Memo to John Horgan: Don’t blow it for the next generation

14 April 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

699 words

I was struck by the immense irony of John Horgan’s recent exhortation to young people not to blow it for the rest of us with respect to Covid. The irony, of course, is that he and his government are blowing it for the younger generation by continuing to treat the environment as a resource for industrial activity and failing to protect species at risk. In doing so, they jeopardise the future for the next generation in order to achieve their more immediate economic and political gains.

It seems I was not alone in seeing the irony. As I was preparing this column, I learned that the Dogwood Initiative will be releasing a response to Horgan from high school student and Dogwood staff member Nahira Gerster-Sim, making the same point. (By the time you read this, I imagine it will have been released.)

The issue was neatly summarised by Martyn Brown, former Chief of Staff to Liberal Premier Gordon Campbell and a member of the weekly political panel on CBC Radio’s ‘On the Island’. In the April 9th broadcast he described the NDP as “a labour government, not an environmental government”, and that when there is a clash between what he called ‘brown’ (industrial development) and green values, “the brown guys win”.

This is a fundamental point: From the perpective of nature, it doesn’t matter much whether it is free-enterprise capitalism, state capitalism or socialism, all are intent on exploiting nature for personal or collective profit and human wellbeing, and all put the environment second at best. The only real difference is the way in which the proceeds will be divided up across society, and the degree of ‘greenwash’ that will be applied.  

Which is why we need Green parties, because they are the only political grouping that recognises the total dependence of people on the well-functioning of the planet and promotes an economic and social system that can live within the means of the Earth.

The neglect of environmental concerns by the NDP government is apparent in many areas. Foremost is John Horgan’s disavowal of his own commitment to bring in a Species at Risk Act. While his 2017 Mandate Letter to his Environment Minister clearly states “Enact an endangered species law”, Susan Cox reported in The Narwhal in April 2019 that Horgan had told reporters “There’s no significant species at risk legislation on the docket for the foreseeable future here in B.C”.

Presumably he had realised that protecting caribou, orca, salmon, owls or old-growth forest – arguably an eco-zone at risk – would present a problem for the forestry, mining, fossil fuel and other industries that continue to plunder BC. So in the interests of profit before planet, the planned Act had to go. And there is no mention of it in this week’s Throne Speech, although there is a vague reference to  “build on the progress we have made recently – like . . . protecting wildlife and habitat”.  

In fact if the next generation are looking for an indication of the BC government’s neglect of their future, the Throne Speech is a good place to begin. While it may seem laudable, as the government states, to put people first, it is a problem for future generations if it means neglecting nature. People and the planet need to be dealt with together and with an eye to the long-term, which is why, at a time of transition and recovery, at a potential turning point, the government should have announced the creation of a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act and Commissioner, based on the Welsh model.

There is so much missing in the Throne Speech that I will have to return to it next week. But a clear and consistent picture emerges; the NDP government has little interest in protecting nature in BC if that means getting in the way of logging, mining or any other harmful resource extraction activity.

In failing to adequately protect and restore the forests, oceans and species that are the beating heart of BC, Horgan’s government is jeopardising the ecological and social wellbeing of future generations; he is blowing it for the young people he was so busy excoriating. No wonder they are ticked off.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

thancock@uvic.ca

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

Circling the new local economy

6 April 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

699 words

Becoming a One Planet region is a mammoth challenge, but one we have to meet unless we prefer to leave it to Mother Nature to do it for us (and to us). But that is not going to be pretty!

The key to becoming a One Planet Region is in principle very simple; use and consume a lot less stuff and energy – especially fossil fuels – and produce much less waste. Here in Victoria the Synergy Foundation’s Project Zero, which was featured in our March Conversation for a One Planet Region, puts it this way: “Our residents will own less, but live more fulfilling lives. Material goods will be shared, not stored. Our waste will be our greatest resource.”

Would that it were that easy. But we have a problem; our economic system, societal values and way of life are set up to do the exact opposite. More is better, bigger is better, faster is better. Obsolescence is planned in, repair is difficult, disposables are convenient.

One of the basic tenets of systems science is that every system is perfectly designed to achieve the results it gets. Our present system has been described by the UK-based Ellen McArthur Foundation as a linear economy based on a ‘take-make-waste extractive industrial model’. But while profitable in the short-term, it is perfectly designed to be very wasteful and inefficient and have a large ecological footprint.

Which is where the circular economy comes in. The Ellen McArthur Foundation describes such an economy as based on three principles: “Design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems”. All this is “underpinned by a transition to renewable energy sources”. Sadly, less than 10 percent of the global economy is circular today; the good news is there is lots of scope for expanding this approach.

The Synergy Foundation’s Project Zero identifies what are now the six ‘R’s needed to reduce pollution and waste: reduce consumption, reuse and repair products and redistribute, recondition and recycle them.

Their program, in partnership with the Vancity Credit Union as well as the City of Victoria, BC Hydro, the Victoria Foundation and Environment and Climate Change Canada, supports new small enterprises that are working to create a local circular economy. They anticipate this will create hundreds of jobs, with more products made and repaired locally and fewer goods arriving from off-Island, which will result in reduced emissions, packaging and waste.

