What about the right to live in a quiet community?

What about the right to live in a quiet community?

Dr. Trevor Hancock

23 October 2018

703 words

I recently went with friends for a meal at a downtown pub. We got a table on the streetside patio, where we found ourselves under two speakers blasting music onto the sidewalk, making conversation nearly impossible. When we asked them to turn the noise down so we could talk to each other, we were told they couldn’t, or only a bit, because management liked a loud vibe on the street.

Far too many businesses seem to have decided they have a right to create noise pollution not only in their stores, bars and restaurants but out on the street. But the street is a public space, so what right do they have to do this? Why, more to the point, does the municipal government permit it? Why is there a deafening silence on noise pollution?

It’s not only out on the street, it’s also inside those stores and restaurants – and in movie theatres, fitness classes and other recreational events where the noise levels are literally deafening. It’s increasingly hard to find a place where you can have a drink or a meal with family or friends and actually have a conversation with them, or go to a movie. I have lost count of the number of places I have walked out of because of the noise pollution; in effect, I am being excluded from those places by the noise. Add to that the reversing beepers and the boom box cars and life becomes unhealthily cacophonous.

Those of us who are veterans of the war against tobacco will find a resonance here. There was a time when it was fine to smoke everywhere – at work, in restaurants, bars and movie theatres, even on planes – and we non-smokers were effectively excluded from being there. But the growing evidence of the health effects of second-hand smoke on non-smokers spurred creation of the non-smokers rights movement. Your right to smoke, it was argued, stops at my nose.

Well, maybe it is time to recognise that your right to make noise stops at my ear. In fact, some anti-noise (or more positively, pro-quiet) activists have adopted the concept of second-hand noise.  A 2005 article in Environmental Health Perspectives quoted Les Blomberg, then executive director of the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse: “Secondhand noise is really a civil rights issue . . . like secondhand smoke, it’s put into the environment without people’s consent and then has effects on them that they don’t have any control over.”

So far we have framed noise largely as a physical hazard that can damage hearing. But noise can also cause stress, annoyance and sleep disturbance and in addition there are the social effects.I would argue that any noise that is loud enough to stop two or more people having a conversation in a place where it is reasonable to do so is harmful and should be banned. Surely we have the right to a quiet community where we can have a quiet meal and a conversation – or sit out on the street, or in the park, or in the garden – without being driven away or indoors by noise.

If these and other problems with noise are of concern, you may want to come to a free public forum I have organised on Creating Quieter Communities on Wednesday 7thNovember, 7 – 9 PM in the main lecture theatre in the Human and Social Development building (HSD A240) at UVic. The event takes advantage of the presence in town of the Canadian and American Acoustical Societies for a conference. One of the attendees – and our leading speaker – is Professor Antonella Radicchi from Germany.

Dr. Radicchi’s expertise encompasses urban design and planning for health and well-being, soundscape research, quiet areas, and citizen science mobile toolssuch as the Hush City app, and she is editing a special section of the journal Cities and Health on ‘Sound and the Healthy City’. The Hush City app displays the worldwide map of the quiet areas crowdsourced by the app’s users; expect to see that app and other useful tools demonstrated at this event.  Her ultimate goal is to make our cities quieter and healthier places to live, something we all need and indeed should have a right to.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018


Political heads stuck in the (tar)sand

Political heads stuck in the (tar)sand

Dr. Trevor Hancock

2 October 2018

699 words

Two weeks ago, I wrote about successive Canadian governments systematically ignoring for the past 45 years the evidence that poverty and other social, economic and environmental factors were much more important determinants of the health of Canadians than health care. As a result, we have more ill health and premature death than would have been the case if they had paid attention to and acted upon the evidence. I think this was largely due to the fact that taking the issue seriously would have been way too threatening to neoliberalism and the laissez faire capitalism it has spawned.

Now I turn to a second major threat to the health of Canadians – and people around the world – that governments are systematically ignoring because to take it seriously would mean questioniog our entire way of life and economic system: Climate change. While we may not have active denial by Canadian political leaders that humans are having a significant impact on the Earth’s climate (unlike Donald Trump and those around and behind him), we do have a signficant failure to recognise and take seriously the potential – and increasingly likely – severe adverse impacts of climate change on our wellbeing and our entire society.

In recent weeks we have seen several reports highlighting the likelihood that our current path is much more dangerous than we have assumed. The National Centre for Climate Restoration in Australia, an independent think tank, issued a report on the scientific approach to assessing climate change risk. The lead author is a former senior executive in the fossil fuel industry. The report suggests we are seriously underestimating the risk of climate change because of a combination of “scientific reticence – a reluctance to spell out the full risk implications of climate science in the absence of perfect information” and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s tendency to “least drama” conservative projections as it seeks consensus among all its member scientists and countries.

