Solstice a timely reminder of our place in the universe

Solstice a timely reminder of our place in the universe

Dr. Trevor Hancock

10 December 2018

702 words

I have never lost the sense of awe I experienced one night as a teenager as I lay down in a dark spot and really looked at the Milky Way. It was overwhelming and humbling to realize what a small part of the galaxy our own seemingly vast solar system is, and what a tiny part of all that I am. But it also gave me a strong sense of my connectedness to the universe, a sense that has never left me. I can get much the same sense of awe and connection by looking at the immensity of the ocean or a mountain, or the beauty of a butterfly or a flower.

But many people, perhaps most of us these days, have lost that connection – or at least experience it too infrequently. A vivid illustration of our loss of connection comes fron Los Angeles, where in 1994 an earthquake knocked out power. According to a subsequent report in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives “many anxious residents called local emergency centers to report seeing a strange ‘giant, silvery cloud’ in the dark sky. What they were really seeing—for the first time—was the Milky Way, long obliterated by the urban sky glow.”

Sadly, this loss of any awareness of the night sky is hardly surprising. The first World Atlas of the artificial night sky brightness tells us, “two-thirds of the U.S. population and more than one-half of the European population have already lost the ability to see the Milky Way with the naked eye”. But if we can’t see the stars, how do we know our connection to and place in the universe?

At a somewhat smaller scale, how many people realise that we are almost at the midwinter solstice? For that matter, how many pay attention to the midsummer solstice, the spring and fall equinoxes and the phases of the moon. But for most of our history, these have been of immense signficance to humans, helping to connect us with the great cycles of nature.

We often forget – or perhaps choose to ignore – that many of our various faith-based celebrations have been superimposed on these much older traditions. Christmas itself is about the birth of a child, the “light of the world”, just as the winter solstice marks the return of the sun and the birth of the new year, while Hanukkah is also a festival of the light. Indeed, the later Romans celebrated Sol Invictus, the birth of the invincible sun, on December 25th, thought to be grafted on to an older cult of the sun.

Many of the aspects of our modern celebration of Christmas – bringing green boughs and trees into the house, lighting fires and candles, hanging mistletoe – have their roots in pagan traditions such as Yule, and it seems fires and lights were an important part of the celebration of the winter solstice in many cultures.

Other celebrations are related to the lunar calendar; Easter and Passover are tied to the full moon around the time of the spring equinox, while Sukkot (a Jewish harvest festival) and the Christian tradition of harvest festivals are also around the time of the fall equinox. They are reminders that we were once deeply connected to the seasons and the Earth.

But too many people, indeed much of society, have lost touch with nature, which is part of the reason why we are in such environmental trouble. Yet while we may imagine that our technology and our cleverness have made us separate from – and even superior to – nature, that is far from the truth. We are as dependent upon nature as we ever were – it is still where all our food, water, air, fuels and materials come from.

If we could but experience that sense of wonder, awe and connection that our ancestors felt – and perhaps some of the fear too, for nature’s power remains immense – we might treat the Earth with more respect. So take a few moments this week to contemplate the turning of the year. Go out and look at the night sky, admire the ocean and the flowers, because we need more than ever to re-establish our connection with nature. Happy Solstice.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018

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Charity is big – but is that a good thing?

Charity is big – but is that a good thing?

Dr. Trevor Hancock

4 December 2018

699 words

A front-page article in the Business section of the Times Colonist (Nov 28) caught my eye: “Charitable sector generates $4 billion in economic impact”. The story was about a report from the Victoria Foundation and the University of Victoria on the economic and social impact of registered charitable organizations in the capital region.

The report estimates this level of economic activity translates into the equivalent of 63,000 full time jobs, which in turn support over $300 million in municipal taxes. The article also notes that this puts the impact of the charitable sector close to the $5.2 billion economic impact of the high-tech sector. So charity is big – but is it a good thing?

