Trevor Hancock: Thirteen municipalities, but only one planet

The Capital Regional District’s regional-growth strategy has been rejected, but I will not be mourning, it was never the right strategy, anyway.

First, the very name tells us all we need to know: a growth strategy. Not even a growth-management strategy, and certainly not the sustainability strategy it originally was meant to be. But what we need is a “one planet” strategy.

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What does not seem to have penetrated the consciousness of many councils in the region — and the provincial government, for that matter — is that we only have one planet. So we have to learn to live within the constraints of this one small blue dot that we call home.

Our governments also fail to accept that we are entering the Anthropocene era, which encompasses more than just climate change. We face a rapidly growing ecological crisis that will undermine the economic and social well-being and the health of today’s young people and their descendants, unless we take swift action.

Business as usual is not an option: We cannot grow our way out of this situation, since growth itself is the problem. Consider the increase in resource demand that will be seen by an infant born today, if current patterns of population and economic growth continue. They can expect to live about 80 years — or they could if ecological constraints, obesity and other problems don’t reduce their life expectancy.

Population growth in Canada and globally is now just over one per cent, which means over 80 years the population will more than double. The economic growth that economists and governments often aspire to, and that largely means an increase in our ecological footprint, is three per cent.

An annual growth in real GDP of three per cent over 80 years would result in a 10.6-fold increase. Together, these would result in an increase in impact on the planet during their lifetime of more than 23 times the starting point (2.2 x 10.6).

Even if our technology became five times more efficient in terms of resource use and pollution reduction, as some believe is possible, the impact over this infant’s lifetime would more than quadruple. But we already use the equivalent of four or five planets’ worth of ecosystem goods and services, which is clearly not sustainable. Another fourfold increase — never mind a 23-fold increase — is clearly out of the question.

Which is why for the past couple of months, I have been organizing a series of Conversations for a One Planet Region at the Robert Bateman Centre. Because we need a conversation across the region, and especially with young people whose future this concerns, about how to reduce our ecological footprint dramatically to take only our fair share of the planet’s resources, while preserving a good quality of life and good health for all.

We began with Jennie Moore from the B.C. Institute of Technology — who, with Cora Hallsworth, will be estimating the ecological footprint of Victoria and Saanich this year. Food and energy use accounts for most of our footprint, using a consumption-based approach.

When she did this for Vancouver, she found that to get to a “one planet” footprint, Vancouver would have to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent, improve building energy efficiency by 40 to 60 per cent, triple urban density, make 86 per cent of trips by walking, cycling or transit, reduce by half the consumption of goods (e.g. paper), change to a low-meat diet to reduce the carbon footprint of food by half and reduce post-purchase food waste by half.

In subsequent sessions, we heard how this could be accomplished from Tom Hackney, policy director of the B.C. Sustainable Energy Association, Todd Litman of the Victoria Policy Transport Institute and Jeremy Caradonna, a University of Victoria professor and sustainable-food-systems expert.

This Saturday, we will take this conversation further in an Ideafest event at New Horizons in James Bay (1:30 to 4:30 p.m.), and in particular discuss how to sustain, broaden and deepen the conversation in the coming months. Plans are already underway for a Phase 2, kicking off with Guy Dauncey discussing the sort of economy we need for a One Planet Region (March 20, 5 to 7 p.m. at the Bateman Centre). For further information, visit the Conversations website at onlineacademiccommunity.uvic.ca/oneplanetconversations/

 

Dr. Trevor Hancock is a professor and senior scholar at the University of Victoria’s school of public health and social policy.

thancock@uvic.ca

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