More Seeds of a One Planet Region

More Seeds of a One Planet Region

Dr. Trevor Hancock

11 February 2020

702 words

This is the third and last of my columns, at least for now, on some of the local Seeds of a One Planet Region. The third largest component of our ecological footprint consists of buildings, and almost two-thirds of that is the operating energy used for heating, cooling, ventilation, lighting, cooking and powering electronics. Most of the rest is the embodied energy in the materials used to construct the buildings. Our first strategy here must be to reduce energy requirements through energy conservation and increased efficiency.

It has been said that conservation and the improvement of energy efficiency is the largest single source of energy available to us, and it is an important focus of a number of government programs and private sector activities that support both home and other building energy efficiency and switching to more energy efficient vehicles.

The BC Sustainable Energy Association (BCSEA), founded in 2004, has an online information source and undertakes advocacy and education. It also has an online business directory with a listing of businesses that are “promoting sustainable energy solutions and supporting community-based action on climate change”; there are 23 listed for the Victoria region.

An important local Seed is the Victoria chapter of BCSEA. Its purpose is to “educate and advocate on issues related to energy use, the reduction of GHG [carbon] emissions, and solutions for transitioning to a non fossil-fuel economy”. They hold regular educational pub nights and have also started a Youth Involvement Project.

Their largest project is “to persuade all municipalities on southern Vancouver Island to commit to 100% Renewable Energy by 2050”, and they note this is ALL energy use, not just that used by the municipal government. Both Victoria (2016) and Saanich (2017) have already made that commitment.

The BC Energy Step Code should be an important part of that commitment. Unlike standard practice that seeks energy efficiency in multiple elements of a building individually, the Step Code looks at the building as a system. Builders are free to use any materials or construction methods they choose as long as they reach the standard, which encourages innovation. The Code started into effect in 2018 in Victoria, Oak Bay and North Saanich, and in Saanich and Central Saanich in 2020.

The final major component of the ecological footprint is ‘consumables’, the stuff we buy, and the waste that we generate. Over 40 percent of Saanich’s waste footprint is wood waste, textiles and rubber, with another one-third being paper. The aim here is to reduce the amount of stuff we acquire, especially the short-life or disposable stuff that ends up being disposed of.

The key is the 4 Rs – Reduce, Recycle, Re-use and Repair. First, we can buy less stuff altogether – do we really need all we buy or use? Avoiding disposable plastic and paper products will help, as will recycling paper and other products.

Among the promising seeds here are Habitat for Humanity’s three ReStores, which “accept and resell quality new and used building materials, as well as furniture, appliances and home accessories”. All they sell has been donated, and the profits support their work. Another way to reduce waste when it comes to clothes and household fittings and furnishings, is to buy from Goodwill, Value Village or similar stores.

We can also buy more environmentally-friendly and ethically produced clothing, an approach that is the focus of the Victoria Eco Fashion Week. It seeks to ensure that “clothing is made in a safe, clean and fair environment”. After debuting in 2019 it is back 23 – 25 April 2020.

Then there is the Zero Waste Emporium, a grocery store where you take your own container or borrow one of theirs, and the Repair Cafés. Fairfield has one, “a neighbourhood initiative that promotes repair as an alternative to tossing things out”. They have five more scheduled for Saturdays this year.

These are not the only seeds in town, these are just examples I know about, initiatives that are moving us towards a One Planet way of life. They alone are not the answer, but taken together, and with the many other examples out there for you to discover, these Seeds are helping move us in the right direction, which gives us hope.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

 

 

 

 

 

Seeds of a One Planet Region transportation system

Seeds of a One Planet Region transportation system

Dr. Trevor Hancock

4 February 2020

697 words

Last week I described some of the local Seeds working to create a One Planet Region in the second-largest part of our ecological footprint – transportation. About three-quarters of the transport footprint is due to private vehicle use, most of which uses fossil fuels. Thus we have seen a growing interest in electric vehicles (EVs), which not only avoid carbon dioxide emissions from the tailpipe but also reduce other vehicle-related air pollution.

This makes a lot of sense in BC, because our electricity source is 90 percent hydro, and makes even more sense if the vehicles are powered using renewable solar or wind power. However, it makes less sense in places like Alberta, where coal fuels half of electricity generation and natural gas about 40 percent. In that case, EV’s just move the source of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants to the even dirtier electricity generating stations.

There are many local groups that are working to make private vehicle use more environmentally friendly. These include the Victoria EV Club, which shares news, organises events and provides information and support. A November 2019 BC government report noted EV sales in BC are the highest per capita in North America and were higher still in this region, accounting for almost 10 percent of vehicles sold in the first nine months of 2019. In an interview with CTV news, Glenn Garry with the Victoria EV Club pointed out an important local benefit: “All the money you spend on [fuel for] your EV stays in British Columbia”.

Then there is Modo, which is a car-sharing co-op that operates in this region and the lower mainland. They report that “for every Modo, 9-13 private cars are removed from our streets” and that “using carshare services is shown to reduce greenhouse gas emissions between 30-50 percent”; all this while saving money for their members and paying a Living Wage to their staff.

