Category Archives: Elderview
Its time for elders to step forward and play a stronger role in addressing serious global environmental changes
More than 40 years ago the late Maggie Kuhn, an American social activist and devout Presbyterian, was forced into retirement on her 65th birthday. That was the accepted code of practice at the time. Maggie responded, not by taking up her knitting needles and seeking the porch rocker, but by founding the Gray Panthers movement to work for social and economic justice and peace.
Maggie Kuhn reasoned that her aims could be achieved through honouring maturity, unifying generations, being actively engaged and encouraging participatory democracy. She famously explained her view of the elder role in society in characteristically down-to-earth terminology – “The old, having the benefit of life experience, the time to get things done, and the least to lose by sticking their necks out, are in a perfect position to serve as the advocates for the larger public good.“
This type of declaration had an unquestionably strong emotional underpinning when it was first uttered, but the underlying motivation has recently been backed up by hard statistics. For example, in December 2012 the Huffington Post reported an interview with Dr Dilip V. Jeste, Director of the Stein Institute for Research on Aging at the University of California. The Institute conducted in-depth interviews with a thousand older adults and concluded that, even in the midst of physical or cognitive decline, most respondents reported a feeling that their well-being had improved with age. Factors which were found to counteract actual health deterioration and which appeared to significantly contribute to subjective success in aging were education, better cognitive functioning, better perceived physical and mental health, less depression, and greater optimism and resilience. In other words, many elders feel they have become better able to tackle difficult issues and, in so doing, may actually improve their own health.
As we move into 2013, Canada’s population has just edged past the 35 million mark for the first time in history. One in every seven of these millions is over the age of 65, and the fastest-growing population segment is the over-80s. In the years following World War II Canada had a large baby boom which swelled the ranks of the work force in the last decades of the 20th century and played a significant part in the country’s historic growth and development. The boomers are now starting to retire, and the ratio of the employed to the retired has started a decline which is projected to last for a very long time.
In the previous century people in their later years received a level of acknowledgement quite different to that on offer to today’s seniors. The older members of communities were regarded as elders and respected for their counsel and for their historical knowledge of events, resources and natural phenomena. This situation still prevails for elders in many First Nations communities, but in non-native communities embedded in a shopping mall culture and submerged in electronic information clouds, seniors have, to a large extent, become invisible.
Today’s seniors face pressures of marginalization from their younger compatriots, but many remain aware of the creative role they once played in society, and of the moral and intellectual resources which they still have. They can point with some pride to the fact that actions and protests against environmental and societal ills and grievances are not a unique feature of today’s Generations X and Y. The environmental movement was launched 50 years ago by some who are now elders in response to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring indictment of the pesticide assault on the environment. Images of the current protests in B.C. against oil pipelines and oil tankers reveal a noticeable proportion of grey heads and wrinkled faces amongst the throngs.
Concerns and actions over pensions and health care have long been the main concerns of seniors, and will certainly continue to be foci of attention in coming years. But for a growing number of elders, sometimes defined as “seniors with attitude”, the rapidly deteriorating global climate outlook and the intransigence of governments in coming to grips with dying oceans, melting ice caps, and extinctions of species and ecosystems have become the sparks for growing concern and rising indignation. Modern medicine and technology have tipped the scales for elders, giving them a decade and more of additional time in which to be active and involved, either within elder ranks or by joining with their much younger but similarly motivated compatriots,
Some of today’s elders will recall that they have been here before. As young disaffected people in the late 1960s they rejected the post- World War II system of their parents. From their ranks came the anti-Vietnam War demonstrators and the dedicated activists who established environmental organizations such as Greenpeace. Aging boomers now have an opportunity to return to their youthful idealism and to work to improve the environment and address pressing problems such as climate change. They have an opportunity to volunteer and to actively embrace newly rediscovered values.
Elders might have to reluctantly admit that they were themselves part of the system that created the present global environmental situation. In fact, a nagging sense of guilt might underlie some elders’ growing concerns over the increasing vulnerability of the ecosystems which underpin our 21st century life-styles.
There are many role models for elders to follow if they elect to address the enormous challenges of the rapidly changing world. Vancouver’s own David Suzuki, himself now an elder after more than 40 years service as a scientist, broadcaster and author, gives a definition of humanity which serves well as an elder objective. “Our great evolutionary advantage has been the ability to lift our sights and look ahead, to imagine the world as it could be and then make the best choices to move toward that vision”.
by David Laing
“We need to act like our future depends on it”; that was the opening line for the Capitalism 2.0 seminar, December 5th 2012, organized by the Toronto Sustainability Speakers Series (TSSS).
The quote was from a recent TED talk by Paul Gilding, an Australian environmentalist, consultant and author. In his TED presentation Paul stated that our economy is a system operating past its limits and outgrowing the earth’s ability to support it. He argued that, rather than increasing happiness and well-being for the majority, the economy increasingly concentrates wealth in the hands of a few, demands ever increasing levels of workforce productivity, insatiably consumes increasingly scarce resources while spewing toxins into an increasingly less hospitable ecosystem. Following the laws of physics, he said, it will break down and the breakdown is already starting.