Now don’t get me wrong: I am not opposed to or seeking to undermine the charitable sector. I have worked in and with numerous NGOs and charities and have seen our work benefit from the funding and other support of numerous foundations. I have a lot of respect for charitable organizations, including the Victoria Foundation, which does great work.

Thus I strongly agree with their opening comment: “Civil society, also known as the charitable sector, is vital to both Canada’s economy and the well-being of its citizens. Indeed, each of us is regularly enriched by the work of civil society organizations, whether we recognize it or not”.

My concern is at a wider level: Is it really such a good idea that civil society shoulder the reponsibility of meeting people’s basic needs? In doing so, are we not enabling an abdication of responsibility by both our federal and provincial governments and by the business sector – especially large corporations – that avoid paying their fair share of the taxes that should support the meeting of basic needs for all?

This report comes hard on the heels of three recent reports that show how poorly we are doing in meeting basic needs. The annual report card on child poverty from First Call and SPARC BC finds that one in five children in BC live in poverty, which is the same as it was in 1996. New this year was a report from SPARC BC and the United Way of the Lower Mainland that found BC has the highest seniors’ poverty rate in Canada; 8 percent in BC compared to 6 per cent on average across Canada.

Meanwhile, a report from the BC Centre for Disease Control (BC CDC) found the average cost of a nutritionally adequate, balanced diet in 2017 for a family of four was $1,019 per month, or more than $12,000 annually. In an accompanying infographic, the BC CDC notes that this healthy diet would take 44 percent of the family’s income if they were on social assistance and 24 percent if both parents were earning minimum wage.

The infographic also notes “household food insecurity takes a major toll on our health and health care system”, with health care costs in food insecure households (who also are likely to be suffering other deprivations) twice as high as households that are food secure. Noting “the root cause of household food insecurity isn’t the price of food – it’s lack of income”, the BC CDC concludes “policies to improve household income are the most effective way to lower food insecurity”.

We should also conclude that such policies will address homelessness. Shelters, tent cities and trailer housing should not become normalised, any more than food banks and community meals. Instead, we need to raise the minimum wage and social assistance levels, both to restore humaneness and dignity, and to improve health.

So if business sincerely wants to help the poor and disadvantaged in society, there are two things they could do that would be more effective, and more fair (because all would contribute, not just those with a social conscience) than donating to charity.

First, pay a living wage, so people are not living in poverty. Second, they and the wealthiest members of society could stop avoiding their social responsibility by moving their money and profits off shore and othwerwise evading taxes. This would take the burden of meeting basic needs off the shoulders of charities, enabling them to focus on other ways to enrich life in our communities.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018

 

 

 

Don’t overlook the tobacco addiction epidemic

Don’t overlook the tobacco addiction epidemic

Dr. Trevor Hancock

28 November 2018

699 words

While the opioid overdose epidemic is a major focus of concern, it is worth recalling that it is not the most important cause of addiction-related deaths in Canada or even in BC, the epicentre of the opioids epidemic. There were almost 4,000 opioid-related deaths in Canada in 2017 but tobacco, which is also addictive, kills eleven times as many Canadians every year as opioids – yes, eleven times as many!

The latest data from Statstics Canada shows that in 2017 more than 16 percent of Canadians 12 and over – 5 million people – smoked. Smoking is more common in low-income populations; more than one in five low-income Canadians smoked, compared to less than one in ten of high-income people. Clearly we are still a long way from eliminating this scourge.

Shockingly, the most recent information on tobacco-related deaths available from Health Canada is from 2011, and is based on what is now 16 year-old data. In 2002, about 17% of the 230,00 deaths that year were due to smoking – more than 39,000 deaths. In the absence of any apparent Federal interest in the issue, it was left to the Conference Board of Canada to bring us up to date. In a 2017 report based on 2012 data, they estimated that smoking caused more than 45,000 deaths, more than 18 percent of all deaths.

