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Consumptive goo.

This one’s all about waste, consumption and reduction.

I feel that I am not a strong consumer. I prefer not to buy things, clothes, toys, and electronics or whatnot. Perhaps it’s my Dutch heritage, or perhaps as my wife says, I’m just cheap. Regardless, my own consumption is less than the average, I am sure. When I do buy things I always go for second hand first, be it clothes or computers. My big fall down comes from the food racket. I have a garden every summer, but no matter how hard I try, I can NOT make the ground grow me bacon.

I have been attempting to alter my ways by eating less meat, trying to buy locally that which I can’t grow on my own and passing that on to my kids. I am aware of the food issues…of particular import is the GMO issue, which I don’t want to get into here. A very inspirational video for food growing and breaking from the global food trade can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-gRlXuv9qI but seriously, grow your own food, save money, save health, grow your own food bank with seeds and soil and think of your own future. In terms of how corporations could go easier on the foods of the world, I don’t honestly know. They’re out there to make a buck or two. Bottom line. To reach the triple bottom line and be a food producer…more initiatives such as fair trade coffee, more pressure by populations against corporations for ethical and greener practices, empowering the farmers and creating economic initiatives that place control of the land base back into the people that live and work and have a vested interest in the land is the way to go. But to convince a corporation to go that route will take an enormous global effort, UNLESS they can be convinced that there is a profit margin to be gleaned from this….perhaps by refusing to purchase their wares otherwise. A sticky situation.

Away from food for now, I could go all day about it. Consumption includes more than eating when thinking of personal enterprise. If you’ve read my blog you may have noted that I don’t have a cell phone (what the hell is wrong with this guy?). So, my electronics consumption is already below the norm. The website http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/climate-change/cool-it/Guide-to-Greener-Electronics/ is pretty cool if you are trying to decide on a new set of toys, though it has been my experience that speed, power and customer reviews far outweigh any desire to go for a “green” computer. If we could make green computers cooler some how, get the kind of marketing that the IPAD 3 has, then we’d be laughing. While I’m here….packaging. My last computer purchase came in a cardboard box, and I was pleasantly surprised when I opened it to not find 3 bags worth of styrofoam, but more cardboard used for packaging. Everything was still swathed in plastic, which I wrote a disdainful letter about, but I can see why this was done. The cardboard was a nice touch.

Still on electronics, I recently discovered that you can return used electronics safely at any electronics store. If you didn’t know, circuit boards in a computer have toxic heavy metals, do NOT throw that crap out! Take it back to FutureShop, and make them deal with it. Free of charge, by the way.

An excellent site for checking out vehicles and their “green” status is http://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/Index.do. Currently, some learners in my program are working on a cradle to grave assessment for an electric car. I am very curious to see if it ends up being greener than the standard gas guzzlers. When you think of all the new infrastructure that is required, it may not be. I wish we could focus more on retrofitting vehicles instead of scrapping over and starting anew. This guy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PXuGlIftMSM has the right idea. There’s a ton of initiatives like this. I’m hoping to see something that uses the hard skeletons of cars more, recycling frames and batteries, that sort of thing.

There is a change in the air. People are becoming aware of the issues at hand, unfortunately, being aware and changing global, national and local habits are two different things entirely. We are a consumption based society. Everyone wants something new and shiny and owned by them. Why? Why not lease items..Ray Anderson of Interface http://www.interfaceglobal.com/Sustainability.aspx had the right idea. Check it out. Lease it, use it, give it back, the producer uses your return do decrease their costs, retrofit, and resupply. Brilliant. How about starting to think about taxing the bads, not goods? Why income tax, and not pollution tax? That would probably get producers to find more sustainable modes of production.

This blog is swiftly becoming a rant….I feel like I have made my point. Think for yourself. Examine what you buy. Put pressure on corporations by making informed decisions. It’s a small statement, but a billion small statements can make a hell of a financial point.