Also in August, an article from some of the leading experts on global ecological change based largely out of the Stockholm Resilience Centre reached a worrying conclusion: “Our analysis suggests that the Earth System may be approaching a planetary threshold that could lock in a continuing rapid pathway toward much hotter conditionsHothouse Earth . . . a pathway that could not be reversed, steered, or substantially slowed”. They suggested the threshold could be “within the range of the Paris Accord temperature targets” and that Hothouse Earth’s impacts on “human societies would likely be massive, sometimes abrupt, and undoubtedly disruptive”.

Then there is a July 2018 paper from Professor Jem Bendell, Director of the Institute of Leadership and Sustainability at the UK’s University of Cumbria. With 25 years of experience in sustainability management, he has concluded that climate change cannot be averted and that we face “an inevitable near term social collapse due to climate change”.

In his foreword to the Australian report Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, a noted German climate scientist, ominously concludes “climate change is now reaching the end-game, where very soon humanity must choose between taking unprecedented action, or accepting that it has been left too late and bear the consequences.”

These and other dire warnings are beginning to mount, and you would think we would take them seriously. But the current energy policy priorities of the Canadian, Alberta and BC governments ignore them. Instead of doing all they can to move us away from fossil fuels, they are committed to expanding production and export of the Alberta tarsands through the Trudeau-Morneau pipeline and creating a large LNG industry in BC, thus further increasing Canada’s contribution to global climate change.

The prudent thing today right now is to stop expanding production of fossil fuels and switch as rapidly as possible to a policy of energy conservation and a zero-carbon economy. This is also economically prudent, because fossil fuels could well become ‘stranded assets’ – resources that can’t be extracted and burned, and therefore are worth very little, while a zero-carbon energy system will create many new jobs. Common sense advice when you are in a hole is to stop digging! But it seems nobody is listening, they have their heads stuck deep in the tarsands.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018


One Planet Questions for Candidates

One Planet Questions for Candidates

Dr. Trevor Hancock

24 September 2018

699 words

During the 1993 election that led to her ouster, Prime Minister Kim Campbell reportedly commented that “an election is no time to discuss serious issues” – although she disputes that that is what she said or meant. Be that as it may, it seems to me an election is exactly the right time to discuss serious issues.

So as the October 20thmunicipal elections loom, I suggest we should be asking all candidates about a very serious issue – in fact, in my view, the most serious challenge we face in the 21stcentury, both globally and locally: How do we make the changes that move us towards being a One Planet Region?

By that, I mean a region with an ecological footprint per person equivalent to one planet’s worth of biocapacity and resources – our fair share – while maintaining a high quality of life and a high level of human and social development and wellbeing for all. No mean feat, when you consider this means a 70 – 80 percent reduction in our footprint, but essential if we are to enable the coming generations to enjoy anything like the quality of life we enjoy.

As I have noted before, Dr. Jennie Moore at BCIT, working with Cora Hallsworth in Victoria, recently estimated the ecological footprint of Victoria and Saanich and found it is about 2 – 3 planet’s worth, which is probably true of the region as a whole. Clearly this cannot continue for very much longer.So my overall question would be “What are your plans to reduce our ecological footprint, and how will you do so in a way that maintains a good quality of life for all?”

That is a pretty broad question, but it’s a place to start. When Moore and Hallsworth measured our footprint, they found the largest components were food production and consumption, our  transportation system and the energy we use for heating, cooling and electrical supply in our buildings. So I asked local experts in these three areas what they would want to ask our candidates across the Greater Victoria region.

Our food consumption is responsible for about half of our footprint, so I turned to Linda Geggie, who is with the Good Food Network and is the Executive Director of the Capital Region Food and Agriculture Initiatives Roundtable. Her question is rooted in the fact that each of the municipalities has a food sustainability policy of some sort, while the Capital Regional District recently adopted a regional food and agriculture strategy. She asks: “If elected, what will you do to create more healthy, equitable and sustainable food systems in your municipality and in the region?”

Given that almost three-quarters of our food footprint is due to our consumption of animal products (fish, eggs and dairy and – especially – meat), I would also want  to know how candidates think municipalities can support the shift to a low-meat diet, perhaps though their purchasing policies.

Just over a quarter of our footprint is due to transportation, with about two-thirds of that attributable to private vehicle use. So I asked Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute what he would ask and he said “What will you do to ensure anyone that wants to, regardless of income or ability, should be able to find suitable housing in a walkable neighbourhood?” This is because solid research indicates that people living in such neighbourhoods spend less money on transportation and are more active and healthier – and in addition, our ecological footprint will be markedly reduced.

The third major component of our footprint, about one-sixth, is the energy we use for operating our buildings. For a question on this topic I sought out Tom Hackney, Policy Advisor for the BC Sustainable Energy Association. He would ask candidates “whether they agree it should be a priority to achieve a zero greenhouse gas emissions standard for buildings, and if so, what steps would they take in the next four years to further that goal for both existing and new buildings?”

These are broad, wide-ranging questions, but given the significance of the challenges we face, they are the sort of issues we should expect our future municipal leaders to be paying attention to.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018