Posted: January 29th, 2009 | Author: James Glave | Filed under: 350.org, Global Warming, top | Tags: 350 carbon audits global warming | No Comments »
Here’s my latest mini-essay on The Huffington Post, “Combatting CO-Tuneout“…
Do you know how much carbon that quick Google search just kicked up? Or the atmospheric price of that orange juice?
Me neither. In fact — even though I theoretically stay on top of this stuff for a living — I don’t care.
Evidently I’m an odd man out, though. It seems like every other week, another one of these “did you know” carbon-audit nuggets sweeps through the blogosphere. Unburdened by context, propelled and perpetuated via retweet and the Facebook share button, we read them and pass them along for the same reason that we like to pause to look at car wrecks; morbid pleasure.
These eco-snippets do little except underscore that we need to reinvent even the most mundane aspects of everyday life. Which explains why they generally lead to one of two reactions amongst those who receive them, neither of which are particularly productive.
The first response is temporary paralysis (“Damn, even YouTube is killing us!?”). The second is perhaps more dangerous: Apathy, which takes the form of a creeping climate-change ennui that I call “CO-Tuneout” — a mashup of “CO2″ and “tune-out.”
It’s the eye-roll reflex. “Oh, God, I’m so sick of hearing about carbon,” you might be muttering to yourself. “Can we please talk about something else?”
We can. And I have a few suggestions: How about values? Maybe ingenuity, and collaboration, and volunteerism? Maybe we can start planning a food garden for this year — where, I assure you, the low-hanging fruit tastes far sweeter than a defrosted can of Five Alive.
That said, some numbers are important to keep in the back of your mind: The mileage of your car is a useful one. And let’s not forget 350, perhaps the most important sum of them all.
But let’s stop rehashing disassociated noise that adds about as much value to the climate conversation as Tyra Banks.
We’ve already changed our leadership — and it was a long time coming. Now let’s change our attitudes to match the task that lies ahead. It’s crunch time, folks. Let’s stop seeing baggage in everything around us, and instead focus attention where it really matters: The big picture.
Orange juice photo by BettyBL.
Posted: January 25th, 2009 | Author: James Glave | Filed under: autoculture, Housing, sprawl, top | Tags: sprawl rurban rurbanism | 10 Comments »
We know that low-density suburban development is bad news for the atmosphere, for community, for taxpayers, and lots of other things. As I note in my book, Almost Green, I don’t think we’re quite a suburb over here on Bowen Island, though we have some suburban housing forms and neighborhoods, including mine. But thanks to an outdated community plan and land use bylaw—documents designed to preserve and protect rural character, but which have in fact have set us down a path of vehicle dependence and unaffordability–we’re heading more that way all the time.
There’s been a lot of excellent work done on the “rural-urban interface.” I think that description fits this place nicely; we have our farms and wildlife, but the city is very close indeed. Last year’s Snug Cove Master Plan makes the case that we should focus our growth in our village as a way to preserve green open spaces for recreation, ecological health, and carbon sinks.
A commenter on another blog posting on this site drew my attention to the District of Sechelt, her hometown, located on B.C.’s famous Sunshine Coast. She characterizes Sechelt as a prime example of bad community choices:
It used to have a unique character and local products — now it is utterly swamped in big box stores, cineplexes, trinket kiosks and national franchises. I still try to appreciate it but it is so different and less than what it was… People want to enjoy an authentically local experience when they visit. Let’s see how we can achieve that while still providing the convenience of essential and necessary services on-island.
This is absolutely what we need to work toward. Since I haven’t been up that way in a while, out of curiosity I made a few calls to friends in the B.C. planning profession. “Problematic development pattern and terrible town councils made a lot of bad decisions,” explained one. The good news is that the district recently created a comprehensive Community Vision Plan that looks to be the key reference for an upcoming Official Community Plan review.
Here’s one neat bit, describing mixed-use neighborhoods known as the “Rurban Hamlet.” (I haven’t come across the term before — can anyone share its history?) Here’s what the plan says about it:
A rurban hamlet is density neutral and arranges the units in a mixed building type cluster … on only a small portion of the overall site. For example, on a 10 acre site with an allowable density of six units per acre, or 60 units overall, it can locate all 60 units on four to six acres, saving or conserving six to four acres, respectively, in contiguous open space. All with conventional building types using detached, attached and multiplex homes.
The section inclues several sketches to illustrate rurban hamlets, including this one.