Paul is not alone in his terrifying prognostications. Corporate leaders and economists are joining environmentalists in saying that Capitalism 1.0, the capitalistic society based primarily on growth and greed that we have come to know and love is unsustainable and needs a major overhaul. The Capitalism 2.0 seminar was designed to get us thinking about what is possible and what is needed to drive change.
First up at the seminar was Joyce Sou from the MARS Centre for Impact Investing who told us about B Corps. Unlike standard corporations whose primary objective is maximising profit, B Corps are legally bound to pursue a triple bottom-line that objectively measures their positive contribution to people and the planet in addition to generating profits. Today there are more than 600 B Corps in 60 industries and 15 countries who hold themselves to a higher standard for purpose, accountability and transparency and who believe that it is possible to simultaneously create social and shareholder value.
Next, Terry Kellog spoke about his organization, 1% For The Planet. Started 10 years ago by the founder of Patagonia, (manufacturers of outdoor gear), 1% For The Planet sees itself as a movement that exists to build and support an alliance of businesses financially committed to creating a healthy planet. As of December 2012, it boasts 1,248 corporate members in 45 countries, growing at a rate of 300 new members a year. Each corporate member commits to donating 1% of their annual sales revenues to support a network of 3,177 non-profit environmental partner organizations. In 2011, donations topped $100M!
The last presenter was Esther Speck who is the Director of Sustainability at Mountain Equipment Coop (MEC). MEC sells $300M of outdoor gear annually to its 3.6M members and is committed to doing that in a socially responsible way. Among many initiatives, MEC has placed an internal cost on carbon of $15/ton and is on track to reduce its carbon emissions to 20% below 2007 levels by the end of this year. It also belongs to the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, an industry-wide group of over 60 leading apparel and footwear brands, retailers, suppliers, non-profits, and NGOs working to reduce the environmental and social impacts of apparel and footwear products around the world. Over 50% of the products that MEC carries are BlueSign™ certified which guarantees those products, along their entire production chain, only contain components and pass through processes that are harmless to people and the environment!
After the presentations, the large audience broke into discussion groups where we contributed to a paper that TSSS plans to publish early in 2013 on the vision and implementation of a more sustainable business model, Capitalism 2.0. There will be more to follow as this story continues to unfold!
Getting to know your enemy: meeting with Kinder Morgan on the proposed Trans Mountain Expansion Project
Two perspectives from concerned Elders
From Cynthia Lam -
“Getting to know your enemy” was the idea that I had for going to attend the Kinder Morgan (KM) “public information session”, Saturday, 17 November 2012. Diana Ellis and I, wearing our Suzuki Elders buttons, tried to hit different aspects of the project separately, ready to ask questions and trying to get answers.
I’m glad that I went, to see it and hear it in person. From the many questions we posed I learned about the project, albeit from the proponent viewpoint. I came away feeling what a formidable enemy this was! How can we beat it? Margaret Meade’s famous saying came to the rescue, “Never underestimate the power of the concerned citizens taking concerted actions!” We shall see how this project unfolds!
Here is a summary of my exchange with different KM staff at the session, their answers to my questions, and my reactions (in parentheses).
Who is KM? A company of 60 years, based in Houston, U.S., has 5 components: natural gas, liquid petroleum, CO2 for crude oil, terminals/wharfs, and KM Canada (based in Calgary).
Piping construction and maintenance: as a mover for oil, they have lots of new technical & protective measures. (To me they sounded partly like the sewer service I got to know, using camera/GPS to spot problem areas for repair).
It was human error that caused the last spill; they have instituted corrective measures against recurrence.
New pipes have been tested in tanks only, so far.
Earthquake zone: n ew technology reinforced pipes will be used to minimize potential damage.
Property rights to be bought for the pipe expansion: the right-of-way will be 1150 km long, from Edmonton to Burnaby, with a total width of 60 feet to accommodate both the existing and the new pipeline. The 2nd pipeline will be 30” diameter compared to 2’ diameter of the existing pipe.
Property rights will have to be acquired from current owners; prices will vary according to property locations etc Property owners will have restricted use of the right-of-way once sold. Water, soil, vegetation use will be limited. Swimming pools won’t be allowed etc.
New piping is safer underground than currently installed pipelines.
Towns along the right-of-way anticipate an economic boost from pipeline expansion.
Aboriginal communities: a KM staffer of aboriginal background commented that consultations with aboriginal groups commenced 6 months ago. They have another year in which to consult before KM is ready to submit an application to the National Energy Board (now planned for October 2013). Consultations will continue while the application is being studied by the NEB. There are 62 native communities close to the pipeline route, 14 of which are treaty groups who will be “supported in their capacity to participate” in consultations by KM’s environmental team. (How objective can the data and outcomes then be?)
Fifteen First Nations communities in B.C. would receive annual incomes from taxation.
Market: Canada needs to be less dependent on U.S. oil market as the U.S. is experiencing a slower economy and higher transport costs. The U.S. has increased its own capacity for oil production. Canada needs to explore new markets, especially in Asia, which currently receives only 10% of Canadian oil.
Accidents in Salish Sea? There have been no marine accidents since 1953 (?). There should be no significant increase in the numbers of tankers conveying oil as result of pipeline expansion, since newer tankers are a lot larger than older ones in use. Water travel capacity will increase from 10% to 25%, and is not an issue! (??)