 

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Vital Communities

A vital community is thought of as the ability of a community or neighbourhood to do more than just survive, but to thrive. It is much more than just the economic success of an area, but the chi of the people. If you’ve ever been out on a night in a town or city that was just bursting with vibrant life, and thought to yourself “This place feels alive” then you have experienced a vital community, or at least it was vital for a night. Imagine that feeling all the time.

Incorporated into a vital community is the soul of the place and the people. Architecture, design, economy, art, activity, culture, variety, and the simple spice of life. Within these are the concepts of happiness, vitality, well being, resilience and quality of life. Vital community indicators include several aspects of what makes a community a vital space. Key factors include the integration of three major circles of environment, economics and society. Such indicators include Community Capital, Vital Space, Accessibility, Dead Space (Lack thereof), Diversity and Connectivity. I personally dislike indicators, as they are simply that, an indication and not a specific. But in a project like this, the scope does not allow for anything other than indicators for its progression.

Community Capital is much like my previous post on social capital – it is the human connections within a community, the life of the people and their connections.

Vital Space constitutes things such as public gardens, markets, amphitheaters etc. that allow for a vibrant and enjoyable meeting place for people to come together and share ideas.

Accessibility harkens to the ability of the community to allow for flow – of people ideas and cultures. It is more than just cars…in fact, huge highways are  considered dead space…..you can’t meet someone (nicely) in a gridlock.

Dead space is just that – dessicated lots, abandoned buildings – things without human purpose OR things/ places that people wish to avoid.

Diversity speaks for itself. The variety of people, cultures and religions sure…..but it’s more than that. The diversity of places, species, incomes, systems, relationships all these things that makes for variety in life.

Connectivity is a measure of how connected people are to varying things within their area – nature, community, heritage, food sources, relationships and so on. It is, to quote a telephone company – “the ability to reach out and touch….” though, touching with more than your fingertips perhaps.

 

I have recently taken part in the Community Vitality project, in which people donate data in a poll format based on their chosen community. (I say chosen as you can post anywhere in Canada.) It is a fine idea – an attempt to collate the data of the country and discover where people feel the most community vitality, and pick that apart in an attempt to find out what makes these places tick, and how to incorporate that into future development (and hopefully retrofitting, though that seems to be a challenge).

Currently, the data you provide is averaged across the province. Which kind of sucks, but the data just is not there yet (ie: more people need to do the survey from specific townships). Having a provincial average is ok, but doesn’t provide the feedback I would like to see. I have lived in many places in BC, and some are definitely more vital than others. I did the survey a few times for varying places in which I have lived to provide more data. Hopefully it will advance swiftly and become the useful design tool that it is meant to be.

So, if you’re from Canada, have 5 minutes to spare, and want to help this sustainable vital community project, check it out here.

http://crcresearch.org/vitality

 

Social Capital

Blog 4 – In which the reader gains an understanding of the methods by which change can be spread across a network of people, much like dew drops traveling across the nodes of a spiders web.

Much like my previous post on sustainable development, social capital is a concept in action that is hard to define – or rather, has a plethora of definitions. On a horizontal level, social capital has been viewed as the social connections between people and societal norms that affect change. This is on a fairly personal scale, though social capital can also encompass the vertical scale, bringing into account bodies with the common components of social structure and the ability to affect change. To surmise, social capital is the ability to affect change through social relationships.

Social capital feels like the six degrees of separation theory, where everyone in the world is connected to you if you examine “friend of a friend” relationships. Same idea right? Everyone is connected through a network of other people. Social capital is the movement of knowledge, ideas and concepts along these degrees of separation.

I view social capital as a useful tool. Like any tool, it needs a platform to work on – so social capital in and of itself is not enough to affect change, it must be used in conjunction with other forms of capital (natural or economic for example) in order to actually do anything. The primary channels through which social capital can be considered to “run” is though information sharing, the coordination of activities and the ability to collectively make a decision. It should be noted that what is good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander – that is to say that if a collective decision is made which affects change – that change may not be for the better…it is simple change.

The three N’s of social capital are Networks, Norms and Nodes.

