Indigenous people and the stewardship of nature

12 January 2021

Dr. Trevor Hancock

700 words

As noted last week, the 2019 Human Development Report – which was focused on inequalities in the Human Development Index (HDI) – did not look at an inequality that is particularly important in Canada: The HDI of Indigenous people. Happily, Indigenous Services Canada has done this, at the request of the Assembly of First Nations – although only for “Registered Indians”, which misses Inuit and Métis people. 

Shockingly, the report notes that while Canada ranked 12th on the HDI internationally in 2016, the Registered Indian population as a whole would have ranked 52nd out of 189 countries (the same as Bulgaria, Montenegro and Romania that year), while the on-reserve population ranked 78th, the same as Grenada and about the same as Thailand, Brazil or Colombia. 

So it is more than a bit ironic that in his December 2nd 2020 speech on the state of the planet, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres discussed the important role of Indigenous people in protecting nature and helping us move towards a healthy, just and sustainable future.

He noted that “Indigenous peoples make up less than 6 per cent of the world’s population yet are stewards of 80 per cent of the world’s biodiversity on land”. Moreover “we know that nature managed by indigenous peoples is declining less rapidly than elsewhere”, even though their land “is among the most vulnerable to climate change and environmental degradation”. We need, he said to “heed their voices, reward their knowledge and respect their rights”.

His words were in part inspired, it seems, by the 2020 Human Development Report, which focuses on the Anthropocene and discusses the important contribution of Indigenous people to achieving sustainable development. A section in the report on Indigenous peoples as shapers and defenders of nature, for example, refers to their contributions through agroforestry, protection of coastal ecosystems and sustainable land use management.But the report also addresses issues of the rights of Indigenous people, including their right to land, and the importance of Indigenous knowledge about land management and our relationship with nature.

Indigenous knowledge, which Mr. Guterres noted has been “distilled over millennia of close and direct contact with nature”, is receiving increasing attention. It is also emphasized in the 2019 report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (the ecosystems equivalent of the better known Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and recognized in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People, which was recently passed into law in BC.

Here in BC we are learning from First Nations about clam gardens and other marine management practices, while there is growing interest in learning how Indigenous people in the Americas used fire in managing their lands.  More broadly, the 2020 HDR emphasises that “indigenous peoples’ knowledge systems reflect sophisticated governance practices that advance human wellbeing while maintaining bi­ocultural diversity”.

But perhaps the most important thing to learn from Indigenous people is to be found in an entire section of the 2020 HDR devoted to instilling a sense of stewardship of nature. “Recognizing our humanity as part of a larger net­work of connections that include all living things”, the report notes, is an important part of many philosophical and religious traditions. For many Indigenous peoples, it adds, “wellbeing and devel­opment begin where our lives with each other and with the natural environment meet”.

For me, this was beautifully summed up in “Waiora: The Indigenous Peoples’ Statement for Planetary Health and Sustainable Development”, which resulted from a global conference on health promotion held in Aotearoa New Zealand in 2019. Strongly influenced by Maori traditions (‘Waiora’ being a Maori word for health that is derived from the words for water and life), the statement noted:

“Core features of Indigenous worldviews are the interactive relationship between spiritual and material realms, intergenerational and collective orientations, that Mother Earth is a living being – a ‘person’ with whom we have special relationships that are a foundation for identity, and the interconnectedness and interdependence between all that exists, which locates humanity as part of Mother Earth’s ecosystems alongside our relations in the natural world.”

This is the worldview we need if we are to achieve high levels of human development while remaining within the Earth’s ecological limits.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

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

Human development as if the planet mattered

(Published as ‘Canada’s heavy ecological footprint hurts its human-development ranking’)

Dr. Trevor Hancock

6 January 2021

699 words

Last week I quoted from the December 2nd speech by Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary General, on the state of the planet. It made for grim reading, but it is the reality we need to face. But Mr Guterres did not end on a pessimistic note; instead he pointed to many indications of opportunity and hope. He concluded: “We cannot go back to the old normal of inequality, injustice and heedless dominion over the Earth. Instead we must step towards a safer, more sustainable and equitable path. . . . Now is the time to transform humankind’s relationship with the natural world – and with each other”.

