Day two (Oct. 21 2009), and it’s time for a reality check.
The morning opens with Bill Weaver, an award-winning producer, director and documentary filmmaker who has been in the media business for over 30 years. He introduced the audience to the work of photographer and activist Chris Jordan, whose gut-wrenching work on environmental degradation started the morning off on a somewhat sober note. If I ever consider tossing that plastic bag in the garbage again all I have to do is remember Jordan’s photograph of the decomposing albatross carcass with five pounds of brightly coloured plastic in what used to be its stomach and I’ll be back on track.
Richard Register, author of Ecocities: Building Cities In Balance With Nature showed some wonderful examples of how building density around transit corridors, restoring urban hydrological systems and using efficient design and renewable energy can lead to more sustainable, healthy cities. Unfortunately his prognosis for even the most eco-chic suburban home remained grim. Apparently, you’re better off living in a medium density apartment building than even the most green-retrofitted, energy efficient home in a sprawling suburb. Even if your car’s a hybrid (take heed Leonardo DiCaprio!).
The delusion of the “Green Tech” solution continued to be a theme with speaker Bill Rees from the School of Community and Regional Planning at UBC. He pointed to the complete lunacy of Chevy’s 2008 Hybrid SUV winning the Green Car of the Year award when it weighs more than an average-sized elephant and gets fewer miles per gallon than any other hybrid on the market. I happily agreed with him on that one. Unfortunately I had to agree with him on some much harder truths as well. Essentially, that the ecological necessity is politically unfeasible and the politically feasible is ecologically irrelevant. I know, it’s a mouthful but I think there’s some merit to it. Of course, it also made me want to assume the ostrich position right there in the middle of the conference room.
Luckily, after wading around in the doom and gloom of colossal ecosystem failure for an hour or two, Majora Carter took the stage with her infectious smile and beautiful message. If you’re looking for inspirational work in environmental justice, check out her pioneering work in the South Bronx. It saved my sanity today and it might save yours too.
Day III (Oct 22 2009)
By now I know at least one head in the room that is starting to feel a little overwhelmed by the sheer quantity and quality of the previous two days’ talks. And it doesn’t look like there will be a break in the relentless wave of information anytime soon.
As the morning gets started, Pamela Mang, from Regenesis Collaborative Development Group, presents an approach to planning and design that is rooted in place to create a sustainable and harmonious whole. She identifies being rooted in place as the most important and least recognized need of the human soul and shows what can be accomplished when context is brought to the foreground. Her concept of the Regenerative City, as opposed to resiliency which is primarily reactive, shows a future where our ideal potential is the goal, not just survival.
With his comedic and compelling wit, Mark Jaccard dismantled the logic of carbon offsets and showed them to be empty gestures that essentially pay people to do what they would have done anyways in order to allow other people to feel good about polluting. Jaccard, who served on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (which received the Nobel Peace Prize) challenged local governments to avoid gimmicks and enact compulsory policies for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in their own regions immediately. In other words, carrots for people with a social conscious are great, but without the stick we’re not going to get anywhere fast.
Carol Sanford was the second-to-last speaker of the day and returned to Pamela Mang’s model of the Regenerative City as the real solution to the problems that we face today. She emphasized the importance of finding our true essence, what makes us who we are, and what makes us unique and gives us purpose. Whether as individuals, communities, cities, or countries, when we find our true essence we are able to discover our purpose and strive to fulfill it. Our future isn’t given to us, we create it.
And if we can choose the future we create, then I wholeheartedly and with absolute conviction choose the one presented by Mark Holland in the final speech of the conference. Holland eloquently, and with an honesty, integrity and passion that literally gave me goose bumps, outlined the incredible challenges that we face in the coming years and the tremendous moral, social and political will that it will take to overcome them.
Our climate is changing faster than we ever expected and every resource on earth is diminishing. Everything that we thought we knew is no longer valid and we will need to change the way we do everything. I, for one, am looking forward to the next step in our evolution.