EcoNews
Newsletter #217 - October 2011
Promoting the Vision of a Sustainable Vancouver Island
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Guy Dauncey, Editor
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Executive director
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Editorial

INVENTING THE FUTURE

Oct. 3rd, 2011

Back in 1970, Alvin and Heidi Toffler wrote a best-selling book called Future Shock. They predicted all sorts of change, including the Internet, and forecast that people would be overwhelmed by the speed of change.

Did it happen? I think not. Most people embraced the changes from birth control pills to i-Pads with excitement and pleasure.

If they were writing today, they might write a book titled Future Fear. People read about global warming, the wipe-out of the world's fish stocks, the collapse of the honey-bees, the population explosion, the possible collapse of the global economy, and they feel afraid, thinking "Stop the future - I want to get off!"

This is understandable, but not wise. Alarm is good if it leads to a positive response. Fear is not, since it shuts down positive thinking. Future neuroscience may find that fear and negative attitudes send chemical messages to the brain that switch off activity in the areas associated with creativity and rational decision-making.

We are deeply programmed to live in the present. For most of our history there was little change from one century to the next. Once we are relatively comfortable, we like things to stay the same, to return to the same good hunting grounds year after year.

We, however, are living through a period of change more rapid than any civilization has ever known. Change brings uncertainty, and uncertainty makes huge opportunities possible. It's all in the mind, and how we frame the unfolding future. To simplify extremely, there are two possible mind-frames we can adopt.

The first, Business as Usual, leads to environmental, financial and then civilizational collapse. If we do not change the way we are living, this is what well get. The gloom and doom and all the talk about the collapse or descent of civilization will be justified.

The second, The Great Transition, sees humanity in the midst of a rapid evolution from nationalism to shared humanity, from war to peace, from the exploitation to the restoration of nature, from unregulated free trade to co-regulated fair trade, from predatory to ethical financial practices, from fossil fuels to renewable energy, from kings and dictators to participatory democracy, from our-God-is-best religions to spirituality inspired by the wonder of the Universe.

How do we make this future happen? We invent it. We pull it out of our imagination. We retrofit the present in the image of our dreams.


© Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners Future Boulevards of Paris

Thats what the founders of the labour movement did in the 19th century. Thats what the suffragettes did, and what Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement did.

When Mahatma Gandhi wanted to win independence for India in the face of Britains far superior weaponry, he invented the use of non-violence as a successful means of struggle that is now used by people all over the world.

When Mohammed Yunus wanted to bring progress to impoverished villagers in Bangladesh, he invented the Grameen bank and microlending that is now in use on every continent.

When Wangari Matthai wanted to restore the ecological vitality of Kenyas villages, she invented the Green Belt movement. She has just passed away, leaving so many people filled with gratitude for her life.

When 19-year-old Eden Full, a Princeton University mechanical engineering student from Calgary, wanted to improve the yield from a solar panel, she invented a device made from metal and bamboo that tracks the Sun without an electric motor, boosting solar output by 40% for a cost of $10, compared to $600 for a normal solar tracker. See http://s.tt/13hyA

When Japanese engineers wanted to improve the design of a wind turbine, they invented a way to harvest almost three times more energy by placing a lens around the blades, creating a vortex that sucks the wind into it. See cryptogon.com/?p=24566

These last two stories are only a few weeks old. A three-fold increase in a wind turbines yield is enormous. It will require the reworking of energy scenarios all over the world. But thats not my point. My point is that innovations like these are happening every week. When we set our mind-frames to positive, we can see these changes, and use them to encourage our choice of mindset that a Great Transition is possible - and that we can be part of it, like 19-year old Eden Full.

We can redesign our cities. We can re-invent Canadas democracy to make it proportional. We can re-invent Wall Street. We can re-invent capitalism itself, so that it builds natural, community and human wealth, not just financial wealth. There will always be stiff and well-funded opposition to overcome, but that has always been so, due to our conservative nature.

Alan Kay, who first conceived the personal laptop computer, once said The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

A time of crisis is a time of change. If we embrace a positive mind-frame we can use the crisis to invent the future and achieve incredible things.