Included in the above is “multiplex housing (single-entry with three to five units, a shared front porch and shared garage); single-family detached bungalows, including one with an attached in-law suite; attached cottages; a shared garage; and a studio/potting building. Each unit has a private yard that connects to shared open space.”
For those not still turning up their nose at the idea of four-storey apartments in the cove, perhaps a rurban hamlet like this might be more palatable? Scary thought for the 10-acre brigade: The houses are very close together. Five of them are — shudder — even in the same building!
Posted: January 15th, 2009 | Author: James Glave | Filed under: Global Warming, Plastic, top, Transformational Change | Tags: vancouver magazine bowen island turf war artificial tur | 46 Comments »
UPDATED: Readers of this blog may not all be familiar with a controversy that has swept my community in recent months. A plan is on the table to build a new artificial-turf sports field on the grounds of our community school. The proposal has sharply divided Bowen Island. For background, see the Bowen Island Municipality web site , and also the Vancouver magazine feature [.PDF File, 1MB] that I wrote about the project. Recently, someone asked on a public forum why someone who has so publicly identified himself as “green” is supporting the project. I wrote this post in response.
Many say they oppose the proposed artificial-turf field because of its perceived health risks, or its cost, or its relatively limited life expectancy, or its proposed location in a schoolyard where trees now stand, or the ecological burdens associated with plastic, its primary constituent material.
A side of me wonders, though, if these concerns are in fact mere supporting bullet points on a larger slide. To many of these opponents, I suspect the field represents something bigger than all of these complaints put together: It is a high-profile symbolic attack on the community’s treasured ruralism. It is a nuclear bomb in freefall with “urbanism” painted on the nose cone.
I haven’t been here long—only a few years—but it’s been long enough to come to love this place and everything that makes it what it is: The “dog of the year” float in the Bowfest parade each August. The used clothing, toy, and sports-gear fundraisers that roll a year’s worth of craigslist haggling into single day or weekend event. The volunteers at our wonderful library who rubber-stamp ink butterflies onto my kids’ hands. The rhubarb Pat sells from a wheelbarrow in front of the building center. The metalworker who spot-welded my stainless-steel lunchbox set back together, for $5 (thanks again, Peter). The self-serve fresh eggs in the fridge at Shady Acres Farm. The annual salmon release at the hatchery. The apple festival. And on and on. These are people and experiences and relationships and transactions that you won’t likely find in any of our region’s tract-home and strip-mall hinterlands, where the nights echo with car alarms instead of owls. These experiences emerge from the mutual trust, respect, and accountability that you find in a smaller, more intimate community. They are what urban planners are working desperately to replicate in other places.
Bowen Island is a respite from the world across the channel that seems increasingly ruled by liability, populated with sterile franchises and canned experiences, and suffused with the kind of soul-draining manufactured authenticity that you order from a Restoration Hardware website. Our little touches—our commitment to self-sufficiency, volunteerism, and our admiration for small-town quirk—remind us what is real, and what matters. These things constitute the very core of our identity. They are why all of us call this place home.
But these qualities do not in my mind excuse us from our responsibility to do what we can to help avert the single greatest challenge that has ever faced humanity. Our rurality does not give us a “hall pass” to opt out of responding to a global emergency that I promise you will touch each one of our lives in the coming years.
I’m sorry if it seems like I keep sounding an alarm, but that’s what you’re supposed to do in an emergency. “When you talk to the people at the sharp end of the climate business, scientists and policy-makers alike,” writes Gwynne Dyer in the introduction to his new book, “there is an air of suppressed panic in many of the conversations.” It’s so far a mostly-invisible threat, but it’s right here in plain sight. Climate change is going to hit us in ways we can’t even yet imagine right here on our island—it’s going to force us into moral dilemmas for which there are no winners, only wrenching compromises.
As a community, we famously band together in times of crisis. We open our wallets wide when one of the school custodians is battling cancer, or when the seniors’ housing complex needs a new plumbing system, or when one of our family’s children suffers severe burns and needs special care. Many of us volunteer for the fire department, and drop the fork mid-bite when the pager sounds. We’re pretty good at responding like this, at taking care of our own. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do.
But I fear we are ignoring a crisis of staggering proportions that will eventually, inevitably reach our shores. We are ignoring it today because we believe that it’s someone else’s fault, or we feel that someone else is working on the problem. We are ignoring it because it doesn’t yet have a familiar face, like our smiling custodian. And perhaps also because we gather that some of the things we could be doing to help fix it don’t neatly jibe with the leafy milieu that we defend so passionately.