My particular networks are fairly small at the moment, though the networks are large. My networks consist of my family, friends in various cities, my schoolmates, and my previous work connections. Note I do not include neighbours in this list, as I am new to the area and have not connected with them. The primary network I consider to be my friends. Though this network, information travels the fastest – many of my friends are nodes for vast information networks as several work in universities across North America. As such, they are recipients of large quantities of information, which they actively and swiftly transfer across their networks. It can almost be inundating , the amount of data and information that I can receive some days. This is hub central, swift and intelligent capital. My schoolmates are a strong network, through which we shovel information learned in class to our families and friends. I do not know my classmates well enough to make a conjecture on their personal networks though. My weakest network is my family. With the exception of my sister, a professor at a prominent university here in BC, my family does not readily receive information. I come from a low tech, low networking background. We are private, but we have strong ideals. Moving on….

I can be considered a node between these networks, though I am not one for information transfer. I remain one of the 8 people in North America without a cell phone, nor do I use social media – other than this blog. However – many of my friends are hubs (nodes) for various groups, some of which are quite active both in information sharing and attempting to affect change in the world around them.

In a rather crude way, I view social capitalism as a giant grid, on which I have a tiny sphere of influence. That influence (my burgeoning interest in sustainability) is radiating out from my location on the grid, reaching out through my networks touching on and expanding the awareness of those connected to me, and through them carrying on.

How do you measure the effects of this change? How does one place indicators to evaluate the effects (or lack thereof) of social capital on change, on other forms of capital?  I can say that through the use of social media and networking awareness is growing. Can I claim that through me information has traveled to affect change? Possibly, I have shamed people into composting, I have passed on information regarding that which I feel is important.

Walkscore

Blog 3 – In which the reader comes into the knowledge that although the protagonist may have a huge footprint, he never gets to walk. Enter “Walkscore”.

Walkscore is a nifty little web site that lets you punch in your address and determine how “walkable” your neighbourhood is. It appears to base this upon nearby services, amenities, road locations and transportation. I opted to use my Victoria address as opposed to my last home, as the walkscore provided for there is just simply wrong. (Though I may choose to rant about that.)

The walkscore for my location near the Luxton Fairgrounds is listed at 33. Car-Dependent. At first glance, this makes fairly decent sense. There are no ‘nearby’ grocery stores, or amenities. If we need groceries, we drive. If we take the kids anywhere, we drive. I am well aware of my emissions output, and it is a rather sore point with me. This is not a sustainable way of living. Or perhaps it can be…..

Once you start looking closer at the neighbourhood, you start to notice a few things. Like the Outpost Bike Co. 300 meters from my house. The Galloping Goose trail that is a direct link from my back yard to several nearby prominent locations, namely; my school at Royal Roads. The new shopping complex about 1.5 kilometers away. Glen Lake. The park across the road. Ok….so maybe not walkable, but bikeable? If we start doing smaller and more consistent shopping trips and strapping food to a bike basket, things are looking up? And as for food, I eat plenty. As such I have food waste. This waste goes into my compost that I happily trade to my neighbour John for veggies and breads. Yes. I still need to drive 7Km to take my kids to a pool, or 4Km to take them to the StrongStart program that gives my daughters a chance at not being a social pariah. We are trying though. Perhaps if there were better bus transit in the area?

Perhaps my Street Smart Walkscore will be better. As a prediction – I’m guessing no. The street smart version looks at the directionality of the streets as the veins of your neighbourhood. Aaaaaand….25 is my score. Yes, that’s right, the streets here are pitiful for getting around. The TRAILS are spectacular, and interconnect where the streets do not. I don’t think trials are taken into account with walkscore values though. My main culprit? Groceries. It’s true, there is absolutely nowhere to buy food nearby, and it’s dreadful.

I must admit I am curious as to the date the data was uploaded. I know there’s a new shopping complex less than 2Km away from my house, but I do not see any of the stores or amenities on the list. Regardless….