One recent UN report helps us chart this new course, in part by addressing one of the challenges Mr. Guterres noted: “More and more people are recognizing the limits of conventional yardsticks such as Gross Domestic Product, in which environmentally damaging activities count as economic positives”.

The UN Development Programs’s Human Development Report began in 1990 “precisely as a counterpoint to myopic definitions of development”, as the 2020 report puts it. Specifically it offers the Human Development Index (HDI) as an alternative to the GDP, one grounded in human rather than economic development, reminding us that “economic growth is more means than end”. Human de­velopment, says the 2020 report, “is about empowering people to identify and pursue their own paths for a meaningful life, one anchored in expanding freedoms.”

The HDI has 3 main components: education, health and income per person. The first two represent basic capabilities that are key to people enjoying a high level of human development, while the income component is intended to reflect “command over resources to enjoy a decent standard of living” by acquiring other key requirements such as shelter and food.

The income component of the HDI has been particularly problematic from a sustainable development perspective.  Having more income is very important in low-income countries, where a bit more income can ‘buy’ a lot more human development, both at a personal level and in terms of the country being able to afford universal education and basic health care and meet other basic needs. But that is not the case in high income countries, where having more income not only may not increase human development much but – because they have high ecological footprints – may actually harm human development by increasing ecological harm.

Over time the HDI has been revised to include measurements of inequality and gender disparity, and indeed the 2019 report focused on inequalities in the HDI.  Troublingly, perhaps because it is focused on nation states, the report did not look at an inequality that is particularly important in Canada: The HDI of Indigenous people. This – and the important role of Indigenous people in protecting nature around the world – are issues I will return to in my next column.

But I want to focus on the 2020 Human Development Report, entitled “Human development and the Anthropocene”. Not only are we “destabilizing the planetary systems we rely on for survival”, the report notes, but the combination of social strains due to inequality and the strain on our planet “reinforce each other, amplifying the challenges”.

For the first time, the HDI is adjusted for ‘planetary pressures’ – the impact that countries make on Earth’s biocapacity and resources. Specifically, the Index is adjusted to take into account both a country’s carbon emissions and ‘material footprint’ per person, the latter reflecting the use of materials (biomass, fossil fuels, metal ores and non-metal ores) for domestic consumption. 

So where is Canada on this scale? Well, in 2019 we ranked 16th in the world for the HDI. But once our HDI is adjusted for the planetary pressures we create, it declines 22 percent and we fall to 56th place, which is a poor performance compared to most of the 66 countries in the ‘Very high HDI’ group. While a bit better than the USA and quite a bit better than Australia, we are way behind the countries of Western Europe, which with New Zealand occupy the top ten positions.

The challenge we face is to become a ‘One Planet country’, with a high HDI and a low ecological footprint – and soon.

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

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

“Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century” – UN Secretary General

29 December 2020

Dr Trevor Hancock

697 words

(Published as ‘To heal the planet, we need to embrace solutions that are already here’)

On 2nd December 2020 the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, gave an important if somewhat overlooked speech on “The State of the Planet” at Columbia University’s World Leaders Forum. Mr Guterres was blunt: “To put it simply, the state of the planet is broken”, he said; “humanity is waging war on nature” – and that “is suicidal”.

It’s worth quoting in full the litany of problems he laid out, because this is THE challenge we face throughout the 21st century, and especially in the 2020s: “Biodiversity is collapsing. One million species are at risk of extinction. Ecosystems are disappearing before our eyes. Deserts are spreading. Wetlands are being lost. Every year, we lose 10 million hectares of forests. Oceans are overfished — and choking with plastic waste. The carbon dioxide they absorb is acidifying the seas. Coral reefs are bleached and dying. Air and water pollution are killing 9 million people annually – more than six times the current toll of the pandemic. And with people and livestock encroaching further into animal habitats and disrupting wild spaces, we could see more viruses and other disease-causing agents jump from animals to humans.”

Mr. Guterres then turned his attention specifically to climate change, noting “two new authoritative reports from the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme [that] spell out how close we are to climate catastrophe. . . . The past decade was the hottest in human history. Ocean heat is at record levels. . . . Arctic sea ice in October was the lowest on record – and now re-freezing has been the slowest on record. Greenland ice has continued its long-term decline, . . . Permafrost is melting and so releasing methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Apocalyptic fires and floods, cyclones and hurricanes are increasingly the new normal. . . . carbon dioxide levels are still at record highs – and rising. . . .  In 2020, the upward trend has continued despite the pandemic. Methane [a potent greenhouse gas] soared even higher – to 260 per cent” of pre-industrial levels.