In BC, the Vital Statistics Agency’s reported that in 2015 there were 6,582 deaths attributable to smoking. This compares to more than 1,400 unintentional ilicit overdose deaths in BC in 2017 and 742 in the first 6 months of 2018, according to the Coroners Service and the BC CDC.

So while I recognise that there are good reasons for the widespread concern with opioid addiction and deaths in Canada, we are largely ignoring what is still the largest cause of addiction-related deaths in Canada and BC – tobacco use. You can almost hear the sighs of relief in the executive offices of the tobacco industry as attention shifts away from their products, enabling them to go on making money while killing and sickening people.

In fact, there was a concerted attempt by the Harper government to undermine the tobacco control movement. In an opinion piece in the Montreal Gazette in May of this year, two of Canada’s most respected and distinguished tobacco control experts, Gar Mahood and Neil Collishaw, laid out the ravages of the Harper government and the inadequate response of the Trudeau government.

They note that “When the initial Federal Tobacco Control Strategy was launched in the early 2000s, it was promised funding of $100 million a year. Yet over time, governments cut this fund — to about $35 million in health spending last year”. In particular, they note that the grants and contributions program, which was an important source of funding for major tobacco control organisations, was cut from $22 million in 2006 to a paltry $2 million today, leading to “the major loss of valuable capacity and experience in the tobacco control movement”.

Regrettably, there is not much evidence that the Trudeau government is reversing that neglect. It is indicative of the way that pressure has been taken off this issue that Health Canada is still using data from 16 years ago, and Mahood and Collishaw commented that the “inadequate funding” and “timid language” in the government’s plans “seems to presage another pie-in-the-sky tobacco reduction program”.

Meanwhile, the tobacco industry continues to prey on people in Canada and around the world, still peddling a product that, as they well know, if used as intended will kill and sicken millions and cost nations billions of dollars in health costs. The World Health Organisation reports “tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year”, with 80 percent of the victims living in low and middle-income countries, where tobacco controls are weaker.

The tobacco industry is the world’s most successful drug pusher, and governments need to deal with it vigorously and harshly. We need a tobacco control effort commensurate with the scale of the harms this addictive substance causes, at least 10 times the share committed to prevention and control in the $231.4 million over five years that the Canadian government has committed to address the opioids epidemic.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018

Hold politicians accountable for ‘ignore-ance’

Hold politicians accountable for ‘ignore-ance’

Dr. Trevor Hancock

19 November 2018

700 words

In a 1997 book, Elizabeth Ellsworth defined ‘ignore-ance’ as “an active dynamic of negation, an active refusal of information”. In my view, the wilful ignoring of evidence by political leaders that results in harm to the public is unacceptable and they should not be allowed to get away with it.

Perhaps the greatest example these days is climate change denial, or at least, a failure to take the issue seriously and make public policy consistent with the enormity of the challenge. The recent spate of studies, including from the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change, makes it clear that we are not taking this problem anywhere near seriously enough.

But while it is all too easy to point to the views and actions of Donald Trump, or to the new President of Brazil, we have plenty of local examples closer to home. Justin Trudeau, for example, wants to bring in a carbon pricing measure to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions, but at the same time wants to push though the Trans-Mountain pipeline that will result in an increase in the climate-damaging extraction of oil from the Alberta tarsands.

Doug Ford, meanwhile, leads the opposition to carbon pricing from several provincial Premiers and the Federal leader of the Conservatives. And here in BC, while John Horgan opposes the Trans-Mountain pipeline, he embraces LNG, which will make it very hard for BC to reach its emission reduction targets.

In fact a study released last week in Nature Communications shows that if the whole world acts with the same nonchalance as Canada, China and Russia, we will have temperature increases of about 50C by the end of the century. This is well above the 20C upper limit target adopted by all the world’s nations in the Paris Accord.