As much as I love our rurality and character, to me it is a decidedly mixed blessing. We space ourselves quite far apart in this Eden. In a perfectly honest effort to connect more closely with nature, we tuck our homes deep into the woods. It’s private and peaceful out here. Yet—while some of us do work from home—it also means the vast majority of us remain utterly dependent on often-heavy vehicles, and an even heavier ferry, to travel great distances to shop, work, learn, and play. Those vehicles will realistically not be electrified for many years to come. And so, when you look at the data, and compare it with similar communities, our contribution to the problem—by very dint of our rurality—is enormous. Though I haven’t seen an analysis, I suspect our forestlands do not come close to soaking up all the heat-trapping gases coming out of our tailpipes.
I feel in my heart that we need to own this one. I believe we need to take some responsibility that some of the aspects of our place that we hold dear are, in fact, fanning the flames. We are not “greener” than mainlanders just because we look that color to those peering our way from across the channel. When it comes to the challenge that looms largest overhead, the hue is a tragic illusion. Because in reality, we’re browner.
Let me say here that I’m just as complicit as anyone else here. I like privacy as much as the next person—my forested property is almost an acre. And yes, I drive. But I’ve since arrived at a place in my head where I am ready to take some responsibility for my choices. Most of my friends think I’m a Chicken Little. They’re just not there yet. They tolerate me—they admire my energy and enthusiasm—but they’re interested in other things. That’s fine, I have other passions, too. I love to eat, for one thing. I love to kayak, to read with the kids, to hang out with my tolerant pals on games night with a bottle of wine, or three.
Some opponents have characterized the turf project as a failure of our collective imagination. If we work at it enough, they argue, we can come up with an alternate solution that is more in keeping with how we do things around here. One of the protest signs that went up last year near the proposed project site seemed to articulate this with the single word “hope.”
So let’s set aside the thousands hundreds of hours of work put in by volunteers and local professionals exploring the options, volunteers and professionals who love this community passionately. And permit me to do some hoping of my own for a moment. My dream for our island is that the more we grow—and the fact of the matter is that we will grow —that we also grow even more “local” and self-reliant along the way. That even with more people, we retain the connectedness that defines us.
I also dream that we will become increasingly resilient to the dramatic changes to our lifestyles that lie ahead. I think we can redefine what “rural” means, by owning the idea as much through the strength of our relationships as our rambling country lanes and 10-acre lots each dotted with a single-family home. The new information we now have about the mess we are all in compels us to revisit many of the patterns and entitlements that we hold sacred, things that we see as our “right.”
It also compels us to prepare and adapt, and we are already starting this by building a desperately-needed new fire station. This is critical infrastructure, as important as setting aside spaces to grow much of our own food, and putting in place systems to harvest potable rainwater from our rooftops. Given the sheer scale of this global crisis, and the speed at which it approaches us, we need to think more broadly about infrastructure to include a broad range of community amenities here on the island.
It’s understandable that many of us would feel affronted and offended by a turf field. Yes, you might find one in the city, or in a suburb. But it urbanization? No. God help us if we someday grow big enough to attract a fast-food outlet. New amenities represent change, and they are an admission that we are growing, and that perhaps new people are coming who want to do different things, and who don’t wish to travel to the mainland on manic errand-filled days because they’re stressful and hard on families. But in my mind these facilities—like the proposed field—and the people that will use them are not the thin edge of the wedge, they are not the beginning of the end. Rather, they are individual pieces that together will create a genuine new kind of complete community , one that sends less carbon into the atmosphere because we will have almost everything we need right here and wont need to turn a key in an ignition to reach.
We need to become more than a woodsy outpost in Howe Sound, where we get to enjoy the deer and herons, but still take regular spacewalks to the jobs and activities on the mainland. It is not only possible, it is inevitable. Not only is it “the right thing to do,” but as our car-and-ferry habit gets more and more expensive, as our food gets more and more expensive, it will also be the only thing to do.
We fancy ourselves as rugged and self-reliant because we have woodstoves, chainsaws, winches, and generators. But we’re kidding ourselves. True self-sufficiency means that we have a complete community, that we have a genuinely broad range of services on the island to support our diverse and growing population. It means we have more opportunities to stay, play, learn, shop, and age “in place.” It means affordable housing. It means low-energy buildings. It means investments in infrastructure that allow us to thrive.
