What happened in Kamloops was part of a national crime

9 June 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

700 words

Some may find this column disturbing, as it is about the deaths of Indigenous people a century or more ago. Moreover, in quoting from a 1922 report, some of the words used then (e.g. Indians) are not acceptable today. But it is important to quote verbatim. I am grateful to Andrew Nikiforuk, by the way, whose June 2 article in The Tyee reminded me of this story.

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I cannot imagine what Indigenous people may have felt if they read a recent letter in the Times Colonist about the discovery of the unmarked graves of Indigenous children in Kamloops. As part of what seems to be an attempt to downplay the significance of the deaths, the writer stated “without knowing what killed the Aboriginal children in Kamloops, there is no reason to suspect there was criminal activity.” He is wrong, very wrong, as are others who may think like him.

There was a crime, indeed “a national crime”, and it was called that 99 years ago. In a 1922 booklet, ‘The Story of a National Crime’, Dr. Peter Bryce, Chief Medical Officer of the Immigration and Indian Department (as it was then called) from 1904 to 1921, described what had happened to the health of Indigenous people, including in the residential schools, as a “criminal disregard for the treaty pledges to guard the welfare” of Indigenous people. (His report is available online.)

But his reports were largely ignored by the government and he was compelled by his oath of office to not disclose what he knew. So not only was there a crime, it was covered up until Dr. Bryce retired in 1921 and felt free to speak out.

Each year from 1904 to 1914, Dr. Bryce states in his 1922 booklet, he“wrote an annual report on the health of the Indians, published in the Departmental report”. And with specific reference to the residential schools he noted “The annual medical reports from year to year made reference to the unsatisfactory health of the pupils”.

In 1907 he also made a “special inspection of thirty-five Indian schools in the three prairie provinces”. The report on this, he wrote, “was published separately (and) the recommendations contained in the report were never published and the public knows nothing of them”. This 1907 report found that in the 15 years of their existence “24 per cent of all the pupils which had been in the schools were known to be dead” (so probably an under-estimate), while in “one school on the File Hills reserve, which gave a complete return to date, 75 percent were dead at the end of the 16 years since the school opened”.

Then in 1909 he undertook a special investigation of 8 schools in the Calgary area, finding very high levels of TB in the schools and in the Indigenous population.  But, reports Dr. Bryce, “no action was taken by the Department to give effect to the recommendations made” by the 1909 and 1907 reports, and a letter he wrote to the Minister in 1911 complained that “I have not received a single communication with reference to carrying out the Suggestions of our [1909] report”.

Instead, in 1913 Duncan Scott, whom Dr. Bryce – in a 1911 letter to the Minister – had already accused of actively opposing any action on his reports, was made Deputy Minister of the Department, with predictable results. In June 1914 he wrote to Dr. Bryce putting a stop to his annual reports.

In fact, Dr. Bryce wrote in 1922, “from 1913 up to the time when Dr. W. A. Roche [who had been appointed Minister in 1913] was eliminated from the government in 1917 . . . the activities of the Chief Medical Inspector of the Indian Department, had in practice ceased”.

So yes, there was a crime, both in the “criminal disregard” of the obligations of the government to protect the health of Indigenous people, perhaps especially in the residential schools, but more generally. And part of that criminal disregard was the ignoring of Dr. Bryce’s reports and recommendations and the suppression both of the reports and the work of Dr. Bryce.

Facing this truth is one step in the process of reconciliation.

© 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.

Climate change, young people and the courts

(Published as ‘On climate, it’s short-term pain for long-term gain, backed by courts’)

Dr Trevor Hancock

1 June 2021

699 words

One of the biggest challenges in addressing climate change is that it’s a very slow-moving crisis. We need to take action now in order to avert problems many years, even decades into the future, but our system is biased against such action. Short-term pain for long-term gain has never been a popular message, and is not likely to get you re-elected, while the business cycle is too focused on the short-term bottom line. 