Today, he added, “we are at 1.2 degrees of warming and already witnessing unprecedented climate extremes and volatility in every region and on every continent.  We are headed for a thundering temperature rise of 3 to 5 degrees Celsius this century. The science is crystal clear: to limit temperature rise to 1.5-degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the world needs to decrease fossil fuel production by roughly 6 per cent every year between now and 2030. Instead, the world is going in the opposite direction — planning an annual increase of 2 per cent.”

But Mr. Guterres did not give way to despair. Instead he said “Let’s be clear: human activities are at the root of our descent towards chaos. But that means human action can help solve it. Making peace with nature is the defining task of the 21st century. It must be the top, top priority for everyone, everywhere.”

Our work must begin with facing the facts and acknowledging the challenges we face. As Mr. Guterres makes clear, this litany of challenges calls for resolve; we must – and we can – turn this around. The good news is that in many cases we have long understood the solutions we need to implement. Indeed, they largely exist already, and in many cases are being applied in some places around the world.

So my resolve in 2021 is to focus as much as I can on the solutions – and not the solutions that are ‘out there’, but the solutions that are right here. Inspired by the McGill University-based project ‘Seeds of Good Anthropocenes’, which documents examples of existing initiatives that hold the potential to shape “a more just, prosperous, and ecologically diverse world”, the Conversations for a One Planet initiative I founded will spend 2021 focusing on the Seed of a One Planet Region to be found right here in the Greater Victoria Region.

We will bring stories of hope and practical application to our monthly Conversations, and we are also planning to create a ‘Seeds Catalogue’ – an online resource that will help people connect to, learn from and be inspired by what I am calling the One Planeteers. Stay tuned. 

© Trevor Hancock, 2021

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

Is this too much to ask for in 2021?

22 December 2020

Dr Trevor Hancock

700 words

It’s the time of year when we think about the New Year’s resolutions we will make, and how long it will be before we break them. It is also the time of year when columnists turn to wish lists. So in that noble tradition, here is my list for 2021 and beyond.

First, and very obviously, a wish that might actually come true in 2021: That Covid be over. If the vaccines are as good as promised, and if we can vaccinate around 60 – 70 percent of the population there is a good chance we can return to something like normal.

With any luck we can start to dance again and go to the pub – something very important for the wellbeing of the amazing 70- and 80-year-olds I dance with every week – perform in public and congregate at festivals. But until then, we need to do as Dr. Henry says – be kind, be calm, be careful, be safe.

Second, and following on from the first, I hope Canadians keep on being Canadians. By that I mean being generally low key, polite and compliant with the public health orders that protect us. We seem to have been particularly good at that here on the Island. Let’s keep on apologising to anyone who treads on our foot, and fulfilling the pleasing image that the way you get a hundred Canadians out of the swimming pool is to blow the whistle and ask them to please get out.

We certainly don’t need the kind of anarchic libertarianism we have been seeing in the USA and elsewhere, where ‘give me liberty or give me death’ has become ‘I take the liberty to be maskless, gather in large crowds and travel around, and I give you death’.

My third wish is that we not forget some of the lessons we have learned from Covid – what I call the Covid Reveal. One of those is the one implied by my second wish; there is such a thing as society and community, from which we can take great comfort, and that we have responsibilities and obligations as well as rights. Another thing we have learned is that many of our most essential workers are undervalued, underpaid and have poor job security, issues we need to remedy.

Fourth, in 2021 we need to start the Great Reconnect, a term inspired by the recent showing of the Canadian documentary ‘The Great Disconnect” by the Neighbourhoods section of the City of Victoria. Our awareness of the importance of social connections has been heightened by their absence or weakening due to Covid, so we need to make a conscious attempt to rebuild and strengthen our social connections with each other and with our community.

