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Letters from Vancouver: Harbinger for the USA?

August 2011

Vancouver's "Green" Future Will Be A Crowded One

A Skytrain Station In Vancouver in 2025?

Vancouver's mayor, a former NDP Member of the BC Legislature, promises to make Vancouver the "greenest" city in the world by 2020. And yet he and his allies "plan" to accommodate more and more newcomers by squeezing residents together tighter and tighter. Former NDP Premier Mike Harcourt argues that single family housing should be replaced with higher density, and the city is now promoting the construction of 'backyard' housing that would preclude the use of backyards as gardens. I guess that is what was meant by "Eco-density". Have these people heard of Peak Oil? Where are all these extra people going to get their food? The farmland of the Fraser Valley continues to fall to the bulldozer, thanks in part to the changes made to the administration of the Agricultural Land Reserve, which allow good land in the south of the province to be traded for poorer land elsewhere, far away from our major population centre.

Never mind, Vancouver can grow ad infinitum. All the while reducing carbon emissions and waste of course. This fits well with the Green Gospel of "decoupling" population and economic growth from environmental impacts. Dr. William Rees has said that there is no reason why we can't accommodate immigration-driven growth and protect "greenfield acreage" at the same time. No reason, except that zoning is firmly in the control of the developers who control local government. Did I mention that the mayor's civic party, "Vision", accepts donations from developers? Perhaps “Vision” should be re-named “Hallucination”.

But then there is the big picture to consider. Climate change is expected to cause major dislocations and migrations. What if 33 million Bangladeshis need a home? Well, of course, Dr. Rees argues, Canada is morally obliged to accept a big chunk of them because we, as major GHG emitters, would be responsible for the rise of the ocean waters that will force them to leave, and after, Vancouver is the gateway to Asia so..........Get the picture? After all, Vancouver's city motto is "A world within a city", an ethic that fits well with a slogan that the National Post selected as befitting our nation: "Canada--Home to the World". It's a big place and we have lots of room, haven't we? If immigrants choose to live in Vancouver, well, under the Charter of Rights, that is their entitlement. Displaced Vancouverites can always set up shop in the Arctic tundra or in the Canadian Shield and try to live 'green' in sub-zero temperatures by cutting back their energy consumption.

And then there is our past 'racist' immigration policies to make up for. Since our forefathers sought to protect the wages and living standards of Canadian workers by excluding cheap Asian labour, we must try to make amends by playing "catch up" and hold the door wide open for people coming from that region. Especially Chinese millionaires who are inflating the Vancouver housing market to the point that native born Vancouverites cannot afford to live there anymore, never mind own a house. And to hell with carrying capacity, which, as Dr. Rees will tell you, is a problematic concept anyway. According to his ecological footprint analysis, Canada has the "biocapacity" to support 90 million people---just ten million shy of Irvin Studin's dream of a Canada of 100 million people. But biocapacity is not the shortest of the straws in Liebig's Law---which Dr. Rees often likes to refer to. As the Science Council of Canada forecast a quarter century ago (Report 25, 1976), a far greater and more immediate constraint will be the scarcity of non-renewable resources which underpin our industrial economy and support the artificially high population levels we have now. Fossil fuel is only one of them, albeit a crucial one. The SCC advised that Canada must lower consumption, population growth and immigration. Viable cities in a post carbon Canada, according to analysts like Richard Embleton, will not exceed 20-50,000 people, 80,000 at most. Vancouver is going to go on the same demographic crash diet that other cities will suffer. But who cares so long as we fulfill our "moral obligations." And besides, environmentalists like Bruce Cox of Greenpeace continue to tell us that congregating in urban feedlots is environmentally responsible. Our future lies in big urban holding pens. Or ‘Green’ sardine cans stuffed with dead fish?

Funny thing, white guilt. It doesn't cut both ways. It demands that we feel badly about our profligate ways, but be infinitely forgiving about the reckless fecundity of the global poor, many of whom are captive to the repressive values of cultures which we welcome within our gates without judgment. "They contribute to the rich tapestry that enriches us all." Moreover, we are led to believe that overconsumption is exclusive to our vanishing middle class, without assigning equal blame to the burgeoning middle class of China or India, which dwarfs ours.

This double standard reflects a long-standing current of self-loathing that has been systematically cultivated in our colleges and universities for four decades, leading to the ascendance of a political class that acts as a puppet intelligentsia for those who would colonize us. As one Australian critic put it, "So if live in Mauritius, strip farm the forest until there is none left and have 11 kids, that is not a problem. But if I live frugally in the West, even peddle to work, I should be on a guilt trip. If I live in Africa and shoot wildlife in the forests, as it is far easier than having to farm livestock to produce meat, that is clearly not a problem. If I live in Ethiopia and have 10 kids, and burn every tree in sight for firewood, I should rejoice, for I am not part of the problem. If I get hungry, I will simply dangle another starving baby in front of Western TV cameras and hey presto, across the horizon come boatloads of food! Sheesh, I might as well throw the old leg over and get pregnant once again, all guilt free and cost free. Those Western suckers will sort it out." Obviously this woman hasn’t learned the First Commandment Of Political Correctness from Monbiotism101: "Thou shalt never blame the poor or hold them accountable for anything." Even if the bottom billion accounts for as much environmental damage as that vilified billion at the top. Peasant farmers are responsible for 40% of the deforestation of the Amazon, but that has nothing to do with global warming, right?