I am not currently in a sustainable neighbourhood as far as walkscore is concerned. There is potential here for proper development here though. I can think of 2 locations within 400 meters that would be excellent spots for farmers markets. Everyone IN the neighbourhood has a large back yard. Now, if I can convince half of them to work together like John and I do, we perhaps could become our own providers. A warming thought. And then the snows come. Sustainability takes a dive.

Well….20 years till Colwood Corners, right?

The plug for Colwood Corners is because it is an example of the Melbourne Principles, and is a step on the path towards a city as a sustainable ecosystem. The characteristics of an ecosystem that Colwood Corners appears to follow are that of diversity, adaptability, resilience and interconnectedness. The addition of 4000 homes in a dense area with an interconnected “courtyard” as planned in for the site will allow for a variety of new people. As there are going to be so many people in a small place, with access to all the amenities that they will require within a walkable distance, the resiliance and adaptability of the neighbourhood will increase. By having the buildings interconnected, and having access to easy transportation, the neighbourhood will fill the interconnectedness aspect.

My feet are HUGE!

Blog 2 – In which the reader shall develop an understanding of how unsustainable the protagonist truly is.

A few years back I participated in an endeavour with a group of friends curious about our ecological footprint and how to reduce them. The founder of the group, Katherine titled it “Katyoto”. The basic premise was that you were awarded points for good behaviour, such as only driving with more than one person in the car, growing your own food, shopping locally, etc etc etc. It was my first experience with an eco footprint, and a fun way to “compete” for a better world, if even in just a small group. The idea was solid, but the functionality of the system was broken. I lived up in Port McNeill at the time, and was awarded points for carpooling. It was 200km to the nearest urban center and at the time, we traveled constantly over 400km just to visit our friends back home in Vancouver. As the system was based only on positives, we collected many many points for what was essentially bad behaviour. Eventually the group stopped its initiative as we grew older and farther away from each other. But I digress.

So. I’m the son of a hippie. I grew up with shoeless summers and living on garden grown food. The values I learned young have followed me through my life. I compost, recycle, try to minimize my purchases – especially regarding Styrofoam and plastics. I bike, walk or bus whenever applicable and only drive my fuel efficient car when I’m going to the pool with my wife and kids. I don’t buy much of anything; all my clothes are second hand, I do have some “nice” furniture but nothing extravagant. We still plant a garden every summer. I buy my groceries at big stores, but try to buy BC grown foods. It’s been a few years since I set foot in an airport, though I do travel to Vancouver from Victoria every three or four months.

So how the hell am I using 2.25 planets worth of resources?

This week is all about ecological footprint. Which if you don’t know, is basically how many of the worlds resources am I consuming in the day to day drudgery that is my life. After completing the eco-footprint calculator here:   http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/personal_footprint       I didn’t seem too bad. I use less resources (4.8 global hectares or GHas)than the average Calgarian (8.6 GHas.) Okay….some critique. Nothing for pets. Nothing for recreational toys ie: skidoos, boats, personal helicopters, etc. Other than recycling and taking mass transit, nothing for a reward either. By this I mean – what if I use rain barrels? Grease traps in my sink? Solar panels on my roof? (Well, okay, that’s somewhat covered by the green energy button.)   And you’re damn right I use less than Calgary. It’s freaking COLD there.

Better than your average Calgarian!

I was a little curious about calculator comparisons, so I went to the World Wildlife Fund website and fired up their calculator here http://footprint.wwf.org.uk/. I’ll post pictures of the results at the end of the blog, but to sum up…..2.25 planets worth of resources! My initial reaction to this is that it can’t be right. Obviously, the WWF is skewing their calculator to give a higher count in an attempt to shock me into changing my ways, for the discrepancy between the two calculators seemed quite vast. To confirm my suspicions, I redid the calculation, supplying only the answers that would result in a zero footprint. My results: 1.35 planets. So what the hell is going on? In my opinion, the WWF calculator is drastically reducing the credibility of these sites. Now, don’t get me wrong, I support the idea that sites are designed to assist in the reduction of your footprint, but if it makes a believer like me into a skeptic, what is it going to do for your average capitalist?