Fifth, and perhaps most ambitious – but also most important – that we choose the right recovery. And here I have to take issue with my fellow columnist Laurie McFarlane, although he is far from alone in his opinions. In his December 13th column he wrote “we sure as hell can’t afford greening the economy. For a country reliant on the export of resource-based products, that is the equivalent of suicide”. And he went on to say “What we need now is a resolve to get on with rebuilding the economy. Nothing else matters. . . . Just hard, unrelenting work to recover from the worst natural disaster of our time”.

The problem is that pursuing a rapid recovery by bouncing back to what we had before is to create a far larger disaster, one that far from from being natural would be entirely human made – and largely by high-income countries such as Canada. If we don’t ‘green’ the economy – that is, create an economy that lives within the natural limits of the Earth’s ecosystems – then we will be moving inexorably towards the collapse of those vital life support systems. That really would be suicidal. We need what many health, environmental and social justice organisations have called for: A green, healthy and just recovery.

So getting over Covid, keeping on being Canadian, valuing our undervalued workers, reconnecting with our community and each other and choosing the right recovery: Is that too much too ask for in 2021?

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

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

Tomorrow is Winter Solstice – Happy Solstice!

Dr Trevor Hancock

20 December 2020

(Published as ‘Solstice a chance to reconnect with nature, the cycle of the seasons)

699 words

I recently did a presentation for inVIVO, a fascinating international conference series about human and planetary wellbeing. The organisers asked me to talk about the importance of connections, based on a column I wrote earlier this year.

So I talked about how connected we all are through our DNA to each other and all forms of life; through the very atoms we breathe, eat and drink to all the other plants and animals, going back millions of years, who incorporated those same atoms in their own bodies, and how those atoms also connect us to the stars in which they were created – we truly are star stuff. 

I also talked about how we are part of and wholly dependent upon a global living system that both the Ancient Greeks and  – 2,000 years later – the planetary scientist James Lovelock called Gaia; other cultures have their own names for what Indigenous people all over the world call Mother Earth. And I stressed how much we have become disconnected from nature (and from each other, but that is another story, for another column), and how important it is to re-establish a strong sense of connection to nature, to other living things and to our Mother Earth.

Which brings me to the Winter Solstice, which this year in the northern hemisphere is at 2.02 AM tomorrow – Monday December 21st (of course, it’s Summer Solstice at the same time in the southern hemisphere). But how many people even recognise this, never mind celebrate it? Yet it used to be an enormously important event for our ancestors all over the world – and for  many it still is.

It is one of the important ways we can connect – or re-connect – to nature and to the great cycle of seasons and the Earth’s passage around the sun. It marks the turning point of the year, when the nights stop getting shorter and the days start getting longer. And at a time when food would be getting scarce and it seemed winter would never end, it held out the promise of the warmer, sweeter days of spring and summer, of fertile animals and crops, of the coming of the light and the birth of a new year. So our ancestors celebrated with food and drink, with song and dance and plays, and above all with lights to welcome the new year.

Of course, many faiths have incorporated the winter solstice in their own festivals of light and birth or re-birth – Hannukah, Christmas, Diwali and many others. But I think we need to mark and celebrate the Winter Solstice itself, not in some disguised form but for what it is and what it represents. Which is why I give or return seasonal greetings with “Happy Solstice”. The initial response is often a combination of surprise and then ‘Oh, yes’ as it sinks in.

But I do more than that to recognise Solstice. There is an old English tradition called the Mummers Play which takes place around midwinter. While every village had its own version of the play and there are strong elements of pantomime, at the heart of every play is a fight, a death and then a quack doctor who brings the victim back to life: It is really about the death of the old year and the birth of the new.

We have performed our own Mummers Play locally for a number of years and one place we do it is the annual Lights on the Gorge, a small local event to mark the Solstice. So while we can’t put it on in public this year, I am making several brief online apppearances , including at the online Lights on the Gorge this afternoon. But I believe we need a much larger event – or series of events – across the region to mark and celebrate both the Winter and Summer Solstices, bringing many cultures together to re-forge our connection to nature and the great cycle of the seasons.

I end with some of the words with which I close our Play: “Our purpose is to celebrate the turning of the year, so I wish you joy and happiness, great mirth and great good cheer”. Happy Solstice!