Greenies are an schizoid bunch. When North Americans buy cheap Chinese goods from Walmart, they are told that they have "appropriated" capacity from China and are responsible for that portion of green house gasses which the Chinese emit in producing those goods that they buy. But on the other hand, Western nations are not to be given any credit for food aid and agricultural exports , medicine and technology which involve environmental costs here. The aforementioned Australian critic observed, "Australia for instance burns one hell of a lot of diesel to feed those in the third world and to provide resource sto those people. We could of course deny the third world supplies of wheat, barley, meat, coal, iron ore, aluminum etc. Our C02 figures would look dramatically better, whilst they starved. The notion that people in the third world, if their GDP is only $2 a day, are not creating environmental damage, is of course flawed."

It’s the same story for Canada. In a study that focused on the Prairie provinces between 1989 and 2007, William Rees and Meidad Kissinger found that 65% of Canadian prairie cropland was effectively ‘exported’, requiring an area of land to sequester carbon dioxide that is emitted from growing these export products of some 34 million hectares, equivalent to the UK, the Netherlands and Denmark combined. And that figure was exclusive of the carbon released in farm equipment manufacture, product processing and shipping. Dr. Rees may well point out that Canada feeds 60 million people outside of its borders, and if our population climbed to 90 million, those 60 million people would need to look for another food source. But that is exactly where we are going. “Millions of people around the world depend, at least in part, on the productivity and waste sequestering capacity of Canada’s natural capital. The sustainability of these countries is , therefore, partially tied to the sustainability of Canadian ecosystems.” (Kissinger and Rees, “Footprints on the Prairies”, Ecological Economics XXX 2009)).

However, in Vancouver’s case, as Dr. Michael Healey concluded in his $2.4 million federally commissioned study of Greater Vancouver’s Fraser Basin Ecosystem, it is hard to sustain an ecosystem when immigration-driven population growth had put the region in overshoot by a factor of three by 1997. His conclusion? Canada desperately needed a Population Plan, as the Fraser Basin was only one of many other major population centres similarly afflicted. (How very politically incorrect. No Order of Canada for you, Dr. Healey! As he said then, no one wants to talk about population because “If anyone raises it, they are accused of racism. It’s seen as a move to keep Asians out because most immigration to Canada is currently from Asia.”) It is a supreme irony that subdivisions built to accommodate immigrants from the Punjab are occupying more and more of the very farmland that could feed some of their compatriots back home. Dr. Healey’s report met the same fate as the SCC’s report #25 and Ontario Commissioner Gordon Miller’s warnings about the threat to food security posed by continuous population growth in the Golden Horseshoe. Death by wilful ignorance and denial.

I have often referred to Canada as a lifeboat of deceivingly small capacity that the growth lobby and their green collaborators perceive as an aircraft carrier. A better metaphor, perhaps, as someone suggested, would be a tugboat which is dragging a vast flotilla of overloaded canoes getting more overladen each day. When affordable oil runs out, a lot of vessels will be floundering, including ours. We will rue the day when we decided to "go green" so that we could make room for more and more passengers.

Tim Murray
July 17, 2011-07-17

Tim Murray is a BALANCE Board Member.

A Growing Vancouver Can Never Be A Green One

This week, the City of Vancouver announced details of its plan to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city by 2020. It will achieve that goal, it says, by focusing on 10 key points.

The big problem is that the city ignores other key points such as continued growth in its population which will negate any gains it might achieve. It is hard to believe that it has never occurred to the city or any of Metro Vancouver’s municipalities that ignoring unending population growth could be catastrophic. Is it possible anyone could be so unaware? So critics should feel no qualms about describing the green ambitions of Vancouver and its suburbs as mere green-washing fraud and outright hypocrisy.
Aside from natural creations such as erupting volcanoes, all cities are the greatest polluters on this planet. Almost without exception, the largest of those cities are at the top of that list of the greatest polluters.

So to say that the City of Vancouver wants to become the world’s greenest city is really equal to saying Vancouver wants to become the best of the worst. To pretend that Vancouver or any other city can have a small to negligible ecological footprint is a great delusion. Large numbers of people and ecologically-friendly conditions are completely incompatible.

Remember that the large numbers in cities rely on the extraction of resources from areas far distant from their own locations. These cities and all the institutions they develop within their borders are the most highly vulnerable of all human communities.