My impressions and reflections: this meeting with KM reminded me of the experience I had while working on an anti-gambling project years ago.
Seventeen staff members were present at the session. About 30 members of the public attended the session. Some KM staffers said that they don’t work for KM directly, they are “just contractors”. Some staff had the tendency of providing great amount of information, but came short of giving direct answers. Their information will need to be verified and analyzed in depth. Staff were all smiling faces, mild mannered, well versed, and appeared engaged in discussion, but it was orchestrated and staged.
KM appeared to be quite “formidable” at this session, with such obviously abundant resources to build their case. Just imagine how they must have spared no resource nor effort in lobbying the governments and related institutes!
The National Energy Board will receive and review their application in the new year. We should indeed “lobby” this agency, and follow up with other regulatory agencies who are mandated to enforce what is signed on the contract with KM, so the public interest will be protected.
I was speaking with a Greenpeace person on the street the other day. She said even if we can’t defeat the KM proposal now, it would still be a partial victory if we, the concerned citizens, could delay the project by raising and posing questions and concerns and force KM to take every necessary precaution. They will have to show proof of their responsible actions for the future of the whole planet!
As I’m writing now, I recall, sadly, that since my days working on a North American anti gambling project, the gambling industry has seen mushrooming growth of casinos and lotteries. I wonder what will come of the oil extraction and delivery industry? A better outcome, I hope.
From Diana Ellis –
At a Suzuki Elder Council Meeting in November, guest Peter Robinson, CEO of the David Suzuki Foundation, spoke of the importance of environmentalists being FOR something rather than always placing ourselves in opposition. It was with that in mind that Cynthia and I, in planning our visit to the Kinder Morgan event, decided: (a) to be open about who we were (we wore our Suzuki Elder buttons), (b) to state at some point in all our conversations that we were very much in favour of the development and transportation of alternate energy rather than fossil fuels (which we did), and (c) to attend in order to engage and learn – i.e. to ask lots of questions and to visibly take notes. It wasn’t until we left that we realized we’d been there two hours, and were just about the last visitors in the room!
By nature curious about how things work, and particularly concerned about the marine end of this proposed energy transport venture, I spoke to project partners involved with the ocean/port/water clean-up side of things – the Pacific Pilotage Authority, Western Canada Marine Response Corporation, and the Port of Vancouver. Here are a few things I learned.
From the Pacific Pilotage Authority: I was told there are presently 100 pilots working on the BC coast. Most work with shipping in and out of Prince Rupert, Victoria and Vancouver. I asked if the complement of pilots would be increased if both the Enbridge and Kinder Morgan lines go through. The answer was that approximately eight more pilots would be needed for the north, but no additional pilots would be needed for the south. This is due to the fact that the number of ship entries and exits into Victoria/Vancouver harbours has decreased in recent years largely because the size of the vessels has increased, i.e. larger (but fewer) cruise ships and tankers/freighters. Apparently the existing number of pilots is enough to handle the assumed increase in oil tankers from 5/month to 25/month, except for the north, where the additional eight pilots would (I assume) be working ships in and out of Douglas Channel and Kitimat Harbour.
From Western Canada Marine Response Corporation (WCMRC): Here’s key information from their brochure – “established in 1976, WCMRC was originally created as an oil industry cooperative with a mandate to provide spill response resources to handle spills within the Port of Vancouver. Amendments to the Canada Shipping Act in 1995 introduced more rigorous standards, and WCMRC became one of four Canadian Certified Response Organizations, and the only one responsible for spill response on the west coast of BC. Since its inception, WCMRC has responded to more than 650 spills.” Interestingly, they are mandated and certified by the federal government (Transport Canada), but the fuel companies pay a fee (per ton of oil they carry) and this funds the existing operations. Presently, WCMRC has a full time staff of 22, 500 available trained responders, and 28 oil spill response vessels (of all sizes). On average, they respond to 20 spill incidents per year. WCMRC has office/warehouse facilities in Duncan, Vancouver and Prince Rupert, and a cache of response equipment in Victoria, Nanaimo, Port Alberni, Campbell River, Sechelt, Powell River, Shearwater, Kitimat, Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert. They are responsible for 27,000 km of BC shoreline.
While their literature describes extensive training and resources, I expressed concern about their ability to respond to increased oil and LNG traffic, and the increased likelihood of spills small and large. (As well, the Canada Shipping Act 2001 planning standards seemed inadequate to me – for example, for spills greater than 2500 tonnes, the standard is that vessels, equipment and personnel are to be delivered on the scene within 72 hours, plus travel time. Less than 2500 tonnes, the delivery time is within 18 hours, plus travel time.)
The WCMRC representative agreed with my concern about the ability to respond to increased tanker traffic. He noted that if the pipelines are approved, Transport Canada will need to quickly put out tenders for construction of more response vessels, and rapidly increase the number of trained personnel. It is important to note that the regulatory review continues to 2015, and if the project is approved, construction of the pipeline expansion would take place in 2016-2017, with operations beginning in 2017. That leaves only two years to tender and build response craft, and train responders. While I was advised that Transport Canada has plans ready for this, a comment I made about lobbying TC in this regard was met with a strong nod of the head.