In the case of climate change, moreover, we are asking older adults in positions of power to make decisions that not only may adversely affect their situation here and now, but where the benefits will likely come after they are dead and will largely benefit people on the other side of the world.

However, this message resonates with younger people, since they will be alive when the adverse impacts on society of climate change, loss of biodiversity and other massive human-created ecological changes are felt. Which is why young people and NGOs around the world are taking their governments  – and in some cases, corporations – to court, where they are winning significant victories.

The situation was summarised by Chris Tollefson, a law professor at UVic and Executive Director of the Pacific Centre for Environmental Law and Litigation, speaking at the opening plenary of the Canadian Society for Ecological Economics in late May (you can also find much of this on the website of the US Climate Change Litigation database).

In 2019, the Dutch Supreme Court, in a case brought by the Urgenda Foundation and 900 Dutch citizens, upheld an earlier court ruling that the European Convention on Human Rights applied to the government’s actions on climate chgange. It found the government had a duty of care to protect the right to life and a responsibility to reduce emissions based on the science; specifically, a 25 percent reduction from 1990 levels by 2020.

More recently, reported Bill McKibben in The New Yorker,a Dutch court has ruled that Shell must markedly increase its planned cuts to emissions. Noting that “severe climate change has consequences for human rights, including the right to life”, a spokesperson for the court stated: “the court thinks that companies, among them Shell, have to respect those human rights” and that “the consequences of severe climate change are more important than Shell’s interests”. Powerful findings indeed!

In France, a case brought by four NGOs resulted in a ruling in 2021 that “France’s inaction has caused ecological damage from climate change” and that “France could be held responsible for failing to meet its own climate and carbon budget goals under EU and national law”.

In Germany, a case brought by youth argued that the reduction targets in the Federal Climate Protection Act were insufficient to protect their human rights. In April 2021 the federal Constitutional Court ruled in their favour, striking down parts of the Act. Of particular importance, the court found “one generation must not be allowed to consume large parts of the CO2 budget . . .  if this would at the same time leave future generations with a radical reduction burden”. In other words, future generations have rights today.

In Australia, a case brought by 8 school children argued that the Environment Minister had a “duty of care” and was legally obliged to consider potential harm to them in the future in deciding whether to allow a coal mining project to proceed. Australia’s ABC reported the Federal Court judge found climate change would have “catastrophic” and “startling” impacts on Australia’s children, the mine would increase that risk and a duty of care does exist.

Tollefson, who is counsel for the plaintiffs in the La Rose case here in Canada, summarised the reasons for these cases as “a response to democratic failure, an invitation for judicial oversight and an invitation to enhance the role of best available science in political discourse” – quite an indictment of our current system.

Even though the cases in Canada and the USA are hitting snags, these rulings hold out hope that young people, NGOs and the courts are able to hold governments and corporations responsible for the harms caused by their actions, or their failure to act.

© 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.

BC flunks international biodiversity targets

26 May 2021

Dr Trevor Hancock

702 words

Since last week’s column about BC’s sad new reputation as a hotspot for biodiversity loss, a troubling report – The BC Biodiversity Report Card – was released by the Wilderness Committee and Ecojustice.

For those unfamiliar with these organisations, Ecojustice is Canada’s largest environmental law charity, taking on public interest cases to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment for all, while the Wilderness Committee works to preserve wilderness, protect wildlife, defend parks, safeguard public resources and fight for a healthy climate. The report was also reviewed by Professor Sarah Otto, a distinguished zoologist and former Director of the Biodiversity Research Centre at the University of British Columbia, and Justina Ray of the Wildlife Conservation Society Canada

All of which is to say, I trust this report, which is a review of the extent to which the Aichi Targets have been met in BC. The Targets are a key part of the 2011-2020 Strategic Plan for Biodiversity, established under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) by the nations of the world in 2010. Not only is Canada a signatory, we host the CBD Secretariat in Montreal.