I will probably never play on the artificial turf field; I’m not a team sports kind of guy, and my kids haven’t shown much interest either, despite my best efforts. And for what it’s worth, I have a very complicated relationship with plastic, something I’ve written about . But I also acknowledge that our lives are surrounded by the stuff. I work out on a petroleum-based surface twice a week at our island’s Tae Kwon Do studio. I am touching it to write this story. I know all about the seabirds with bellies full of Bic lighters .
But when I think about the investments that I feel we need to start putting in place to serve our community into the coming years, to create an atmosphere of responsible self-reliance, the benefits of the proposed illuminated turf field in my mind far outweigh its aesthetic, financial, and ecological costs.
Let’s continue to build on our strengths: our couples, our singles, our seniors, our families, our youth, our volunteers. And let’s stop excusing ourselves from a growing moral obligation because we’re a “different” place blessed with an unique character. We have the same obligation to get off our asses and do something about this crisis as anyone else. The more pieces we put in place today—the richer the variety of offerings and opportunities we make available to our citizens—even if they aren’t perfect, even if some of them don’t align with our ideas of what we’re supposed to be “all about,” the stronger and more resilient we will be as we enter the coming storms.
Feb 9 Update: On January 26, Bowen Island Municipal Council voted four to three to proceed with the turf project as proposed, including roughed-in wiring and conduit for future lighting. The resolution comes with subjects concerning cost, but given the economic climate–contractors are, all of a sudden, desperate for projects–it seems likely that the turf field will actually be built. In the wake of the decision, a number of the project’s opponents have formed a fledgling grassroots organization called Rural Green. Its members “seek to live responsibly in a way that retains [their] community spirit and the natural rural lifestyle [they] cherish. “
Posted: January 12th, 2009 | Author: James Glave | Filed under: Electronics, Marketing, top | Tags: CES electronics | 1 Comment »
It’s tough to dis the 2009 Consumer Electronics Show. After all, they’ve “gone green !”
I’ve been doing some “greener electronics” research over the past couple of weeks. The client is looking for leads in the way of eco-laptops, eco-LCD-televisions, eco-printers, etc. So I’ve been poring over EnergyStar 3.0 spreadsheets, digging into Greenpeace investigations , and doing a lot of surfing and searching and calling. Conclusion: There is a ton of useless crap out there, and a few great paradigm-shifting ideas out there going nowhere, like GreenPlug — which appears to be semi-stalled because laptop and mobile makers just make too much money off their crappy proprietary AC adaptors. And a lot of greenwash.
Enter CES, which just wrapped up in Sin City. I went to one of these shows a few years back, and it was absolute madness and chaos and light and sound and noise. It was a swirling crush of traffic, energy, and raw resources. I’ve been to a lot of trade shows over the years, and this one was by far the most exhausting and overwhelming of the bunch. But this year, it was greener than ever ! Or so they hoped. Treehugger reports that the offerings at the show’s “Sustainable Planet Zone” were razor-thin . A couple of solar backpacks. A few other gizmos. A handful of tiny exhibitors. In other words, fuck-all.
There were a few hints of green to come. A laptop with the casing made of corn-based plastic. And Sony is evidently promising a TV that will shut itself off when nobody is watching it. I predict the latter innovation will prove a major eco-fail: How many times have you been to the bathroom and left the set running within earshot so you can still listen to the program even though you can’t see it? Sony’s new innovation will power it down off as soon as you exit the couch. People will disable it in droves.
By the way, the mobile-device makers have next-to-nothing to offer those looking for a more responsible handset. Hello? What year is it again? Can we please get our shit together, RIM, Moto, Nokia et al?
I’m torn here. A side of me recognizes that any effort to make a difference matters. But when confronted with the Las Vegas light and noise, the other side of me fears that the scale of change required is just so gigantically huge – so paradigm-thrashingly scary — that a few programs not printed, or a few signs done up with soy-based inks, or a forest freshly planted with baby trees, might not amount to a damn.
It’s the same old wild oscillation unspooling between my ears: Over here, Mr. Optimist says “Hey, at least they’re trying! They’re working to make a difference!” But over on the other shoulder sits another little imaginary character, Mr. Realist. And this guy tells me, in a very calm voice, that nothing is changing. The ground is getting bigger every second, and we’re just not gonna pull out of this dive in time. Discuss.