The five-year program is based on an incubator model, with a small number of new business ideas and early start-ups selected each year. They receive free business development advice, including advice and training on creating a business plan and pitching their idea, learning entrepreneurial skills and connecting with mentors. This work is supported by guest experts from local colleges and universities and local business consultancies. 

So what sort of circular economy businesses are being created in the Greater Victoria Region? Well, in the 2019 cohort we find businesses that work to make home composting easier (Bin Breeze), convert waste cooking oils to biofuel (Ergo); sell donated art, office, & school supplies to support educational programs (Supply Victoria), create reusable and returnable coffee cups and takeout containers (The Nulla Project) and even design the world’s first eco-friendly glow stick by using bioluminescence (Nyoka).

The 2020 cohort includes businesses that repair and reuse materials such as outdoor gear (Basecamp Repairs), old sails (Salt Legacy), burlap coffee bags and hotel linens (Thread Lightly) and plastics (Flipside Plastics); create energy recovery systems (Polar Engineering), use ‘green’ cleaning products (Positively Clean), create economic opportunities for binners (The Diverters) and even offer solar-powered tours (Tesla Tours).

Government has an important role to play too. Locally, a much stronger commitment is needed to Zero Waste strategies such as recently adopted by the City of Victoria. The BC or federal governments need to ban single-use products wherever possible, legislate the right to repair and attack planned obsolescence.

The circular economy is just getting started, but has huge potential, as more than 90 percent of our economy is not yet circular. So support these businesses where you can, demand governments play their part, and stay tuned, there is much more still to come!

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

thancock@uvic.ca

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.

No, Victoria Council is not the devil incarnate

31 March 2021

Dr Trevor Hancock

698 words

As an internationally acknowledged expert on the creation of healthier cities and communities, I have been observing with both bemusement and concern the furor in this newspaper’s letters page over Victoria City Council’s actions on bike lanes, homelessness, affordable housing and the like.

Bemusement because it seems to me that in many ways what Council is trying to do is create a more sustainable, livable and healthy city in line with the best practices found in many European and some North American cities, emphasizing walking, biking and strong neighbourhoods.

I don’t hear many visitors to cities such as Copenhagen or Amsterdam – or the many livable cities like them in Europe that are more Victoria-sized – come away saying ‘what this place needs is more cars and parking’. For far too long, the automobile has been king in our cities, causing air and noise pollution, injuries and deaths, and contributing to inactivity and climate change; it is time it was dethroned.

Victoria Council is also trying with humaneness and compassion to deal with a perfect storm of homelessness, mental health and substance use problems, aggravated by Covid-19. But these are problems that were not created by the city in the first place, but by other levels of government over the past decades.

It was the provincial government that closed the mental health institutions and then failed to put in place adequate funding and support for community care, as retired social workers Joni Hockert (March 8th) and Gail Simpson (March 18th) pointed out in compassionate and outraged columns.

It was Health Canada and the medical profession that failed to protect Canadians from the pharmaceutical industry’s unethical marketing of opioids and the inappropriate prescribing by physicians, that led to the opioid crisis.

It was the federal and provincial governments who abandoned social housing in the 1990s and allowed minimum wages and social assistance to stagnate, leading to the crisis of unaffordable housing. And it was the courts that quite properly gave people the right to camp in the parks in the absence of other and better shelter.

My concern is that the criticism is getting out of hand, with a nasty edge to it. In the eyes of some, nothing that the Mayor and the majority of Council do is right, and the anger and vituperation heaped upon them is intemperate and excessive. Yet despite what letter writer Bob Beckwith wrote on March 26th, it is not the minority ruling the majority; I think he confuses the people who write angry letters to the Times Colonist – many of whom do not live in Victoria – with the voting public.

In the 2018 election Mayor Lisa Helps got 12,642 votes, 43 percent of the total, almost 4,000 votes more than her nearest rival, Stephen Hammond, of NewCouncil.ca. As to Council members, Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday topped the polls and three members of Together Victoria were also elected. Meanwhile, not one of the four NewCouncil.ca candidates was elected.

Moreover turnout was almost 45 percent of eligible voters, which is quite high for municipal elections; in this region, only Oak Bay (53.6 percent) and Sidney (48.4 percent) had higher turnouts, while Metchosin and North Saanich almost matched Victoria. The rest had turnouts ranging from 25 to 41 percent, while the nadir was Langford (18.5 percent) and Highlands, where the Mayor and Council were acclaimed without a vote. So if turnout is an indication of the legitimacy of an election, there has to be doubt about the legitimacy of many councils other than Victoria in this region.

Lawrie McFarlane wrote on March 21st that people need to “take back our city”. Take it back from whom? The people who care about sheltering those who are homeless, vulnerable and distressed? Who want to create more walkable, bikeable, livable communities? Who are trying to protect and restore the environment for future generations?

I may not agree with every decision Victoria Council has made, but I have never doubted that the Council is doing its best in challenging circumstances. People may not like the results of the election or the decisions made by Victoria Council, but it’s called democracy and its better than all the alternatives.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

thancock@uvic.ca

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a retired professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s School of Public Health and Social Policy.