The Plan “required all governments to make measurable progress in conserving the planet’s wildlife and natural systems by the end of 2020”, notes the BC Report Card. It laid out 20 goals in five strategic areas, including mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society, reducing the direct pressures on biodiversity and promoting sustainable use, safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity, and enhancing the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services.

So how are we doing? The UN Environment Program’s 2020 report “Making Peace with Nature” is blunt: “None of the global goals for the protection of life on Earth have been fully met, including those in the strategic plan for biodiversity 2011–2020 and its Aichi biodiversity targets.” None, not one! Globally, only 6 of the 20 targets have been even partially met.

Here in BC, where we have “the richest biodiversity in Canada, but also the highest number of species at risk”, things are not any better. “Under Canada’s laws”, the BC Report Card notes, “British Columbia has primary responsibility for protecting biodiversity within the province, including most species, natural habitats, and landscapes”.

Sadly, Ecojustice and the Wilderness Committee gave BC a failing grade in 4 of the 5 areas they considered: Protection and recovery of both species at risk and ecosystems, the protection of natural habitats of all species and ecosystems and other laws to protect biodiversity. Only one area got better than an ‘F’, with BC attaining a ‘C-‘ by protecting 15.5 per cent of its land base (the Aichi target was 17 percent).

Among the major failures noted is the absence of a Species at Risk Act, making BC – with its rich but at-risk biodiversity  – “one of the few remaining provinces without a stand-alone law” to do this. Other failures include not protecting enough land to save most of B.C.’s wildlife and not reducing “the loss of all natural habitats by 50 per cent from 2010 levels”.

The failure to meet the 2017 commitment by John Horgan to enact a Species at Risk law is one of the outstanding betrayals of the BC environment by this government, along with their continued support for LNG fracking and their failure to protect old-growth forest. 

Indeed, the Fairy Creek blockade epitomizes the NDP’s failure. Right in the Premier’s own constituency, the RCMP are hauling people away for doing what the NDP is not doing; protecting old growth forests and the biodiversity they contain in the face of the determination by the forest-destruction industry to log as much old growth as they can, as quickly as they can.

In fact, the Wilderness Committee reported earlier this month, based on government data, that there had been a 43 per cent increase in approved old-growth cutblocks in the twelve months from April 30th 2020.

The BC Report Card states “we are in the midst of a biodiversity crisis on par with the climate crisis”. When will the government wake up to this crisis, stop the assault on BC’s biodiversity and introduce the strong, innovative biodiversity law recommended by the  Old-growth Strategic Review Panel?

© 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.

Once-proud BC is now a biodiversity loss hotspot

18 May 2021

Dr Trevor Hancock

701 words

There was a time when BC was “a global leader in fish, wildlife and habitat conservation”, stated Jesse Zeman of the BC Wildlife Federation in a May 10th press. But now it is “a landscape which can be characterized as at risk, endangered and extirpated”, he continued. (‘Extirpated’ refers to local extinction; a species may not be extinct overall, but has become extinct in a particular region where once it was found.) Moreover, this has happened in just one generation.

The press release announced the creation of the BC Fish, Wildlife, and Habitat Coalition, which brings together 25 organisations from widely differing sectors: Environmental and conservation organizations, hunting and angling guides, wildlife viewing, ecotourism, naturalists, hunters, anglers, and trappers.

What unites this somewhat disparate group is “the growing concern over the province’s failure – over successive governments – to adequately deal with a mounting crisis of biodiversity loss and cumulative impacts on ecosystem health”, stated Tim Burkhart of the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative.

It is nothing short of a tragedy that it has come to this. And how has this come to pass? Because successive governments have valued the economy over nature, and thus over the wellbeing of future generations, not to mention all the species with whom we share this still beautiful but scarred land. The examples are all around us and are coming thick and fast.

For example, a May 2021 study looked at the decline of caribou across Canada and found that it is “habitat alteration from forest cutting” that is at the root of this decline. The research shows the complexity of the ecological processes at play, a complexity that is too often ignored in the more simplistic decision-making used to justify economic benefit.