I didn’t have time to engage the Port Metro rep in conversation, but their brochure notes there are clear regulations for tankers outlining tug escort and pilotage requirements, ship inspection and reporting programs, double hulls etc. Kinder Morgan reps also described mandatory ship inspections that take place prior to the loading of oil on to the tanker.
In retrospect – I appreciated the information available at the public information session – and I do realize it is all from the proponent’s perspective – I expected nothing different. I also liked that Cynthia and I chose to listen, question, engage, and gain factual information to aid in our Suzuki Elder analysis. My curiosity about how things work was well fed and I identified gaps of concern to me, particularly in the marine response area. Also unclear were the descriptions of liability funds and responsibility, which even the Kinder Morgan rep admitted was “complicated.” I will also say this – numerous times Cynthia and I, when we spoke of risk, heard this response: “Risk is – probability times consequences.” While I understand this as a cool-headed business-oriented approach, I still shuddered each time I heard it.
All summer long the ants worked industriously, gathering grain from the fields and storing it away in their underground store houses. While the ants worked, carefree grasshoppers danced, sang and took long naps in the summer sun.
One day a grasshopper asked, “Why do ants work so hard hour after hour, day after day, all summer long?” Another grasshopper replied, “They work for a dark queen who commands them to serve her every need. Everything they do is planned out in precise detail and they work for almost nothing.” “Our life is much better,” said the 1st grasshopper, “Because we are so clever, we do what we want and have much more fun.”
“I have a plan,” said a 3rd grasshopper. “Let’s demand that the ants pay a toll for the path they take from the fields.” They sent word to the Ant Queen that the grasshoppers would require 1 seed in payment for each 100 seeds that passed on the path from the field. The Queen agreed but stipulated that they must replant 9 of 10 seeds collected before they kept one.
The grasshoppers were delighted and passed their new plan on to their friends. Other grasshopper agreed to plant seeds in return for a percentage of the planting. Each new grasshopper received 9 seeds, planted 8, and kept 1. They found even more grasshoppers that would plant 7 seeds, keep 1 and so it went. Soon hundreds of grasshoppers were engaged in the seed trade and the head grasshoppers were collecting bags full of seeds which they used to encourage even more grasshoppers to get involved in the planting process. The Ant Queen was happy that so many seeds were being planted for the next year’s harvest. The grasshoppers were happy that so many seeds would be growing into juicy green shoots. The head grasshoppers danced, sang and gambled with one another for the seeds that they expected to collect from the ants.
One day some of the grasshoppers discovered they had promised to plant more seeds than they had actually collected, so they began using notes that counted the seeds that would sprout in the next season since each seeded plant should produce 10 more seeds. It was easier to write notes than to plant seeds.
Then it occurred to the grasshoppers that they could also sell other grasshoppers the rights to the juicy green plants that would grow from the seeds that they had promised to plant. Grasshoppers could claim all the new plants that would grow from each packet of seeds they promised to plant. The more they promised to plant the more they could gamble or sell.
Soon the grasshoppers spent more time gambling with their promissory notes than they spent actually planting seeds. The worried Ant Queen finally sent out a message that no more seeds would be given to grasshoppers that had not actually planted the seeds as promised.
Then the weather turned bad and it became difficult to plant any more seeds. All the grasshoppers that had come to gamble for seeds began to look around for food and could only find leaves from the last of the plants the ants were harvesting. Soon the fields were stripped bare and the hungry grasshoppers demanded to see the Ant Queen.
“We are starving,” they said. “Let us have some of the seeds you have stored away for the winter!”
“My ants need those seeds to survive the winter so I cannot give you any from our storehouse. You wasted many of the seeds we gave you to plant or traded them for pieces of paper that you can’t eat,” she said. The head grasshopper reminded the Ant Queen that he had promises on paper from the grasshoppers to plant thousands of seeds. “Yes,” said the Ant Queen but those grasshoppers will not survive the winter and they have eaten all the plants that were producing seeds this year.”
“But what will we do?” asked the head grasshopper.
“Learn to eat paper,” said the Ant Queen.
“What will you do if no grasshoppers plant the seeds for next year? “ said the head grasshopper.
“Learn to eat grasshoppers,” said the Ant Queen.
28 August 2012
Secretary to the Joint Review Panel
Enbridge Northern Gateway Project
444 Seventh Ave SW
Calgary AB T2P 0X8
BITUMEN TANKERS IN CONFINED WATERS
Dear Secretary ;
I wish to express my serious concern over the logic of shipping, on a regular basis, huge quantities of diluted bitumen in very large tankers through the confined, often treacherous internal waters of northern BC, out into Hecate Strait, and thence to the Pacific.
During 35 years at sea spent largely in BC waters, I sailed the Central / North Coast in ten commercial and naval vessels. My principal involvement grew to be watch keeping, navigation, and the duties of command (XO HMCS STETTLER and PROVIDER; 3rd Officer / Navigator Canadian Cruise Lines SS PRINCE GEORGE; Captain HMCS QU’APPELLE and MACKENZIE).
