Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for September 30th, 2008

Do we need two Missions?

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The CBC tonight had an investigative report on a development in Mission. Once again it features a well qualified professional civil servant being pushed out of his job because he insisted on doing his job properly.

Genstar  (those lovely people who brought you the hideous Mary Hill development) now want to wreck a unique ecosystem with yet another subdivision.  And as usual our provincial government is on the side of big business and in favour of wrecking what it likes to call “the best place on earth”.

Damien Gillis sent out the following this afternoon

Silverdale – Mission, BC: CBC exposé, plus my short documentary on the controversial plan to build what could be the largest urban sprawl development in Western Canada

Finally, this story is poised to catch fire, after smouldering for several years now beneath the forested canopy of Mission’s rural community of Silverdale.  A new CBC story exposes the battle between local residents driven to protect their quiet farming community and delicate ecosystem – home to important salmon habitat and diverse fish and wildlife – and one of North America’s largest developers, Genstar.  The Mission residents, working under the banner Citizens Against Urban Sprawl, are outraged at a massive development proposal by Genstar (some will recognize the name from Coquitlam’s Mary Hill monstrosity), which has been championed by Mission Council.   Essentially, they plan to clear-cut the top of the mountain to make way for up to 5,000 homes – plus more on a tiny, fragile island in the middle of Silvermere Lake, below – with no regard for what will happen to local drinking water, as longtime residents of the community are all on springs or wells.  It’s not just the environmental and social implications of the project that have raised alarms, but the undemocratic process by which the development is being pushed through.  Esteemed biologist Dr. Marvin Rosenau left the provincial government after being subjected to severe political pressure and interference for writing a report that decried the development for strong environmental reasons.

Watch my short documentary “Mission to Save Silverdale,” produced last year on the situation, featuring interviews with Dr. Rosenau and the local citizens persevering against great odds to protect their community and environment; also featuring aerial footage of the area and some tense scenes from a heated town hall meeting on the controversial project.  Go to and click on the video link to the right. running time: 12 min
To be clear: we do not have an economy that is somehow more important than the environment. The economy is a subsidiary of the environment. We depend for our continued existence and health on a functioning ecosystem. We have become the biggest threat to our own life. In Canada – and BC – we have have reduced environmental protection to a PR stunt. Our processes protect nothing if there is money to made by wrecking it. We have reverted to the philosophy of the first European settlers, who saw the New World as a limitless supply of resources that they could pillage just as comprehensively as they had the Old World.
It does not have to be this way. There are plenty of examples of systems which have managed to both have a high standard of living and a functioning ecosystem. But we continue to behave as though these processes could never be made to work here. Meanwhile the Swedes will be (fossil fuel) oil free in 20 years. The Danes have become world leaders in wind power, and have made Copenhagen a place where citizens want to be out of doors all year round. Norway, also a major oil producer, has manged to reduce its ghg emissions.
The legacy of Campbell and Harper is of a system which is totally unsustainable. That means if we continue this way, we go bust. And sooner rather than later. We need to be able to make decisions about development that are senbsible, and make the future better, and not worse than it is now. A process which assumes that any devevlopment can and should proceed, provided enough promises of mitigation are made is simply not worth having. The damage to our environment is all around us, plain to see anf far too great to be allowed to continue.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 30, 2008 at 7:44 pm

Vote for Climate

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Climate Crunch

Climate Crunch

It seems very clear to me that the real issue this federal election ought to be climate change. And clearly our current Prime Minister is not interested. He’ll do a soft shoe shuffle about his almost worthless proposals will actually be implemented and go after the last Liberal government’s shameful record. But really he is no better. So this website should help you make up you mind who to vote for.

I do not know if normally I would endorse strategic voting, but obviously if the progressive vote is split the Tories are back – and possibly with a majority. If I thought that Richmond East/Delta was winnable I would vote strategically. But it isn’t and the NDP candidate is an immature twit. And I am not going to vote Liberal after they broke every single red book promise I was suckered into. You must make up your own mind but maybe looking here will change your mind.