Unfortunately, the price to be paid for these leaders’ ‘ignore-ance’ on climate change will not be paid by them but largely by poor and vulnerable people – some in Canada but mostly elsewhere around the world – who will lose their lives, or be injured or sickened, by the impacts of climate change.

A somewhat different aspect of political ignore-ance has just been confirmed here in BC, where the Ministry of Transportation has rolled back increases in speed limits that resulted in increased deaths and injuries. These increases were brought in by the previous Minister, Todd Stone, in spite of clear and consistent evidence and expert advice to the contrary from many different stakeholders.

As a recent article by two of my public health colleagues, Drs. John Carsley and Kay Teschke, in The Province pointed out, those opposed were “the RCMP, the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, RoadSafety B.C. from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General, the B.C. Ministry of Justice, Road Safety Unit, the B.C.A.A., the B.C. Truckers Association, the provincial health officer, all five regional chief medical health officers, emergency room physicians, trauma surgeons, and all B.C. road-safety researchers”.

The headline of their article says it all: “Turns out — duh! — that increasing speed limits didn’t increase highway safety”. In fact, studies show “more than twice as many deaths and serious injuries on roads with increased limits”.Sadly, as my colleagues point out, “this will not bring back those killed nor undo the wounds of those injured as a result of this fiasco”.

But why should the Minister reponsible for this appalling decision, made in the face of all the evidence and expert advice, be allowed to get away with it? What happened to accountability here? It seems to me the victims and their families might have a basis for a class action suit against the Minister, and I hope they initiate one.

On a larger scale, I think we are getting to the point where there may well be a case to be made that in continuing to ignore the evidence on climate change and instead promoting the fossil fuel industry, our political leaders may be guilty of a crime against humanity. In fact Professor Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University, suggested exactly this in an opinion piece on CNN’s website just last month.  It is time we held politicians accountable for their ignore-ance.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018

 

 

The environment should be front-page news

The environment should be front-page news

Dr. Trevor Hancock

12 November 2018

700 words

“Good evening. And now, here is the environment news”.Well, that is a daily news segment we won’t be coming across soon – although we should. But we do hear or see the business news on a daily basis, in fact many times a day.

What prompted this column was listening yet again to the endless stream of largely meaningless stock exchange numbers that comes with the morning news on CBC Radio, in the context of the very troubling reports on loss of vertebrate populations globally and in Canada that I discussed last week.

The FTSE went this way, we are told, the Nasdaq that way, copper up this much, gold down that much and so on. Who ever really listens to this, never mind knows what it really means? And tomorrow it will all be different. The daily fluctuations in the Dow Jones are not all that meaningful for most of us, most of the time. What really matters is change over time as well as dramatic changes; the rest is just background noise.

It’s not just the stock exchange numbers; I recall a time what there was no business news as a regular part of almost every news program. In fact, my recollection is that back in the 1970s there was a concerted effort from the business sector to make business part of the regular news broadcasts, as a way to heighten the awareness of the importance of business to Canadians.

But this also serves to distort our world view; business is made to seem important while other issues – such as the environment – are not. There is a separate daily business section in the Times Colonist and in most other newspapers, and for that matter a sports section, but no dedicated  daily environment section, nor are there environment news updates as part of the regular radio or TV news bulletins. Yes, we do get environment stories, but they are not covered systematically in the media and thus do not attain the same importance as do business or even sport.

Yet in the final analysis the environment is much more important to our overall wellbeing than the business sector. After all, the most fundamental determinants of our health – air, water, food, materials, fuels – all come from nature. To be sure, it is the business sector – and to some extent the public sector – that brings these resources to us, but they do not create them, they and we exploit what nature provides. But in the process, we collectively cause harm though pollution, over-harvesting, destabilising the climate and wiping out other species.

What we really need to know is how well the environment is doing, and whether we are harming or improving the environment. So what might a dedicated daily environment news section feature?