In this case, cutting down the forest leads to an increase in sunlight and a flourishing of deciduous understorey. That in turn favours moose and deer that do well on this food, which in turn leads to an increase in predators such as wolves – and the caribou suffer.

Its not just forestry that is to blame. A December 2020 report from the Corporate Mapping Project, jointly led by the University of Victoria, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Parkland Institute, notes “scientists have identified coal mining as a key driver of caribou extirpation” – specifically the Mountain caribou in northeastern BC. But the focus of this study is the absurd and false economic justification for the mining; the authors found that “approval of these mines was based on unreasonable benefit expectations . . .  little of the economic gain promised actually materializes, and the scant benefit that is generated arrives years later than promised.”

So not only are the caribou becoming locally extinct, but the supposed economic and social benefits that might – in some people’s minds – justify this ecological abuse, are missing. In the end it’s all for nothing; indeed “not only do the costs of mining activity in northeastern BC outweigh the benefits, but the public helped to fund extinction of caribou by subsidizing exploration and development.”

A third recent example comes from the BC Forest Practices Board, which  has just released its report of a three-year long investigation into forest management in the Nahmint Valley, near Port Alberni. This area was designated as “a special management zone in a high biodiversity landscape unit”, but the Board found that the responsible government agencies failed in their duty to protect biodiversity and old growth forest. Moreover, it found the legislation did not give the Compliance and Enforcement Branch the authority needed to investigate and take corrective action.

Tragically, these are just a microscossm of the appalling record of successive BC governments that have ignored the ethical and legal obligations to protect ‘super natural BC’ in order to extract maximum short term financial and political gain.

We all need to get behind the new BC Fish, Wildlife, and Habitat Coalition in their demand for “a commitment from the province to invest in healthy landscapes, waters, and fish and wildlife stewardship, in partnership with First Nations and communities”. And we must insist the government put a stop to inflated estimates of short-term economic gain that sacrifice the wellbeing of future generations and other species.

© 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.

We need a vaccine against Olympic and fossil fuel insanity

11 May 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

699 words

Two broad themes this week, both from recent headlines. The first is the insanity of the plans for the Olympic Games, and especially the unethical prioritization for Covid immunization of elite Olympic athletes over vulnerable people and essential workers in low income countries. The second is a couple of astonishing ideas from the fossil fuel industry and its political supporters in the USA.

What unites them is they both fit into the shake-your-head category of ‘they are doing what?’. Both reflect an inability or unwillingness to accept the new realities of – on the one hand – a pandemic and on the other hand, a climate crisis.

Let’s start with the Olympics. What is wrong with this sentence, from an article in the Times Colonist on Friday May 7th? “Pfizer and BioNTech are donating Covid-19 vaccine doses to inoculate athletes and officials preparing for the Tokyo Games.”  Well, where does one begin?

First – Games, what Games? They are holding the Olympic Games a couple of months from now, in the midst of a global pandemic? In a country with a vaccination rate of around 1 percent, according to another Times Colonist story the next day? A country that has just expanded its state of emergency to cover other regions and extended it until May 31st?

When the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) had to cancel his trip to Japan on Monday because of the surge in cases? When places such as India, Brazil and who knows where else are essentially out of control? Hello, IOC – wake up and face reality!

Second, they are donating these vaccines to the IOC. Donating? Why the heck should vaccines be donated? Does anyone know how rich the IOC is? Its own website says the revenue for the 4 year cycle of the last Olympiad from 2013 to 2016 (the Sochi Winter Games and the Rio games), was $5.7 billion. So they can afford to buy their own vaccines.

Anyway, if there are enough vaccines that Pfizer and BioNTech can donate them, I can think of a very long list of way more deserving recipients than a lot of fit young elite athletes. For starters, front line and essential workers in low income countries. Whatever else Olympic athletes may be, they are not essential workers. Where is the slightest scintilla of morality in all this?