I do need to mention that the one thing I love about these calculators is that it’s kind of fun. It’s “neat” to see your damage and better yet, there are tips on how to mitigate your impact. It’s got me thinking, and more importantly, it’s got me talking about it. I’ve been showing my wife our results, and talking about what we can do to change it. As renters not much, but we’ve got plans for when we grow up and buy a real house! (Or a small, apartment flat that is energy efficient. And full of tasty cheeses.) The best part? I’ve re-contacted the Katyoto crowd. Most are my age and filled with children of their own. (Some literally!) I’ve been asking how they are living their lives, about their footprint, about other ways we can – as a whole, change for the better.
Edit: After a few days of mucking, I think I figured out how to add the Katyoto Document. Check it out.

katyoto personal calculator_BLANK FORM

Nuances of Sustainability

Well, it’s finally happened. Social networking has finally discovered my absence and has made me succumb to it’s whimsy. I am submitting myself now to this foreign land of the internet(booga booga!) and creating this blog as a requirement for my Sustainable Development Series course in an attempt at attaining the ever-more lofty goal of a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences!

So….here goes.

Blog 1 – In which the reader shall gain insight into my incomplete understanding of “What is Sustainable Development”

The original definition and published theory (that I know of) of Sustainable Development came from the 1987 Brundtland Report, stemming from the Brundtland Commission whose goal was to examine sustainable development and utilization of species, ecosystems and resources. The Brundtland Report has the commonly known definition of Sustainable Development, “Development that meets the needs of today’s generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Huh, ok….

A great write up regarding the commission was assigned in class and can be found here: http://web.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/ehost/detail?sid=03342d1d-2ff6-476c-aaa2-3836a2ca81d2%40sessionmgr15&vid=1&hid=10&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db=aph&AN=16558477. This looks at the definition and background, and expands a bit on the theory.

I have always been under the impression that Sustainable Development was a concrete thing, something definite, defined and achievable, based on the Brundtland Report definition.  One of the first exercises that we played with in class was a discussion of opinions on what sustainable development is – including weather or not it is a threat to personal freedoms or not! I did a bit of delving into the matter and came up with some interesting tidbits.

Dictionary.com defines sustainable development here http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/sustainable+development. This is a pretty typical definition which pretty typically, leaves me with a disinterested “moving on now” feeling.  A more practical definition is available at Health Canada’s website http://www.ec.gc.ca/dd-sd/default.asp?lang=Fr=06E31414-1 which certainly has a political “lawyer-speak” stint to it.  My personal favourite so far is “ecomagination”. General Electric’s take on a mission statement “Ecomagination is GE’s commitment to build innovative solutions to today’s environmental challenges while driving economic growth.” as seen here: http://www.ecomagination.com/. While it doesn’t specifically say sustainable or development in the definition, the terms are implied. A brilliant bit of PR there.

In fact, no matter where you look or what background information you look at, you will find a different definition, catch-phrase or limerick  that eschews knowledge regarding what sustainable development is. In fact, there seems to be as many viewpoints as to the validity and effect of sustainable development as there are people who have considered the notion!

I think what I get from all of this is that Sustainable Development is an abstract concept that needs context to have definition. It should NOT be something amorphous, and in truth, if you hold true to the faith behind the jargon there is something concrete about the term. Unfortunately, thanks to the commonality of greenwashing there seems to be little faith out there. The proponents of Sustainable Development seem to have the right notion in my mind, but how do we get Sustainable Development out into the public sphere as a known quantity? Sort the wheat from the chaff as it were…..quite possibly a very difficult task, and I think the solution is communication. If  proponents of Sustainable Development only had the PR and marketing resources of some of the big players out there, it might not be so difficult, but it seems as though right wing idealists have plenty of power.

So to sum this one up, Sustainable Development is a coupling of the terms sustainability and development. No great feat of genius there, but translate that into a functional framework, and what you end up with is something along the lines of the creation, development and maintenance of societies, biodiversity and economies. A bit of a mouthful that, but I think a good summation.

 

Fin.