Fair weather navigation in Douglas Channel, Squally Reach and Caamano Sound requires precision and watchfulness even in a small vessel. The dangers attending a breakdown, miss-step or inattention escalate dramatically as vessel dimensions (and turning characteristics, stopping distance etc.) increase. The deeper the ship’s draft the more constrained the navigable channel becomes. Strong tidal streams and rapidly deteriorating weather further complicate and can wreck the best laid plans for safe navigation.
I have sailed those waters in the flat calm of a sunny summer day, in fog, and in the driving rain squalls and buffeting of an autumn gale. I don’t know Principe Channel, but believe it is no more forgiving of error than the rest of the Inside Passage. As for Hecate Strait, my experience is that it can be idyllic and peaceful at one moment and then, within short hours, become a place of howling winds and mountainous seas such as cause the most experienced seafarers to grit their teeth and hang on tight. I was in the frigate STETTLER there one night when the ship rolled 60 degrees to port, sustaining considerable damage down below. On another occasion, as my friends in the Fleet Oiler PROVIDER related it, the 20,000 ton ship so nearly ‘stood on her nose’ amid the monstrous waves of that extremely shallow sea, that some on the bridge were concerned she might strike bottom. Recognized as the fourth most dangerous body of water in the world, twenty per cent of Hecate Strait has water depth less than 20 metres. I wonder how a vessel drawing 60 or 70 feet might fare in a Hecate Strait storm.
Risk is the product of the likelihood of an occurrence and the consequences thereof. Modern machinery, navigation aids, communications etc. can have a near-zero failure rate, but the people who operate the equipment, though better educated and trained than ever, always have been and likely will remain the major stumbling block to a foolproof system. Look no further than TITANIC, EXXON VALDES, QUEEN of the NORTH, COSTA CONCORDIA. The likelihood of a significant tanker accident between Kitimat and the Pacific may be extremely low but it is finite.
Meanwhile it appears that, as yet, nobody – not even Enbridge – has studied seriously the possibility of a major spill of diluted bitumen in northern BC waters. The outcome could be horrendous. I read that the Canadian Coast Guard is uncertain whether traditional methods of containing and cleaning up a crude oil spill would work for bitumen. How would diluted bitumen be dispersed by wind, sea and tide compared to crude? Is it more likely than crude to sink as the lighter properties evaporate? What toxins does it contain? How would all living things within the scope of such a spill be affected? If not contained or recovered, for how long would it persist as an environmental hazard?
From what the climatologists keep telling us these days and from our experience in recent seasons, it seems prudent to expect that extreme weather incidents will occur with increasing frequency in years to come. And consider: foreign ships do not always measure up to the highest standards of mechanical safety and crew competence.
Very big ships, very narrow channels and extreme weather don’t make a good mix.
I beg you to recognize that the finite likelihood of a tanker accident – no matter how remote-coupled with the potentially catastrophic consequences of a major spill of diluted bitumen into northern BC waters, together constitute a risk no thinking Canadian can afford to accept.
Commander RCN ret.
Certificate of Service as Master Foreign Going
Qualified Master Home Trade
Member, Association of Suzuki Elders
North Shore residents are talking amongst themselves and generating intelligent, informed, grass-roots conversations on the whole issue of unbridled densification and its effects on the future heritage and character of our collective North Shore way of life. A wide variety of related newspaper, magazine, blog and tweeter articles from sources around the world already are garnering an ever-widening readership.
These informed conversations are naturally expanding as more North Shore residents become dissatisfied with what they perceive to be the unilateral, ill-thought-out, unbridled high-density plans of the development industry’s movers and shakers, and their political allies on the various councils who are proceeding full-steam ahead with their grandiose or, as some would say, their megalomaniacal plans, without any real dialogue or approval by the general public. The average man or woman on the street can readily sense the radical plans afoot that will change forever the heritage and character of the North Shore. Hence, the mounting anxiety!
When the North Shore’s voters opted against a Third Crossing, it was because they wanted to try to limit the kind of rampant development and densification that is now occurring. They knew, as the wise old saying goes about any kind of major expansion of roads, bridges or high-density development, “If you build it, they will come!”
Yet some would also say that what is now occurring on the North Shore is the development industry’s arrogant rebuke of that vote by the people and an in-your-face statement – “Traffic grid-lock, construction chaos, and elimination of your single family neighbourhoods be damned! You voters are going to get exactly what we want for you whether you like it or not! And when you finally cry “Uncle!” and beg for that Third Crossing, then hold onto your hats when you see the real tsunami wave of development that we all along have wanted in the first place!”
by Diana Ellis
As Michael Kluckner points out in his 1983 book Vancouver The Way it Was, we can thank some early prominent Vancouver residents for purchasing five acres at “Greer’s Beach” for a city park, to which the city added the rest of the beach area. This beach, subsequently named “Kitsilano” remains a striking jewel in the City’s necklace of beaches.
Kluckner’s book also describes plans, put forward by the city and others between the 1920′s and 1960′s, to purchase the mile of waterfront property between Kits Pool and Alma Rd for a bluff-top park and/or roadway. None of these plans came to fruition: the four existing pocket parks along Point Grey Road are the only results. Expropriation was not part of the lexicon of the waterfront landowners, then or now.