Moreover, why is the Canadian Olympic Committee accepting this donation?  They may try to dress it up as not jumping the queue, not getting the vaccine ahead of vulnerable and essential workers, because they are donated vaccines, but that is tosh. My local supermarket staff – who are essential – were not getting the vaccine, so I resent Olympic athletes, and for that matter, all professional athletes, getting it before they do. What the COC should do is re-donate all its donated vaccines to essential workers and vulnerable people and cancel its participation in the Games.

Turning to my second theme, here are a couple of recent jaw-dropping headlines from The Guardian. “Wyoming stands up for coal with threat to sue states that refuse to buy it” (May 7th) and “Bill seeks to make Louisiana ‘fossil fuel sanctuary’ in bid against Biden’s climate plans” (May 9th)

Let’s think about that for a moment. In Wyoming, the state hopes to take “legal action against other states that opt to power themselves with clean energy such as solar and wind, in order to meet targets to tackle the climate crisis, rather than burn Wyoming’s coal”, while the Louisiana proposal would “ban local and state employees from enforcing federal laws and regulations that negatively impact petrochemical companies” – such as limits on air pollution.

I see endless possibilities here. Perhaps we could sue places that refused to take our old growth lumber or the last of our dwindlng salmon stocks. Maybe tobacco states could sue people who give up smoking, thus depriving them of revenue. Or we could establish a whaling sanctuary so we can get rid of those pesky salmon-eating orca.

Oh, and please don’t tell Alberta about Wyoming and Louisiana’s plans, we don’t need the insanity to spread up here. What we really need is a vaccine against such insanity.

© 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.

Active transportation is good for mental health

5 May 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

702 words

The physical health benefits of active transportation (walking, biking, public transit) are well known. Compared to cars, there are fewer emissions of carbon dioxide and various air pollutants per passenger mile, fewer accidents and more physical activity – I often joke that includes running for the bus. But less attention has been paid to the mental health impacts of transportation and the benefits of active transportation for mental and social wellbeing.

Some 35 years ago, when leading the Healthy City initiative for the City of Toronto, I gained a fascinating insight into the social role of public transportation. Former Mayor John Sewell, in discussing the TTC (Toronto’s public transit system), described it as “the great democratizer”.

His point was that because it was a well-run, extensive system, everyone used it: Young and old, rich and poor, black and white, male and female. And so you had to literally rub shoulders with ‘the other’ all the time. And he felt that helped people learn tolerance, learn how to get on with each other.

Ever since, I have always had an interest in the social implications of transportation. But two recent reports have re-awakened my interest in the mental health implications.

The first is a March 2021 report on the relationship between transport and mental health prepared for the NZ Transport Agency by a University of Auckland research team. The second – a March 2021 report on Urban Sanity – is from Todd Litman, a local expert who runs the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, although he seems to be far better known internationally than he is locally.

The findings are perhaps not too surprising. The NZ report finds that factors leading to increasing psychological distress in cities include “increased noise pollution and neighbourhood severance, and declining levels of active transport use resulting from a rise in private car use”. The term ‘neighbourhood severance’ refers to “a decline in social connection and social capital (feelings of trust and belonging within neighbourhoods) due to rising traffic volumes”.

The researchers also found that longer commutes, whether by private car or bus, especially in congested conditions, lead to increased commuter stress. Moreover “transport poverty and inaccessible environments” are likely to cause “psychological distress for low-income households and people living with disability”.

On the other hand, the transport system conditions that are essential for mental health are “Low-cost and accessible . . . systems that enable people to access essentials such as employment, medical care, food, and social support”. In addition, “high-quality walking (or wheeling) environments that provide opportunities for gentle exercise as well as social interaction in low-stress traffic conditions” are also good for mental health.

Key ways to improve urban mental health through transport policy, the researchers suggest, include “improving neighbourhood walkability, reducing long commutes, increasing active commuting, and reducing the cost and improving the comfort of public transport”.