It would make sense for those in such locations to do all they can to reduce their vulnerability, not to increase it by increasing their size. Yet an increase in size is what Vancouver and its suburbs are planning—as are most of the worst polluting cities on the planet.

The goal of becoming green is noble, but unless it includes population stabilization and then population reduction, the plan will fail.

In a number of future bulletins, we will examine Vancouver’s green ambitions. This week, we will look at one of the points made in this week’s announcement.

That point states that the City plans to increase by 50% the number of local food sources, including markets, garden plots and orchards.

Alarm bells should be sounding at this claim.

Why? Over the next 20 years, it is projected that another million people will live in the Metro Vancouver area. It took over 120 years for Metro Vancouver to reach a population of over 1+ million, but it has taken just the last 20+ years for the Metro Vancouver area to exceed 2+ million. Almost all of the past increase of 1 million was caused by immigration. Immigration will be almost the sole cause of the next 1 million increase to 2031. In other words, immigration is not a tangential green issue. It is “the” green issue.
It is projected that by 2031, the City of Vancouver’s population will increase in size by 100,000+. The other 900,000 will be taken by Metro suburbs such as Langley Township, Surrey, Maple Ridge and Richmond.

The big problem is that these suburbs are the locations of most of Metro Vancouver’s agricultural land. If this land becomes used for housing, the food supply of the City of Vancouver and its suburbs will be undermined. Former B.C. Premier Campbell did much to set the stage for this massive problem. As a result of his stealthy actions to help developers, British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve was decentralized and its ability to protect farmland was substantially weakened. As a result, all of the Metro Vancouver municipalities with farmland are under increasing pressure to convert farmland to housing for the 1+ million immigrants projected to arrive. Pollution from an additional 1 million people will further degrade the entire area, including its farmland.

Those who live outside the Metro Vancouver—Fraser Valley area may not realize that this area has the longest growing season and some of the best soil in Canada. These qualities should mean that the area should be treated like a precious jewel. But many of the politicians are so infatuated with immigration and ethnic diversity that they see no conflict between the survival of the area’s farmland and its biological diversity and the inflow of so many people.

To put the matter into perspective, think of this comparison :
Metro-Vancouver has an area of 1111 square miles. P.E.I., Canada’s smallest but most densely populated province, has an area of 2184 square miles and a population of about 145,000. So Metro Vancouver has one half of P.E.I.’s area but 17 times its population. If the 1 million population increase occurs, Metro Vancouver will have over 21 times the current P.E.I. population by 2031. Those who live or who have visited P.E.I. should find it easy to understand that Metro Vancouver is already a very congested area. A population increase will create even more crowding.

The City of Vancouver has a tiny amount of agricultural land and is almost completely dependent on outside sources of food. In another effort to show that it could decrease its dependency, it introduced a bylaw to allow homeowners to keep chickens in their backyards. This is well-intentioned, but it shows the city’s pre-occupation with trivialities. In a much more significant but negative direction, in 2009, the City of Vancouver re-zoned most of the city so that a second house could be put at the back of each lot . That second dwelling could potentially fill most backyards.

The point is that single family housing lots have the potential to be a source of food production. But if second dwellings are built where food gardens could be, potential food production is lost. So far, about 300 permits have been issued for these second dwellings. The number is small, but anyone who lives near one has seen that the second dwellings cast shadows not only on what remains of its own backyard, but also on neighbouring backyards. This has made many back yard gardens dark and unable to provide the light that plants need. New monster houses which are being built are also casting shadows.

Mayor Gregor Robertson is very aware that the 1 million immigrants projected to arrive over the next 20 years are not an inevitability. They will arrive as the result of a foolish, corrupt, federal high immigration policy. Mayor Robertson’s predecessors, Premier Gordon Campbell, Premier Mike Harcourt, Senator Larry Campbell and Sam Sullivan did not have the foresight or the courage to question the perpetual growth immigration policy. In fact, Harcourt has just recommended that Vancouver abolish single-family housing. Mayor Robertson and his Council could reverse 20 years of this weak, compliant behaviour by saying “Enough is enough”.

After that, they could influence the views of other Mayors and Councils in Metro Vancouver to say the same thing.

Mayor Robertson could go even further. He is currently the Chair of the Big City Mayors’ Caucus which consists of the mayors of the 22 largest cities in Canada and which comprises 40 % of Canada’s 34 million population. With his council’s help, he could exert an influence over all 22 of those mayors to get them to stand up to the federal government and also say “Enough is enough !!”

Their message should be simple : What will destroy the environment of Metro Vancouver will do the same thing all across Canada.

The road to green progress is clear : Mayor Robertson and his council should do the real thing, not a fake copy of it. They should summon up the courage to influence their colleagues in Metro Vancouver and across Canada.

This would be a truly green action, one that they could announce with true pride to the rest of Canada and the world.

Dan Murray

Dan Murray is a BALANCE Board Member.

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