As a result, the beach area from the foot of Trafalgar to the foot of Alma remains as natural a foreshore as it was before Europeans sailed into English Bay. No paved formal trail, no rip-rap, no concrete seawalls, no jetties or docks – one of the few pieces of shoreline along Coal Harbour and English Bay that remains unchanged by us.
Now we have another Vancouver resident offering a large sum of money to extend the gorgeous seawall along this mile. A great offer, for sure. But how about this novel thought – can we just let it be? Can we play the nature card and keep this mile of what I call a “working beach” just that?
Take a walk at medium to low tide amongst the sand, rocks and boulders of this beach, as hundreds do regularly, and this is what you’ll find. Crows, herons, gulls and eagles working the beach for mussels, bullheads and other small sea critters that make up part of their daily diet. Look up at the steep shale and sandstone layered cliffs and imagine local First Nations people coming long ago to sharpen their tools here. August Jack Khaht sa lano told Vancouver’s first archivist, Major J. S. Matthews, that this area was called Tsim-Sah-Muls – “tool sharpening rock”. While there, they too worked the beach for mussels, clams and oysters, and gaffed trout, coho and chum salmon in the two streams flowing out east and west of what is now called Bayswater Street. Look for the remaining fresh water trickles from those now-culverted streams. Watch the crows drink, still, from that fresh water. Imagine the great clam shell middens at the foot of Macdonald and Balaclava Streets unearthed by early (white) residents of Kitsilano and now covered by park lawn.
See if you can still find, in the high beach at the foot of Trutch Street, the few iron remains of what was once the English Bay Cannery – thriving from the late 1890′s until 1906.
Walk up to the top of the Bayswater Street access stairs and think about the Crickmay family campsite set up there in the summers of the early 1900’s, with the family of 9 canoeing over from “town” or traipsing out along what Matthews describes as “originally a winding Indian path between Eyalmo (Jericho) and Skwayous (Kitsilano beach), a sinuous path, with fine berry picking on both sides.”
It is true, a seawall path for cyclists, skaters, and walkers would open up this foreshore to thousands. But given the many miles of paved bike and pathways in our beautiful city, do you think we could just let this mile of beach be as it has always been? Then you too, on any medium to low tide day, can choose to join the individuals, couples and families who walk off the beaten track – away from Kitsilano’s manicured volleyball beach and the swoosh of seawall cyclists – to explore and appreciate this natural “working” beach. Bring a picnic. Help your kids find the crabs. Be still while watching Heron fish. Think of those who have come here before. Be in nature.
Harris, Gerry. Vancouver’s old streams. Vancouver Public Aquarium Association. 1978.
Kluckner, Michael. Vancouver: the way it was. Whitecap Books. 1984, 1993
Matthews, Major J.S. Early Vancouver. Vols. 1 and 2. 1932
[Diana Ellis, Suzuki Elder, Kitsilano resident and student of Vancouver history, has explored this particular beach mile for the past 37 years, often with youngsters in tow]
Singer Joni Mitchell suggests in her classic Circle Game song, that we’re all captives together on a carousel of time. Yet another vein of this circle game is revealed in a recent article by Jon Ferry on the plight of local neighbourhoods in Vancouver. This could just as easily have depicted the similar plight of all the neighbourhoods and citizenry on the North Shore. The issues and arguments that engulf them all, one and the same.
The underlying cause of this universal plight, and the runaway high-density frenzy that is driving it, is not some lofty, yet misguided, belief in eco-density or sustainable growth or some otherwise commendable desire to create an eco-friendly, lower carbon footprint on the earth. These are but the latest buzzwords of today’s politicians, planners and developers to hide behind in an attempt to disguise their true motive which is nothing more than old-fashioned, bald-faced human greed and the self-interest that goads it ever onward.
The primary intent of their motives has nothing to do with “saving the planet from global warming”, “protecting the natural environment”, “providing affordable homes and housing for young families, the youth and the needy”, “getting people out of vehicles and onto public transport or bikes”, “creating healthy, liveable communities” or “protecting and preserving heritage and character.” These are just the convenient disguises, ploys and ruses used to con the unaware, unthinking, indifferent general public and get them on-side.
Whether or not such densification obfuscation ends up being developer- or planner-directed there no essential difference between them and no significant paradigm shift whatsoever in terms of ultimate outcome. Both seek to do nothing more than pander to, or accommodate, the two ever-present monster elephants in the room – unbridled population explosion and perpetual economic growth. The developer-directed and planner-directed models both resolutely refuse to consider a third alternative model – a people-directed model. Any such people-directed model that remotely proposes a paradigm shift away from the developer-planner model’s genuflections to these two monster elephants is always dismissed out-of-hand as nothing more than unrealistic, messy, make-work projects.
Resident associations and concerned citizen groups all over the North Shore can point to high-density projects in their area that not only totally ignore the will of the local populace but, once the original development proposal is put forth, then attempt to enlarge the scope of the original proposal in terms of volume and mass.