As with the business news, a combination of stories and indicators would be needed, covering a wide range of environmental issues, including climate change, resource use, pollution and loss of habitat and species, at scales ranging from the local to the global. There are many potential indicators, but we can only report on a few each day. As is the case with many business indicators, however, not many environmental indicators change in a meaningful way on a daily basis, leaving plenty of scope to cover some only every month, each quarter or even only once a year.

If I were designing an environmental section, I would want to include a mix of good news and bad news stories; not just what is going wrong, but stories of positive change from around the world that show that change is not only possible, but is actually happening.  Local relevance would also be important; not just what is happening on the other side of the world, but in our own backyard, such as examples of passive housing or local conservation efforts .

This is necessarily a very incomplete picture of what the environmental news would be. But the central point is this: If we don’t regularly measure and report on the state of the environment in a very public way, if we do not make it part of our daily conversations, we cannot manage  our interaction with the environment, and we will pay a high price for that ignorance.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018

 

 

 

We are making Earth spineless

We are making Earth spineless

Dr. Trevor Hancock

6 November 2018

702 words

Humans are primates, part of the great class of animals known as mammals. Mammals in turn are part of the vertebrate subphylum, along with birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians; animals with spines. As a species, we are nearing the end of a population explosion that has seen us grow from about 1.8 billion a century ago to 3.5 billion 50 years ago and 7.6 billion today; we are expected to peak at about 9 – 10 billion in a few decades.

Our domesticated species have undergone a similar growth. In a 2010 article Philip Thornton of the International Livestock Research Institute indicated that between 1960 and 2008 chicken numbers had increased about five-fold, goats nearly tripled, pigs more than doubled and cattle and buffalo numbers were up by about half. TheEconomist estimated in 2011 that the world has almost 19 billion chickens,  1.4 billion cattle and about 1 billion each of sheep and pigs.

But our expansion has come at a terrible price, as is made clear in the latest edition of the Living Planet Report from the WorldWide Fund for Nature (WWF); we are wiping out other vertbrates. Every two years, the WWF compiles the Living Planet Index (LPI), a count of  global wild vertebrate populations. This year the data comes from the monitoring over time of 16,704 populations of 4,005 different species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Note that these are not species extinctions (although that is happening too), but represents “the average change in population abundance”.

Between 1970 and 2014, there was “an overall decline of 60% in the population sizes of vertebrates . . . in other words, an average drop of well over half in less than 50 years”. But this decline was not equally distributed. In South and Central America and the Caribbean, the LPI has declined a staggering 89 percent, and there has been a 64 percent decline in the Indo-Pacific region.

There have also been “catastrophic declines in freshwater biodiversity”, with the LPI falling by 83 percent  – and 94 percent in South and Central America and the Caribbean. These ecosystems have been harmed by “habitat modification, fragmentation and destruction; invasive species; overfishing; pollution; forestry practices; disease; and climate change”, all factors that apply to our own ecosystems here in Canada.

WWF Canada produced its own Living Planet Report for Canada in 2017, and we have no room for complacency. The report was based on 3,689 populations of 903 monitored vertebrate species in Canada between 1970 and 2014. The good news is that for half the species, populations are either “stable or faring well”. But “half of our monitored species (451 of 903) are in decline. And of those, the index shows an average decline of 83 per cent”.

Overall, the report found a 43 percent decline in mammal populations, while “grassland birds suffered 69 per cent loss; reptile and amphibian populations dropped almost 34 per cent, and fish populations declined by 20 per cent”. And we are doing a lousy job of protecting species at-risk, despite the Species at Risk Act. The study looked at 64 species listed under the Act and found that between 2002, when the Act was passed, and 2014 “these populations declined, on average, by 28 per cent — with an average annual decline of 2.7 per cent”; this was higher than the rate of decline in those populations prior to the Act’s passage.