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

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

The cult of individualism is toxic

Dr. Trevor Hancock

10 December 2020

698 words

I suggested last week that our society is remarkably immature in its approach to life. Central to this is an exaggerated form of individualism that has achieved a cult-like status. With that comes an acquisitive, greedy and selfish culture that really doesn’t care about other people or about nature. Why should I wear a mask, which inconveniences me, just to protect others – they should just protect themselves by staying out of my way! It’s their responsibility, not mine.

These values extend to how we then treat disadvantaged and vulnerable people: They are not my responsibility, so why should we have minimum wages or social support systems that I have to pay for through more expensive goods and services or higher taxes.

Of course, this ignores the fact that people usually get rich by exploiting the poor, the environment or both. Industrialists have fought against unions, preferring to keep their workers low-paid, working part-time, with few or no benefits; the resulting insecurity makes them desperate to hold on to what the British call ‘shit work’.

In recent decades this has also meant shifting jobs to low-wage countries with weaker social, occupational and environmental protections. Buying cheap goods from these companies today is really not very different from buying goods made by slaves in the 18th and 19th centuries – indeed, in some cases their workers are in effect slaves, or work in slave-like conditions.

In addition, the cult of individualism, combined with a cult of greed and instant gratification, leads to a disregard for nature and future generations. I want my stuff, I want it now and I want it cheap. So what if that means the environment is harmed and both current and future generations and other species lack what they need for their survival and quality of life – not my problem!

The modern-day roots of this cult of individualism, selfishness and greed can be traced back to the neoliberal economists and libertarian advocates of the mid-20th century, best personified by Ayn Rand. Her writings on what she called ‘Objectivism’ from the 1940s through the 1970s helped put greed and selfishness on a pedestal; one of her essay collections was titled The Virtue of Selfishness.

All progress, she argued, depended on the rich and successful, and a person’s worth was only to be measured by their income. So taking money from the rich, in the form of taxes, to assist and support disadvantaged people, was an exploitation of the rich and thus wrong.

In a lengthy 2009 essay/book review Jonathan Chait, a senior editor at The New Republic, summarised Objectivism as “premised on the absolute centrality of logic to all human endeavours. Emotion and taste had no place.” This ideology, he argued, not only glorifies selfishness but “holds people completely responsible for their own success or failure”, which leads to the conclusion that “when government helps the disadvantaged it consequently punishes virtue and rewards sloth”.

This is a fundamentally anti-human and anti-community ideology, dismissing emotion and trust as illogical and unworthy, while compassion for others is weakness. It is also, as I noted above, an anti-nature philosophy which sees nature as simply there to be exploited for the wealth it can create.

This cult of individualism, greed and selfishness is, of course, the ideology underlying neoliberal economics which, as Kate Raworth, author of Doughnut Economics, puts it, “has helped to push many societies towards social and ecological collapse”. Thus individualism and neoliberal economics are toxic and unfit for purpose in the 21st century

Sometimes, faced with the selfishness and greed that are part and parcel of the cult of individualism, you just want to say “Grow up and accept responsibility”. But it is hard to be responsible in a culture, society and economy that so often shows that it does not care, that short term gain is worth someone else’s long-term pain.

It is time we grew up as a society, discarded rampant individualism and neoliberal economics and accepted reponsibility for each other, other species and the Earth itself. We need a new, more mature, ecologically and socially aware and responsible ideology to guide society if we are to successfully make the transition to becoming a One Planet Region.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

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

Education for life: Creating a more mature society in the 21st century

2 December 2020

Dr. Trevor Hancock

702 words

Last week I ended with a reference to the concepts of ‘bildung’ and ‘folk-bildung’. For those interested in how we evolve our culture to a more mature one, better suited to live in a socially just way within the limits of the one small planet that is our home, these interesting concepts are worth pursuing.

In exploring the German concept of bildung and the Danish – and more broadly Nordic – experience of folk-bildung I am indebted to a lengthy 2018 overview by Jonathan Reams of the 2017 book The Nordic Secret by Lene Andersen and Tomas Björkman. They trace the roots of the concept of bildung back to the Enlightenment in the 18th century, and to a small group of intellectuals that included Goethe.

A key point was when Wilhelm von Humboldt undertook a complete reform of the Prussian education system in 1809. Andersen and Björkman tell us that it was based on the principle that education “must be personal development, moral development and a deep engagement with the academic endeavors. It must be a path to finding one’s true personality. . .”.