These who know how to game the system ask for an inch and then constantly take a mile because they know they can. They care not a whit how liveable or humanistic it may be to ultimately stuff human beings in the tiny, cramped, hard-edged spaces they propose. They care not a whit how their high-density schemes will create ever greater traffic volumes of grid-lock proportions or how it will negatively impact upon the lives of those in the surrounding residential communities. They care not a whit that the existing road or public transport systems and supporting infrastructure in whatever municipality either don’t exist or will not exist, in the short or long term, to accommodate their massive schemes. Their general attitude is “Single Family Neighbourhoods be damned!”
As Jon Ferry points out in his aptly-named article, it doesn’t really ever matter what local neighbourhoods may want because the development community, as well as those politicians and planners in their pocket, run the show like authoritarian bullies and dictatorial thugs. But in a very real sense, they know they will have their way because they know they are also doing the bidding of the silent majority in society who always want their cake and eat it too.
The general populace might talk a good game of lofty “eco or human friendly” desires and intentions but, when push comes to shove, they also want all the goodies that an ever-expanding consumer capitalism can offer them. So they are willing, at the drop of a hat, to complacently cast a blind’s eye towards whatever densification scam the developers, politicians and planners are intent upon doing in their name. In the end, everyone goes along to get along! Otherwise, if they didn’t, they would have to tar and feather all these bullies and thugs, and then run them out of town on a rail.
And so, in the meantime, the seasons, they go round and round, and the painted ponies, they go up and down in a circle game, of which we are all captives!
Naramata Centre – a green, leafy place on the eastern shore of Okanagan Lake, British Columbia. For more than 60 years it has been a haven for learning, spiritual nurture and renewal. Over the course of a July week, with the outdoor temperature easily leaping over 30oC, a group of us sought out a quiet, shady spot and gathered in a circle to have a conversation about the world and our place in it. We were mainly elders hailing from B.C. and Alberta, some from Saskatchewan and Ontario and one all the way from California.
Earlier in the day a small group of dedicated organizers had spoken to us, sung to us and exhorted us to take on the task of healing our afflicted planet. They regaled us with images and headlines of global climate change, vanishing species and troubled times. In grand biblical fashion they marched us around a hall where 12 gates had been set up, these made not from ancient stone but from board and paper on which we could scribble our concerns, thoughts and intentions. The gates were labelled Education, Politics, Alternative Economy, Waste, Energy, Neighbourhood, Earthly Kinship, Travel, Spirituality, Food, Water and Stuff.
And then we were sent off to form the conversation circle to express our own views and thoughts on the global crisis. No debates, no critiques, no defences needed against opposing views. We could say whatever we wanted. The outflowing comments were every bit as diverse as the underlying issues and concerns, but gradually some patterns started to emerge. With a little sifting, grouping and clarification we started coming up with some core thoughts and concerns which I share here.
Our view of the global scene:
- it’s not a black and white world, and we often seem paralyzed by the complexity of the gray distinctions;
- what’s happening in our familiar little piece of the globe keeps us from seeing the big picture clearly;
- sometimes what’s happening nationally and globally is so big it paralyzes us.
The global crisis is leading to personal conflict:
- growing awareness of the issues produces a sense of inner conflict;
- we feel conflicted by our lifestyles and the footprint of our well-intentioned activities, e.g. the carbon footprint of travel to reach transforming places;
- and yet, inner conflict can be good when it leads to growth and action;
- we will have to be willing to risk being in conflict about things that matter deeply to us.
- it takes courage to be distressed;
- there is spirituality in all peoples and in Creation.
- we are developing an encouraging level of consciousness;
- when the knowing/awareness moves from our heads to our hearts, it transforms us;
- we benefit from stopping and witnessing ourselves.
We noted that:
- change is inevitable;
- little things make a difference (one starling in a murmuration?);
- we live in a society that encourages polarization of views and attitudes;
- we tend to hold individual positions rather than search for common interests.
We enquired amongst ourselves as to what skills would be good in dealing with the situation?
- the skill to understand how the issue affects all parties;
- the skill to develop consensus (getting to that place where everyone involved can say, “I can live with that”);
- the skill to move the discussion from something based on individual position to one of common interest;
- the skill to deepen our spiritual practices
- the skill to understand what it means that everything is connected (a gentle spider-web?)
- the skill to hold an awareness of hope, energy, and spirit.
There was nothing particularly unique about our conversation under the green canopies of Naramata this past summer day. Thousands of discussions and conversations just like it go on every day across the land. But that’s the point. If more and more elders sit and talk the situation over with intention and spirit, then more and more will contribute to the great pool of realization as to where we are, where we’re going, and what we need to do personally to move to something better.
[with thanks to Tim Scorer for keeping the notes on which this report is based]
by Jerome Irwin
A burning question in the minds of many North Shore residents and their municipalities today is whether or not the philosophy that is fueling the current frenzy towards high-rise/infill housing densification will prove to be a panacea or an apocalypse of the future.
The North Shore News just completed a four-part series on “The Changing Face of North Shore Housing” (May 6th-May 28th, 2012). The most damning omission in that series was its total avoidance of two opposing philosophies that challenge the very premise of densification and call into question the sanity of the direction in which it seeks to lead the North Shore of tomorrow.