Or maybe you would prefer to read what Greenpeace has to say about it. Since they are not a charity they have not been muzzled by the Canada Revenue Agency.

“If you care for the environment and want action on global warming, don’t vote Conservative,” said Bruce Cox,
executive director of Greenpeace Canada

Written by Stephen Rees

September 30, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Can we change in time?

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I have found that the BCEN Landwatch list serve is an endless source of leads, discussions and debate about a wide variety of issues, some of which finds its way on here. As noted I spent part of Sunday at the BCEN conference, and naturally the most important issue cropped up there too. And it is not the rerun of the Wall Street crash, but the fact that human life on this planet is now seriously threatened by global warming. All of the former predictions were indeed wrong. It is all happening much faster than anticipated. We will now see an ice free North Pole in a matter of years – not the next century. The loss of the polar ice cap means less reflection of sunlight and more heat absorbed by the oceans. So the sea level rise and ice melt is speeding up and at the same time frozen methane in the deep ocean has begun to bubble up to the surface. And methane is twenty times more powerful a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.

Up until recently most of the discussion of greenhouse gas reduction has been in terms of what percentage of reduction is needed over some baseline year. But what scientists are now saying is that we have to look at the cumulative effect. Because the greenhouse gases once emitted tend to accumulate, because we have been busy destroying the natural processes that used to absorb CO2. So attention is now focused on what concentration in the atmosphere is “acceptable”. Or in other words, if we going to avoid a catastrophic warming (4 to 5 degrees C) and just get a mildly disastrous one ( 2 degrees C)  what concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere should we aim for and how fast do we need to move?

Bill Henderson kicked off this exchange, and, as so often is the case, when Pamela Zevitt responded I heard myself say “I wish I had written that”. So I asked her if I could reproduce it here. She insisted on rewriting it a bit (to make the context clearer) and I am including Bill’s original post too.

From: Bill Henderson

Sent: Saturday, September 27, 2008 1:44 PM
To: landwatch
Subject: [BCEN LW:] Fwd: [bcenvirowatch] Greenhouse gas emissions shock scientists, LAT, 20080927
“Most of the targets out there put us on track for [atmospheric  concentrations of carbon dioxide] of 700ppm, which equates to a  [temperature] rise of about four degrees,” said Bruce Duguid, head of  investor engagement at the Carbon Trust. “These targets are much  better than the business as usual scenarios that would result in  concentrations of 1,000ppm, but they are still nowhere near enough.”

I’ve spent the past couple of days writing an op-ed trying to tie the Church of Business guys responsible for the present financial meltdown to our failure over several decades to even begin emission-reduction. (Plus: It’s not just toxic securities – it’s melamine in milk, GM genes from who knows where in all our crops, cattle eating dead cattle, water in plastic bottles, chemicals in our kids gonads, etc., etc.)

I’ve also been reading HOT AIR by Simpson, Jaccard and Rivers, a good read on emission reduction politics in Canada. Funny thing though, even though this book is less than 2 years old there is no mention whatever of  the tipping point, abrupt climate change (CC), latent feedback, irreversible CC danger – these well meaning, very smart, very informed authors stay completely within gradual CC – temperature increase and local problems throughout Canada’s differing regions is the danger. Therefore their prescription is a gradual implementation of emissions mitigation with finance instruments which will not disturb business as usual (BAU). They even use the thin edge of the wedge metaphor – after dissing Stern in favour of Nordhaus. What you end up with is the BC CC mitigation program.

But surely by now Jaccard and Campbell as well as May, Layton, Dion and even Harper have moved to understanding CC as an immediate danger,  that we are close to going over a melting Arctic tipping point to a CC  that isn’t mitigatable and which promises to destroy our civilization. So why are we still arguing about $10 dollar carbon taxes and  pretending to make reductions were not going to as GHG emissions continue to rise, and not only in the developing world making products for us, but still in Canada too? How powerful is the BAU frame that our leaders self-edit about this most important emergency situation?