Todd Litman’s report is on urban mental wellbeing in general, with only one small part of his report focused on transportation. The intent, he writes, is to help us understand how to create saner and happier cities. But he readily acknowledges it is not easy to understand this complex issue.

In part, that is because our understanding of what mental wellbeing is and how to measure it is less than perfect. It is also a challenging area of research, in part because mental and social wellbeing is largely subjective, and varies a great deal. What makes one person happy or stresses them out may not have much effect at all on someone else.

Nonetheless, when it comes to transportation, he concurs with the NZ report, adding that more walking in the neighbourhood adds to community safety because there are more ‘eyes on the street’, as Jane Jacobs put it. He also notes that a British study found “psychological wellbeing was significantly higher for active mode commuters than car or public transport users, and for longer duration commutes, particularly driving.”

Litman concludes: “Cities can increase mental health and happiness by improving walking and cycling conditions, and enhancing public transit services, particularly reducing the most uncomfortable conditions such as excessive crowding, heat, and harassment.”

Local politicians, transport systems designers, mental health professionals and the public should pay attention to these important ideas.

© 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.

Creating wellbeing: From the personal to the planetary

28 April 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

700 words

In 1948 the World Health Organisation defined health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing”; I find it a good and simple definition. One of its strengths is that it fully recognises both mental and social wellbeing, with the latter inevitably bringing in our relationships with others – our families, communities and society as a whole. However, I would make an important change by adding ‘environmental wellbeing’. 

One aspect of environmental wellbeing is having a healthy local environment – clean air, water and soil and a healthy built environment. The other aspect is ‘ecological wellbeing’, something that was not so apparent 70 years ago. But today, we recognise that our health is dependent ultimately on the well-functioning of the Earth’s natural systems: No health without planetary health, we might say.

And yet, that simple concept seems to elude most of our political and corporate elite, and millions of our fellow citizens. We act as if we can continue to exploit and pollute the Earth beyond its ability to withstand such harm, without consequence for us.

But I have been heartened in recent weeks by a number of examples showing a strong interest in health and wellbeing as a motivating and driving force for positive change. For example, I sit on the Planning Committee for the Atlantic Summer Institute, an annual summer school on PEI focused on the mental wellbeing of infants, children and youth. This year’s theme is ‘The Great Reconnect’, and is focused on how we help young people form strong connections with their families, each other, their schools and communities, and with nature.

I have also been involved in discussions about a number of local activities that all, at their roots, are about improving human and planetary wellbeing. One local group, brought together by Steve Woolrich of Rethink Urban (and an occasional fellow columnist) is discussing how to address community safety and wellbeing in an humane and compassionate way. Another group is looking at how to create more livable, sustainable and healthy urban environments through creating ‘gentle density’.

This concept, championed by Vancouver-based urban planner Brent Toderian, is about “density done well”. In a 2013 article he noted “Density isn’t just a downtown thing”, but that it includes “artfully adding to the inner city beyond the downtown, and building smarter suburbs that are more mixed, compact, walkable, and transit friendly”. His long list of benefits ends with “Improving public health, diversity, creativity, safety and vibrancy”.

Finally, this past week I was also able to participate in the online annual conference of the Planetary Health Alliance in Sao Paulo, Brazil. The Alliance grew out of the 2015 report of the Lancet-Rockefeller Commission on Planetary Health, which established this new field of work. Planetary health is understood by the Alliance as focused on characterizing the human health impacts of human-caused disruptions of Earth’s natural systems.” Given that, you might have expected a strong focus on science and data about health and ecology.

So you would perhaps have been surprised by the focus of the opening session, which was all about the values needed to take us to and through the Great Transition to a world “where all people thrive by protecting and regenerating Earth’s natural systems for generations to come”.

The keynote speaker was Robin Wall Kimmerer, a Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York and an Indigenous woman. She talked movingly about the wisdom of both Indigenous and scientific knowledge for achieving our shared goals, stressing that “sustainability is not about looking for ways to go on taking”, but that we need to listen to what the Earth asks of us.