David Suzuki, well-known Canadian scientist, broadcaster and environmental activist, framed one of these opposing viewpoints in a recent essay (“Environmentalism Has Failed: On Adopting a Biocentric Viewpoint”, EcoWatch, May 3rd, 2012). Suzuki contends the human species everywhere must undertake a paradigm shift to meet the challenge of the world-wide crisis the human species has created for itself. Suzuki advocates adopting a biocentric viewpoint that sees we humans as part of, and dependent upon, the web of life that keeps the planet habitable, rather than an anthropocentric, self-centered viewpoint that sees everything in life solely revolving around the needs of we humans.
At first glance, Suzuki’s viewpoint might seem like quite a stretch regarding the issue of densification on the North Shore, but it really isn’t. Being part of a community or neighbourhood on the North Shore and being dependent upon the web of life of a neighbourhood that keeps the community habitable are light years away from the precept that the individual owner has the anthropocentric right and privilege of dominion to basically do whatever he or she so pleases on their property, including tearing down a heritage home or a house with character or by removing all the mature trees and established landscapes and extensive gardens for some massive infill housing project. Historically, municipal laws and bylaws have basically protected those anthropocentric rights while essentially ignoring any biocentric needs, attachments, claims or desires that the surrounding community and non-human residents may have had to the lost habitat. The surrounding human community’s historical enjoyment of the wild beauty of the property and local wildlife’s dependency on a property’s plant life and ecosystems typically receive little importance or precedence. This is an example in microcosmic terms of what David Suzuki is talking about and underscores the kind of paradigm shift in attitudes that needs to occur.
The North Shore News series made only passing reference to the enormous magnitude of the potential loss of heritage, character and natural habitats in the face of the proposed radical changes to the North Shore’s housing stock. Only briefly stated or implied were such critical matters as:
- redevelopers, whether outside or inside a community, showing little empathy or effort to create dialogue with the surrounding community about their plans;
- inept and/or crass forms of architecture that don’t suit any part of the community’s surrounding land- or streetscapes;
- the greed that craves to build and expand on evermore allowable square footage of a property;
- the continual changes to building laws and bylaws legalize what was formally illegal;
- developers engaging in block-busting strategies that the regulating authorities cast a blind’s eye towards;
- the wholesale abandonment of little-valued historical bungalows, cottages, and homes;
- the pre-eminence of profits over the sustainability of a community and its established way of life;
- the lack of regulatory laws and protection to ensure a heritage home or community’s right to exist and survive;
- the major disconnect between the majority of North Shore residents and the natural world, mature trees and landscapes that less and less surround their homes which are becoming concretized fortresses of alienation from nature.
In a nutshell, what the four-part series in the North Shore News alluded to is the actual gross lack of intimate relationships that we humans on the North Shore have, not only with Mother Nature and the North Shore’s ancient forces of life, but with our own individual mothering nature and the healthy, nurturing, life-affirming direction that nature would intuitively direct us towards if only we would heed it. This same failure to adopt a biocentric view of life could be said about Canada, and, indeed, the world as a whole. This is the ultimate paradigm shift on a grand scale, of which David Suzuki speaks.
Yet another damning omission in the North Shore News series was its total avoidance of yet another opposing viewpoint that also challenges the very premise of densification and equally calls into question the sanity of the direction that far too many would lead the North Shore society of tomorrow. Pete McMartin’s piece in the Vancouver Sun, May 29th, 2012 (“Is Vancouver’s Goal of Urban Density Just Plain Dense?”), criticizes Vancouver’s urban density and its avowed “twin-pillared” gospel of the intrinsic benefits of densification and subsequent replacement of private vehicles by public transport. This could just as easily be applied to the wildly optimistic densification goals of the municipalities on the North Shore. McMartin puts forth as his basic argument various points made in a paper by Wendall Cox (“Mobility & Prosperity in the City of the Future”; MacDonald-Laurier Institute, May 23rd, 2012)
Cox, a futuristic thinker and principal of an international public policy firm that specializes in urban public policy, transport and demographics, basically contends that the quality of life in many of Canada’s major cities has been seriously harmed by urban planners’ radical densification policies. Cox puts forth several arguments against the basic premises of densification philosophy. Among those points raised are those which contend that densification’s attempt to pack people into tight urban spaces and forcing them to use public transit is “hopeless”. Rather than minimizing the cost of living, maximizing discretionary income, minimizing traffic congestion or improving economic growth, it does just the opposite and instead drives up housing and land prices beyond the affordability for many, fails to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and can actually retard economic growth.
Cox points to such failed densification plans as those in San Diego where for the next forty years half of all its transportation development monies are to be spent on public transit, yet today less than 2% of their citizens use transit, and projected transit usage will remain under 4% by 2050. Cox also says it is a fallacy that public transport is quicker than automobile trips. His studies in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa-Gatineau, Calgary and Edmonton found that transit trips take 50% longer than trips by cars.
Given the basic truths espoused by these two opposing viewpoints, what ultimate madness or fallacy can be said to be behind the current frenzy on the North Shore that drives its municipalities to build or propose so many high-rise towers, high-density village-town centres and infill monster houses or to commit to tear down and demolish what little remains of its former heritage and character and the North Shore’s once-iconic look?