However another recent innovation, ‘transportation network companies’ (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft, appears not to be the answer, at least in large cities. A September 2019 commentary by Transport and Environment (T&E), Europe’s leading clean transport campaign group, noted several studies from the US found “they are adding more cars to the road, increasing air pollution and CO2 emissions that cause global warming”. They may also be competing with public transit, resulting in fewer riders and more cars on the road; T&E also noted that Uber said in a share offer (IPO) document earlier this year that it views public transport as a competitor”. Overall, said Yoann Le Petit, T&E’s mobility officer, the TNC approach maybe a good business model “but it’s not working for society”.

However, while electric vehicles will lower carbon emissions and air pollution, they will not reduce the other main adverse impacts of private vehicles, which include injuries and lack of physical activity in addition to congestion and stress. Only better urban planning – creating more compact and mixed use communities where people can work near to where they live – and good public transportation will do that, coupled with support for active transportation and tele-commuting.

Thus other important Seeds of a One Planet Region in the mobility and transportation area are the organisations that are working to reduce the use of cars through support for active transportation, which means walking, biking, skate-boarding and public transit. These include the Greater Victoria Placemaking Network, which works to create “vibrant public places that promote health, happiness and well-being”; Walk On, Victoria, which is Greater Victoria’s pedestrian advocacy group; the Better Transit Alliance, which advocates for “a convenient, reliable, and affordable transit system” in Greater Victoria, and the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition.

This last group of course has been a key player in the creation of bike lanes, which in spite of all the grumbling in some quarters, are an important part of our future transportation system and should be welcomed as such. We should make walking and biking the top of the transportation hierarchy along with public transit, with cars as the lowest priority. That can’t be achieved overnight, but it makes sound environmental, health and economic sense, and we have the seeds of that approach in place.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

 

 

Local Seeds of a One Planet Region

Local Seeds of a One Planet Region

Dr. Trevor Hancock

28 January 2020

702 words

Last week I wrote about the ‘Seeds of a good Anthropocene’ project and what we might learn from it. This week, I begin to highlight some of our local ‘seeds’ – groups and organisations that are working to create a One Planet Region. This is our local version of a good Anthropocene where we use only our fair share of the Earth’s resources while improving health and wellbeing in a way that is socially just.

There are a great many groups in the community, NGO, private and public sectors doing good work. I can only provide an overview and will doubtless miss many, for which I apologise. I will begin with the categories of the Ecological Footprint (EF) for Saanich and Victoria, as estimated by Jennie Moore and Cora Hallsworth. In order of importance they are food, transport, buildings, and consumables and waste. But over the next couple of weeks I will also look at other key issues and at groups that are taking a comprehensive approach

Almost half the footprint is food, and much of that is due to our diet, which is high in meat, dairy, fish and eggs. Now I am not suggesting that we all go vegan or even vegetarian – I am neither – but we do need to move to a low-meat diet. Interestingly, that is pretty much the advice from Health Canada, whose new food guide – designed to be healthy – is strongly plant-based.

A good local resource is the Good Food Network, which is coordinated by the Capital Region Food and Agricultural Initiatives Roundtable (CRFAIR). Good Food means “good for the planet, good for the provider, and good for the health and wellbeing of all”. The Network connects diverse groups from across the food system – from farm to retail – that are working together towards a healthy and sustainable food system in our region. There are many people and organisations in the Network working to produce and sell a more plant-based, ecologically produced diet, and they deserve our thanks and support.

Another way in which the food system contributes to our ecological footprint is the incredible amount of waste in the system – one recent Canadian estimate is that on the path between field and the waste system as much as 60 percent of our food goes to waste! The CRD estimates about 18,000 tonnes of food waste from the Region goes to compost each year and that “avoidable food waste . . . makes up about 10% of our overall waste stream”.

So the CRD has joined the national ‘Love Food, Hate Waste’ campaign and is working to reduce food waste in the Region. We can all help the CRD by buying less food, which not only might save us a pile of money – astonishingly, the CRD estimates the value of food waste is “up to $1,100 worth of groceries per household” – but in this age of obesity might help us eat less, which would be good for our health.

The second largest contributor to the EF is transportation, with almost three-quarters of that due to private transportation. So the priority must be to avoid the need for travel in the first place, and an important part of that is to create somewhat more dense mixed-use communities where people can more easily carry out their daily activities locally by walking, biking and using good public transit.

An important local champion of this approach is Todd Litman. Not only is he the founder of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, whose research is used to support more sustainable transport planning in many parts of the world, but more recently he has established Cities for Everyone. This NGO points out “an inexpensive house is not really affordable if located in a sprawled, automobile-dependent area with high transportation costs”. Among other things their extensive Affordability Agenda champions affordable infill housing development and proposes that all neighbourhoods in the Region grow at 1.5 percent annually, the overall rate of population growth.

Next week, I will describe more local Seeds in transport, energy, buildings, consumables and waste, as well as organisations that are working on other One Planet issues such as water supply and quality, parks and nature access, and ecosystem protection and restoration.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020