These ideas were later picked up in Denmark by  Nikolaj Grundtvig, a pastor, teacher and politician who, Reams tells us, wrote in 1836 about the need for ‘education for life’, by which he meant “a school where the peasants of Danish society can be ‘bilded’ or shaped into responsible citizens who can participate in and contribute to the betterment of their society”. His ideas were taken up and implemented by Christen Kold in the 1860s, who founded the ‘folk high schools’ – a 19th century cross between a community college and adult education.

These ideas then spread to Norway and Sweden, and both Reams and the authors of the Nordic Secret believe it is the implementation of these ideas of folk bildung – “the intentional cultivation of moral, emotional and cognitive development” and of “a sense of responsibility towards self and society” – that were key to the success of the Nordic countries in the 20th century. That success, Reams suggests, is founded on three “key principles evident in Nordic society; humanism, trust and responsibility”.

And how is this relevant today, and here? Well, we are at a transition point not all that different from the scale and significance of the transition “from poor agricultural to rich industrialized countries” that the Nordic countries successful achieved. Our transition, however, has to be from a rich and materialistic but often unjust consumer society to one that is more ecologically and socially responsible, more mature in its relationships with the Earth and with other people, what we and others call a One Planet society.

This transition requires the development of new core values to drive our societal and personal decision-making, as well as the knowledge and skills needed to live a socially just One Planet way of life. We think one way to successfully navigate this transition, beyond the Conversations we currently organise on what it means to be a One Planet region, will be to create a 21st century version of ‘folk bildung’ and ‘folk high schools’ here in this region.

This is in accord with a column by George Monbiot in The Guardian a year ago in which he wrote of the need for “the reclamation of a culture of public learning” and the restoration of  “a rich public culture of intellectual self-improvement”. This will mean re-acquiring “the habit of rigorous learning in adulthood” that we have lost.

Monbiot points to the workers education movement of the early to mid-20th century as an example. Inspired by the UK model set up in 1903, the Workers Education Asssociation of Canada was set up in Toronto in 1917, and while now much reduced, until the advent of community colleges in the 1960s was the primary provider of adult education in Canada, according to its website.

Now we cannot simply take the 19th century concepts of bildung and folk high schools, or 20th century models of worker education, or even the small modern folk school movement in North America and apply them today. But the social transformation we need will require something along those lines; what would a 21st century version of this look like?

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

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

Cultural evolution and value shift: Towards a sustainable, just and healthy future

(Published as ‘What if we base decisions on what’s good for nature and community?’)

Dr. Trevor Hancock

25 November 2020

700 words

We created Conversations for a One Planet Region with one simple mission: To establish and maintain community-wide conversations on One Planet living and a One Planet Region. Our concern is likewise very simple: We may be talking about and even acting on climate change – even though our actions usually fall short of our words – but we are not yet talking seriously about the far greater challenge of living as if we have 4 or 5 planets when in reality we only have one, never mind the implications of that realisation.

This is both a practical and a profound ethical challenge. In practical terms, we need to reduce our ecological footprint by 75 – 80 percent, because we are taking far more than our fair share of the Earth’s limited biocapacity and resources. This is where the ethical challenge comes in: In taking more than our fair share, we are inflicting an injustice on others around the world who get far less than their fair share; on future generations whose ‘inheritance’ we are consuming, and on other species whose habitats and means of life we destroy.

Over time, we have come to see these ethical challenges as rooted in a wider frame of societal values that are best described as toxic: They are incompatible with sustaining life, health, society and nature over the long haul. So we need to change our core value set.

Among the toxic values we need to change are the excessive valuing of individualism to the neglect or even denial of the collective and our responsibilities towards the community; greed and materialism, so that success is measured solely in terms of how much wealth and stuff you have rather than the quality of life you lead; and seeing nature as apart from us and simply there for our use and profit, rather than something in which we are deeply embedded, a life support system we share with all other life forms.

These are the three forms of disconnection that Jeremy Lent identifies in his 2017 book The Patterning Instinct. He suggests they lie at the heart of the global challenges we are creating and are “inexorably leading human civilization to potential disaster”. So we have been exploring these ideas in our Fall online Conversations series; what are the implications for our actions and policies if we place the valuing of nature, community and quality of life at the heart of our thinking and decisions? (We explore the final one, valuing qulaity of life, on December 10th.)

