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Vancouver is not green enough

The city's green initiatives are a good start, but fall short of what's needed

Over at 12th and Cambie, some days they must echo Kermits song Its Not Easy Being Green. From cry-baby downtown business owners eager to blame bike lanes for their allegedly reduced profits to clamorous right wing pundits who see Vancouvers modest civic efforts to reduce the citys climate changing green house gas emissions as heretical offenses against the Holy Market, to local comics who love to score easy laughs by mocking goofy city initiatives like urban chickens, Vancouvers earnest efforts to become the worlds greenest city play to very mixed reviews indeed.

Vision partisans trumpet the suite of policy changes designed to address climate change as compelling proof that the city is in good hands, while right wing opponents love to portray the same policies as proof that city planners and their political masters have been smoking too much B.C. bud while coming up with ways to green the city.

It is possible, however, that the problem with Vancouvers response to climate change issues is that it hasnt gone far enough. We may need to be taking far more dramatic steps than we have so far if we want to do our part in protecting the citys next generations from rising sea levels, chaotic and destructive weather extremes and lethal food supply crises, all on the near horizon for our children and grandchildren if we dont act decisively. If a business as usual policy prevails, or if we restrict ourselves to feel-good symbolism and futile gestures, the next generations may learn what it looks like when the city undergoes disasters that will make the great Vancouver fire of the 19th century look like a brush fire.

With all this bad news impending, let me suggest some summer reading that will help us all, as citizens, assess just how far we want our city to go in responding to the climate change crisis.

A new paper from the Pew Centre, which is available on line at http://www.pewclimate.org/publications/extreme-weather-and-climate-change sets the context, a world climate system that is being driven into wilder and wilder extremes by human created green house gas emissions. As they say at the poker table, read it and weep.

Closer to home , an important new study from the B.C. offices of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, Transportation Transformation ( available on line at http://www.policynote.ca/transportation-transformation/) looks at what can be done to move B.C. from its current situation, in which transportation contributes 40 per cent of the provinces climate scalding emissions, to one in which B.C. transportation is emission free by 2040. The local authors provide a sensible set of policy proposals to accomplish that vital shift, and the creation of what they call complete communities is at the centre of their suggestions.

A complete community, they say, is one where people do not have to travel far to meet their day-to-day needs, making it possible to walk, bike and use high quality public transit. Complete communities include a mix of housing types, including affordable options, decent jobs, public services parks and other public spaces. The CCPA authors cite Vancouver as a leader in the countrys transition to low carbon efficient transportation systems, but I am sure they would not pretend that current city policies will suffice to get the city to their zero emission goals. Were doing better than many North American cities, but that is not nearly enough, I would say.

A truly serious city government would be expanding bike lanes and zero emission mass transit much more aggressively, and bringing in cost incentives like free bus fares and higher parking charges to get us out of our cars and onto transit, bikes or our feet. The journey toward civic sanity on climate change issues is a long one, but the Pew and CCPA papers are required summer reading for any Vancouver resident who wants our city to make that trip.

tos@infinet.net