So why does this matter? Well, at a philosphical level, by what right are we destroying ecosystems and other species that have as much right to exist as we do? But in addition to these important philosophical objections, there are clear pragmatic reasons why humans should care. Because as the WWF report puts it, “Everything that has built modern human society is provided by nature and, increasingly, research demonstrates the natural world’s incalculable importance to our health, wealth, food and security”. Biodiversity, the report states. “is, simply, a prerequisite for our modern, prosperous human society to exist, and to continue to thrive”.

It is a catastrophic failing that our political and economic system does not understand or act on this; future generations will pay a heavy price for our neglect of this simple fact.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018

 

The Sidney Summit and the One Planet Region

The Sidney Summit and the One Planet Region

Dr. Trevor Hancock

30 October 2018

698 words

We may be at an important turning point, at least locally. We have just seen a municipal election in which many young, progressive, environmentally conscious candidates have been elected, forming a potential majority on such issues in Victoria and Saanich, which between them are half the population of the CRD. Whether formally endorsing it or not – and some of them were involved in creating it – they are likely to support many of the policy ideas found in the Common Vision Common Action solutions document, which is based on the principles of ecological and social justice.

Saanich in particular can and should set a new course, as one of five communities around the world selected to work with the UK-based organisation Bioregional to support the development by a variety of community stakeholders of One Planet Action Plans. Hopefully the new Council can swiftly move beyond a Climate Action Plan to officially proclaim a municipal goal to become a One Planet community in the next couple of decades. But it may not be alone.

The Sidney Summit on Habitat and Environment, to give it its full title, will be held on Saturday November 10that the Mary Winspear Centre (http://www.SidneySummit.ca). Like many such events, it is organised with the support of a large number of local people and organisations, ranging from local community associations and environmental groups to the business sector and local governments and politicians; for the record, I have not been involved in organising this event.

Focused on preserving, restoring and enhancing the natural habitat and environment of the Saanich Peninsula, the Summit has succeeded in attracting a stellar cast of local speakers – and all for the very modest price for participants of $25 for the day. Green Party MLA Adam Olsen and guests will open the summit, rooting it in a time when First Peoples were the only inhabitants of the Peninsula.

They will be followed by Elizabeth May MP, who will bring her own energy and passion for a sustainable and just future to the event, by Robert Bateman with his great artistic and personal commitment to the beauty of nature, and by CBC Quirks and Quarks host Bob MacDonald with a multi-media planetary journey.

But it’s not just local big-name speakers. A couple of the most interesting parts of the Summit actually occur before the event. First, local Conversations to discuss some of the issues have been happening at small community venues around the area during October. Second, on the day before the Summit, Parkland High School is hosting an interactive gathering called The Summit@School, with live broadcasting by Radio Sidney.

Local organisations involved in the Summit will make presentations and engage with students, whose habitat and environmental concerns will be captured in print, as video clips and radio interviews, to be shared the next day at the Mary Winspear Centre. Hopefully this will be the start – or perhaps the continuation – of the intergenerational collaboration we need; it is, after all, these young people’s future that will be discussed, a future that my generation and the generation after mine have jeopardised, and it is our problematic legacy that they will have to deal with.

Hopefully the Summit will recognise that its laudable goals cannot be achieved with our current economic and social approach, and that a new One Planet approach is needed there too. Finding how we can all live well within the physical and ecological constraints of this one small planet is THE challenge of the 21stcentury. We already have the Conversations for a One Planet Region I have been coordinating for the past 2 years. The Sidney Summit shows that similar concerns are being voiced across the region, and helps broaden and deepen this important conversation.

With our wealth of environmentally and socially conscious people and organisations, with a set of newly-minted local politicians who share those same concerns, with emerging businesses and social enterprises that want to do well while doing good, this region can be among the pioneers, certainly in North America, in addressing that challenge. Events like the Sidney Summit are to be applauded and celebrated for helping move us towards the goal of a One Planet Region.

© Trevor Hancock, 2018

 

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