We see all this in a wider frame of cultural evolution, a concept we take from Joe Brewer and the Center for Applied Cultural Evolution. They define cultural evolution as simply the extension of Darwin’s concept of evolution “to the domains of social behaviors, practices, tools, and structures”. So how do we evolve to a culture that is fit for purpose in the 21st century, faced with the realities of ecological limits and social inequity?

Thus our task, which turns out to be Herculean, is to evolve a local culture and set of values here in the Greater Victoria Region that shifts our community – all its people, organisations and institutions, including of course its economy – to one that has an ecological footprint equivalent to One Planet (our fair share) while ensuring a good quality of life for all – all – who live here.

Of course, we can’t to that alone, as a small amd almost penniless organisation. But then, we aren’t trying to. We want to work with any and all who share some or all of our hopes (and fears), we want to stimulate discussion and put this issue on the social and political agenda as the greatest challenge we face today – but one with many opportunities for a richer and better life.

This is in many ways similar to the challenges faced as we evolved from agrarian and aristocratic societies to industrialised and democatic societies in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This has led us to the concept of ‘bildung’ – personal and cultural/societal maturation – and its application in the Nordic countries through ‘folk’ or adult public education. I will discuss this, and its relevance to today, in the coming weeks.

 © Trevor Hancock, 2020

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

Learning from Scotland about our Common Home and our wellbeing

(Published as ‘B.C. should follow the lead of Scotland and bring in a well-being budget’)

Dr. Trevor Hancock

17 November 2020

699 words

Anyone watching the Knowledge Network these days will be aware it’s all about Scotland, from clan wars to wildlife to railways. Good things come from Scotland, from Scottish ales and whisky to haggis and Robbie Burns – well, OK, not everything is wonderful, although haggis is way better than it sounds. So here are a couple of other good things from Scotland: The Common Home Plan, and the Scottish Government’s creation of the Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo) group.

Why talk about Scotland? Because with a population of 5.5 million it is about the same size as BC (5 million people), with a similar sized economy. So what applies there could well apply here.

The Common Home Plan – a comprehensive Green New Deal for Scotland – was prepared by Common Weal, which describes itself as “a Scottish think and do tank”. The authors take the view that while there is growing support for the concept of a Green New Deal, “there really aren’t any comprehensive or detailed plans for people to get behind”. We need to deal with all the challenges we face in a strategic manner, rather than through a piecemeal approach.

Moreover, they don’t hold out much hope for global level solutions; they see the call for multilateral approaches as simply a political device to put off making the national decisions that are needed now. Also, as seen with Canada’s consistent failure to meet its international commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, multilateral commitments are largely toothless.

Instead, they argue, while “the impacts of human action are global . . . the vast majority of those actions are local”. So the solutions have to be local too. In fact, they add, “very little of what a Green New Deal requires is contingent on international agreement”. Nor is it contingent on new technology; all the solutions they propose rely on existing technology.

The plan itself has ten sections: Buildings, heating, electricity, transport, food, land, resources, trade, learning and ‘us’ (about our lifestyle and culture). They estimate that it will take 25 years to implement fully – so we had better get started now – and cost 170 billion pounds. That may sound a lot, but it’s the equivalent of Scotland’s annual GDP, so spread out over 25 years it’s not too bad. In fact, because the plan creates 100,000 new jobs and has a number of economic benefits arising from new industries, greater efficiency and public ownership, “it more than pays for itself”.

Scotland’s establishment of the WEGo group was drawn to my attention by Catriona Little, the Head of Scottish Affairs for Canada, an office of the Scottish Government housed at the British High Commission in Ottawa.Based on “the recognition that ‘development’ in the 21st century entails delivering human and ecological wellbeing”, the WEGo group currently consists of Scotland, New Zealand, Iceland, and Wales – all small countries, it should be noted, with three of them (not Iceland) having populations in the same range as BC.

At their first policy lab in Edinburgh in May 2019 – fittingly at the home of Adam Smith, the 18th century author of “The Wealth of Nations” – Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister noted not only that “growth is not the only measure of a successful economy”, but that “we must give much greater priority to the wellbeing – and the quality of life – of people living in a country”.