She was followed by speakers on Indigenous values, Earth ethics, religion and the Buddhist-rooted Bhutanese concept of measuring and being guided by Gross National Happiness. Embedded in many of their presentations was the need for a value shift that leads us to reject the current economic system and move to a new wellbeing economy.

Ultimately, societies, governments, businesses and communities have to focus on wellbeing – why else would they exist? Happily, in many ways and places, the conversation is starting, the move to a focus on creating wellbeing is underway.

© 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

BC’s Throne Speech and budget fail future generations

21 April 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

699 words

The BC Budget, delivered two days before Earth Day, confirmed what the Throne Speech had already shown; the environment is very much an after-thought for the NDP government, tacked on at the end and lacking any real substance. Thus they fail to address the most important long-term issue we face; our excessive and unsustainable demands on the planet.

They just don’t get that we face a global ecological challenge and that young people need them to take strong action now. Nor do they get that the post-Covid recovery is an opportunity to bounce forward to a very different society and economy, one fit for the 21st century, one that will meet the needs of the coming generations.  

To be fair, the Throne Speech and budget both have a section – right at the end – about protecting the environment. The Speech says “Too often, economic growth in our province has come at the expense of the environment. That must change. We can no longer rely on simple resource extraction to generate wealth with no regard to long-term consequences.” And there is something similar in the Budget, noting  “our action on climate change will shape the world for generations to come.”

Fine sentiments, which I endorse. But as always, the devil is in the detail; how is that translated into policy and action? Let’s look at their action on climate change, since it is among the most important of the multiple ecological challenges we face.

The Throne Speech and budget both include a commitment to the CleanBC strategy and climate action. But they do not go far enough: The budget “expands clean transportation, builds more energy-efficient buildings, and works with industries to reduce their carbon footprint” – all good and useful. But at the same time, notes Jay Ritchlin of the David Suzuki Foundation, “the balanced budget hinges on massive amounts of liquid fracked gas coming online in 2025 – another huge climate miss.”

Indeed there is no hint that BC is a major producer and exporter of fossil fuels. You won’t find the words coal, oil, gas or LNG in either the Speech or the budget, nor any reference to winding down the fossil fuel industry in BC. Yet we know that most of the fossil fuel reserves we have, especially coal, need to stay in the ground if the world is to avoid a global climate disaster.

In fact a March 2020 report from the Corporate Mapping Project (CMP) – jointly led by the University of Victoria, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the Parkland Institute – notes the BC government shows “little willingness to contemplate a managed wind-down [of BC’s fossil fuel sector] so long as there are external buyers for BC resources.” So much for no longer relying on simple resource extraction to generate wealth with no regard to long-term consequences.

Regrettably, the BC Government “has become one of the most generous subsidizers of oil and gas in Canada”, according to a September 2020 report from StandEarth. Specifically, their report finds “BC pays out substantially more in fossil fuel subsidies than the province earns in oil and gas royalties.”

Even worse, a December 2020 report from CMP, examining three coal mines in northeastern BC, found that “not only do the costs of mining activity in northeastern BC outweigh the benefits, but the public helped to fund extinction of caribou by subsidizing exploration and development.”

The Throne Speech also touts the government’s new sectoral emission targets, while failing to mention that in spite of Horgan’s 2017 direction to tax them, according to Peter McCartney, the Wilderness Committee’s climate campaigner, writing in the Georgia Straight on April 1st, “B.C.’s largest emitters—fracking and logging companies—don’t have to pay the tax on much of their carbon emissions”

In short, the Horgan government fails future generations when it comes to climate change. Reliance on fracked gas and subsidies for fossil fuel extraction and export continue – even when the subsidies fail to have the projected economic benefit and in fact harm sensitive species and ecosystems; major sectors are partially exempt from the carbon tax, and there are no plans for a managed wind-down of the fossil fuel sector.

Not exactly climate leadership!

© 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.

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.