Now posted on the SFU City Program Resources and Historical Documents site: Clouds of Change, Volumes 1 and 2.

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As the years go by, this document – likely the first attempt by a municipality in North America to address climate change – takes on added signficance.  So the SFU City Program is making it more easily accessible – here.
[Disclosure: I was the Council liaison (and mover of the originating motion) to the Task Force.]
Also, this a good time to publish a recollection of the Task Force by Mike Brown, one of the members:

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The Clouds of Change report of the City of Vancouver Task Force on Climate Change was published in 1990.
I have participated in writing many reports over the years, but this was the best thing I ever did.
Not quite true: the best thing I did was teaming up with Bill Rees ( I don’t think he and I could ever decide whether this idea was his or mine, and it doesn’t matter) to promote the concept of a Task Force to City Council in the spring of 1989.  They gave us $40,000.    Momentous.   We were quite staggered (you can ask him!)
The people who made up the Task Force were passionate and cared about a subject that seemed current at the time but turns out to have been way ahead of public attention.   Migawd – the report even looks current today!

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I’ve found that the longer you’re out of office, the better memories are of your political career – as Daniel Fontaine’s column in 24 Hours nicely illustrates:

If you want to find a group of civic politicians and citizens committed to saving the planet from its human inhabitants, you need to go back more than two decades. Well before Robertson launched his greenest city brand, a group of Vancouver civic politicians were actually doing the real policy legwork.

Their efforts are well documented in a visionary report titled “The Clouds of Change” published in June 1990. Sadly, the document is now deeply buried on Vancouver’s archived website.

The report was authored by the city’s Task Force on Atmospheric Change and included 35 bold policy recommendations. The depth of its analysis was a stark contrast to the endless “green” photo ops spoon fed to us each week by the mayor’s office.

Former Non-Partisan Association city councillor and environmentalist Gordon Price played an instrumental role in drafting the report. When it came to greening Vancouver, Price helped his NPA colleagues go where no council had gone before.

Twenty-two years ago, the NPA’s vision for a greener city kick-started a series of policy initiatives to reduce Vancouver’s carbon footprint. It included everything from advocating for new mandatory vehicle emissions testing to providing transit passes for all university students.

Price and the NPA even supported the controversial idea of a “regional tax on carbon dioxide emissions to fund transportation initiatives and development of clean-burning fuels.” Does this all sound familiar?

Good for Daniel for (a) remembering the report, and (b) giving credit to the remarkable group of citizens who made up the task force:

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The group met throughout 1989 on Saturday mornings in the City Manager’s office, thinking through the issues of what is now known as climate change, engaging in a lively debate and coming up with a comprehensive set of recommendations – likely the first of any municipality in North America.

We were perhaps ahead of our time, and I doubt we anticipated the degree of denialism which continues to infect the highest levels of leadership.  But the report nonetheless established a policy framework and particular initiatives (notably a commitment to sustainability in southeast False Creek) that moved the city forward, faster than would have otherwise occurred.

You can see the documents (in a form that shows how they were amended from the task force’s original draft) here (vol 1) and here (vol 2).

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Part 7a (first of two sections) from a discussion guide, Density in a City of Neighbourhoods my perspective of a journey from the earliest years of land-abundant settlement to the towering glass city of 2012 – written for Carbon Talks at SFU.

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VANCOUVER’S GREENEST CITY GOALS

Density was increasingly being seen, at least by planners, as a way of achieving sustainability goals – to promote an energy-efficient, low carbon, bike- and transit-friendly urban form, with people close to jobs and services. By and large – at least for the central area – it seemed to work.  (Click chart below right to enlarge.)

Because of density, mix of uses and frequent transit, the City achieved some remarkable successes in transportation. Population and employment in Vancouver grew steadily between 1996 and 2011, but, counter-intuitively, the number of vehicles entering and leaving the city actually decreased by 5 percent over the same period.

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From Donna Passmore:

Twenty years ago today, the City of Vancouver released the Clouds of Change report.

 

  It was the culmination of a year and a half of meetings in a dank, airless meeting room at Vancouver City Hall, and some of the most exciting public hearings I’ve been involved in throughout my 25-year environmental career. I’ll never forget the elementary school children or having the likes of Larry Berg and Nancy Skinner fly up from California to present. 

The late Dr. David Bates’ appearance before our Task Force was a significant moment quite beyond the work we were doing, because it was the first time (thanks to the Shaw cable broadcast of the full proceedings) that the people of the region became aware of the research that David and his colleagues had been doing, and the concrete connections they had drawn between smog episodes and spikes in hospital visits.

I ran into Diana Colnett at a SmartGrowth event several years ago and she reminded me of the presentation we heard from this obscure startup company that was trying to market something called a hydrogen fuel cell — and how incredibly far both Ballard Power and the technology advanced from that seemingly inauspicious moment.   It took 15 years and a seemingly ungreen Stephen Harper to pick up our recommendation to give bus riders a tax break. I think Ian Moffatt, who presented the suggestion during the public hearings, must be very proud.   When a group of us got together four years ago around our 16th, it was pretty amazing to watch people of such diverse but significant achievement all point to the Clouds of Change as one of, if not THE, proudest accomplishment of our lives. Not without reason.

 

It was the world’s first municipal blueprint for responding to global warming, a concept that was very young and pure science fiction to many people. Mark Roseland and Diana Collnet were brilliant young grad students of Bill’s, and for both of them, the Clouds of Change experience was a career launchpad.

At the get together four years ago, Mark reminded us that it was this body of work that gave rise to the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) – which I think Vancouver’s David Cadman chairs. And ours is a body of work that Mark estimated at the time had been replicated or adapted by approximately 8,000 local governments around the world.

And thanks, Donna, for your ongoing commitment to the issues that were raised in a comprehensive way in this report.  I’d also add that it was Mark Roseland’s additonal recommentation to use the city lands at Southeast False Creek for an experiment in an energy-efficient community that led to the Olympic Village project – now one of the greenest communities in the world. Read more »

Coverage begins to pick up on the green theme.

First, the announcement that the Olympic Village was “awarded LEED Platinum certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Tuesday, certifying it as the greenest, most energy efficient and sustainable neighbourhood on Earth.”

Yup, on Earth.   “As far as we know there’s nowhere comparable in the world,” Gregor Robertson said.

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My latest Business in Vancouver column:

Nothing better illustrates how narrow the ideological differences are along the Vancouver political spectrum than the Greenest City Action Team (GCAT) report.

Established in February as an initiative of Mayor Gregor Robertson (with a kick-start by Coun. Andrea Reimer), it quickly recruited a who’s who of the sustainability community in Vancouver (disclosure: I’m one of the who’s). It was a list heavy with CEOs, directors and vice-presidents. And of course David Suzuki.

The goal: develop a 10-year action plan for addressing Vancouver’s environmental challenges, with targets for the next three years, that would fast-track Vancouver into becoming the world’s greenest city. And do it in five months.

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September 21, 2006

Back in 1989, in my second term on City Council, I vividly remember the week when James Hansen spoke before the U.S. Senate on climate change. Hansen, now Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, could speak with authority, and he did: global warming was real, it was happening, and for the sake of the planet and civilization, it was time to respond. Here was Science speaking to Power.

Even as a novice politician, I realized that regardless of the urgency, change would come slowly: our economy was based on fossil fuels, and we measured our prosperity by increasing the rate of consumption. But given, as the saying goes, that the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment, the public would accept the need for change if properly prepared.

City Council accepted my argument that we as a municipality should start that preparation, and established what became known as the Clouds of Change Task Force. I expected that within a decade, real change in attitude and behaviour would be evident.

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