What sort of leadership is this? Are you content that the powers that be are aiming to stay under 700 ppm instead of 350 ppm?

To which Pamela responded

RE: Tax shifting and the immediacy of Climate Change action:

Lets not focus too much on why one piece of the solution puzzle doesn’t give us the action oriented answer we want.

Having had the opportunity to meet and discuss the issues of tax shifting with with Mark Jaccard one of the architects behind Climate Change and economic policy shifting in BC I would say that yes, I think he and others working on the issue understand the immanency and urgency of taking action. The problem is people keep fixating on tax shifting or other paradigms that are directed at affecting social behaviour change and then ask why those who suggest such solutions don’t seem to recognize we may not be able to wait for the “social marketplace” to sort things out. We see the world set to burn long before we see the positive outcomes of those shifts. But I see the work of Mark and others as being the best use of skills that can create essential analytical tools to model and predict change to social and human capital behaviour (whether some think it useful or not to do so).  Just as I as a conservation biologist and many of my colleagues work to influence land use policy or species legislation to force decision makers to stop putting humanity at the center of the universe. Mitigation while not necessarily the immediate action needed in some cases, is still a valuable if implicit means to raise alarm bells on how the complexities of earth’s systems are about to crash.  Those that choose to work at influencing policy choose to do so because it is an (albeit indirect) route that many politicians buy in to. I don’t chain myself to trees, even though I have very deep core beliefs about their value because I know it is not how I will be able to protect them most effectively.

I think every leader on the planet who has half a brain cell is a little troubled, some hopefully down right scared and certainly most must be aware of the worst case scenarios about climate change. But no matter how much we ask ourselves how it is that they don’t see what is happening, why they don’t have the necessary epiphany many of us have had and extinguish their apathy and sycophantic worship of the GDP, I don’t see them actually being the leaders of change. Globally, human society is stuck in a rut of growth, consumerism, waste and denial, and if that is what the masses demand then that is what the politicians provide (at least as far as mass societal gratification goes). As a biologist I have theories about why this is happening, even though it makes no sense for a species to behave this way. All I can say is that I think we are seeing a very bizarre result of several factors coming together including population growth, technology and cause and effect related to our abstraction and disconnectedness with the natural world. Topped off with a drive to maximize survival of the individual. Our intelligence while allowing us to flourish past normal checks and balances most other species deal with has put us out of synch and that has caused a whole lot of rippling feedbacks, and not good ones.

Still, if the pattern of our species ebb and flow on this planet has shown anything we are not necessarily beyond redemption (yet). We need to be working holistically from all fronts. Policy that hopes to change human consumption driven behaviour will be part of many potential solutions that will most likely include catastrophically painful sacrifices and a huge paradigm shift to a deep ecology based life. Regardless of whether we feel one course of action today to be ineffectual or inadequate to affect tomorrow, my feeling is that we will still most definitely be ‘hooped’ if our species cannot start to think collectively outside its myopic self gratifying monkey brain.

Pamela Zevit Coquitlam BC.

For what it is worth, Bill Rees has a somewhat similar conclusion. He is convinced we will come up with a solution. In fact he says there are two possible routes. The first one is an extension of what we are doing now – fighting for the resources (currently oil). The second one is that we in the developed world start a bargaining process which means we voluntarily surrender some of resources to India and China, but are smart enough to find ways to be more efficient that our fundamental needs and much of our desirable lifestyle is not lost, while they can the  catch up to us. But note that it starts with us setting a good example – not doing the current dance about we won’t cut until the Chinese do.

I hope he is right that we will not do the first – but obviously that means a change in political leadership. If the neoconservatives are re-elected here and in the US, I would expect the warlike stance to continue. Which is to say we continue to behave like chimps.

Written by Stephen Rees

September 30, 2008 at 7:00 am