She reported that Scotland adopted a National Performance Framework in 2007 that included indicators “on issues as varied as income inequality; the wellbeing and happiness of children; people’s access to green and blue spaces; and their satisfaction with housing”. Since then, Scotland has “made ‘wellbeing’ explicitly a core part of the Scottish Government’s purpose”, while its Economic Strategy “places equal importance on addressing inequality, as it does on increasing competitiveness of the economy”.

Other members of the WEGo group have been equally innovative. Wales, of course, adopted a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act in 2015, while New Zealand brought in a Wellbeing budget last year. BC should join the WEGo group and learn from its members, including producing a ‘Common Home’ plan, bringing in a wellbeing budget and a Wellbeing of Future Generations Act.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

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

Zero Waste means not expanding Hartland Landfill

Dr. Trevor Hancock

11 November 2020

700 words

While often described as a consumer society, it would be equally true to describe us as a waster society; they are two sides of the same coin. A lot of what we acquire – all that ‘stuff’’ – ends up as solid waste, while inefficient energy use leads to high levels of energy waste. Not only does this contribute to excessive use of resources – with all the pollution and energy use associated with their extraction, processing and distribution – but it fills our landfills and pollutes our local environment or – if we export it – other people’s environment.

So unsurprisingly, consumables – at 9 percent – are an important part of the region’s overall ecological footprint. The 2018 BC Institute of Technology report on Saanich’s footprint found that almost all of the footprint of consumables was due to “upstream impacts” – all the materials and energy that go into producing and distributing the products. Thus, the report concludes, we need to “prioritize reduction in overall consumption, instead of focusing on end-of-stream waste management”,

The report found that almost half the ecological impact of consumables is due to wood, textiles and rubber, almost a third is paper and plastics comprise 11 percent. So it suggests Saanich residents, businesses and organisations should reduce paper consumption by half, textile consumption by 40 percent and plastics consumption 30 percent. Given the large amount of food waste, the report also suggests reducing food purchasing by a quarter.

We produce a lot of solid waste in this region: 382 kg per person in 2019, according to a CRD staff report in September this year; for a family of four, this is more than 1,500 kg or 1.5 tonnes per year, although it is not all produced directly. We are a long way from the CRD’s target of 250 kg per person per year by 2030 (and an aspirational target of 125 kg, still being discussed), and a vast distance from zero waste.

But zero waste is where we need to be, and is one of Bioregional’s ten principles of One Planet living. In a ‘Sustainability Scan’ for the One Planet Saanich Initiative, the goals for this principle are “to reduce wasteful consumption, maximise upcycling, re-use and recycling, and aim for zero waste to landfill.”

The National Zero Waste Council brings together “governments, businesses and non-government organizations to advance waste prevention in Canada and the transition to a circular economy”. The latter “is based on the idea that there is no such thing as waste”. Among its features: “products are designed to last and optimized for a cycle of disassembly and reuse that makes it easier to handle and transform or renew them”.

Unfortunately the CRD is not a member; the only municipal member from this region is the City of Victoria. The City initiated its Zero Waste Victoria strategy in March 2019 and is due to consider its adoption next month. The strategy focuses on eliminating the unnecessary through reducing our consumption and making reuse, recycling and repair the norm: “The least desirable outcome is disposal of an item in the landfill”

Which brings me to the proposal currently being considered by the CRD to expand the Hartland Landfill and extend its life from 2045 (25 years from now, when it is expected to be full) to 2100, 80 years from now, an additional 55 years of landfilling of waste. Of particular concern is the comment in the September CRD staff report about the need to “ensure the long-term financial sustainability of the waste system by stopping waste and associated tipping fees from leaving the region”.

So we need to keep landfilling in order to keep the revenues here. This is the same predicament as an ‘energy from waste’ plant; you need to ensure you have a steady supply of waste, which removes the incentive to reduce it.

If we are to get to zero waste, expanding the landfill is entirely the wrong approach, in effect accepting  – even supporting – us in continuing to over-consume and use resources wastefully. Instead, the CRD should take a leaf from Victoria’s book; set a target of zero waste, refuse to expand the landfill and set about creating a circular economy.

© Trevor Hancock, 2020

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