- Guy Dauncey
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Eco-Stories

HARO WOODSTERS SAY YES!

When you live surrounded by roads, houses and development, where do you go to find Nature's magic? Where do the kids go to play wild and escape cyberworld? If you live in east Saanich, Haro Woods - the last urban forest in the area with open public access - has been one such place. It's a ten hectare forested area south of Finnerty and Arbutus roads, and local people have been trying to keep it safe for 30 years. That's a long time.

In 1992, things looked good when the university was given part of it, placing a protective covenant over it, but things looked grim last year when the CRD was considering building a sewage treatment works right in its middle. The humans, the owls and Cooper's hawks, the thousands of birds who rest there as they migrate, the rare and endangered blue-grey taildropper slug - where would they go?

Deborah Dickson, Harriet Graham and hundreds of local residents have spent many days out on the streets with their placards, collecting many signatures, and in mid-September, after all those efforts - they won! Saanich and the CRD agreed to a land-swap and a financial deal that will preserve 94% of Haro Woods as a park.

It all goes to show that passion and persistence do pay off. Deborah Dickson writes We have affected the future and changed the course of history to preserve the last urban forest before it disappeareda moment in my life I hope never to forget!

Congratulations to everyone involved, and to all the staff and politicians in Saanich and the CRD who helped make it happen.



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GLOBAL CLIMATE ACTION

On September 26th hundreds of people gathered in Ottawa and 200 were arrested for civil disobedience for urging the government to turn away from tar sands development and put its efforts instead into green energy. See ottawaaction.ca for pictures.

In Washington DC, 1,253 brave people were handcuffed and arrested over two weeks as they urged President Obama to refuse development of the Keystone Pipeline that would carry the tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Another action is planned for November 6th with a plan to encircle the White House in an act of solemn protest. See www.tarsandsaction.org

Both actions generated much media attention without resorting to violence. The climate movement has done many years of playing it by the books - now the temperature is being raised. On September 24th there were over 2000 actions in more than 175 countries by groups demanding a green, clean future instead of fossil fuels. Check out the photos at moving-planet.org.

For too long, our leaders have denied and delayed, compromised and caved. That era must come to an end: it's time to get moving on the climate crisis. (Moving Planet).


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OCCUPYING WALL STREET

An occupation of Wall Street has been underway since September 17th, almost entirely ignored by the media. See occupywallst.org and wearethe99percent.tumblr.com. A fresh wave of action is planned starting on October 6th (See october2011.org).

Maybe it's being ignored because it's just ordinary people who are weary of struggling financially while the big financial banks and corporations pay no taxes? Maybe the media is scared of triggering an Arab Spring here in North America. To get a sense of what's happening, see bit.ly/mQIpAr



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SAANICH CARBON CHAMPIONS

Want to act, as well as read? If you live in Saanich you can become a Climate Champion. It's an easy 3-step process, from Awareness to Action, and commitments to adjust your personal and household behaviour in ways that will reduce your carbon footprint and your impact on our children's future. If you commit by October 15th you will be entered to win one of three $400 Carbon Champion Prizes - see www.saanich.ca/living/climate



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SOOKE SLOW FOOD CYCLE

The Transition Town and Slow Food people in Sooke are being very active too - they've got a big day on Sunday October 9th when everyone is invited to cycle or walk around Sooke's many organic and slow food farms. You can register at the Sooke Harbour house 9-10am.

There's also a public symposium on The Collective Transition with a wide range of d-i-y topics from rainwater harvesting and natural building to chicken tractors and electric bikes. This will be a big event, and something to be part of. So get your bike down to Sooke, and tune in for www.sookeslowfoodcycle.comwww.sookeslowfoodcycle.com



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SCENTED LAUNDRY PRODUCTS

All over the world there are people who live in fear of scented laundry products which give them headaches, burning eyes, foggy brains, muscle weakness, asthma, itchy runny noses and eyes and worse. For some, the smell is totally debilitating.

The so-called fragrances' are a nasty cocktail of chemicals that are also vented out of the dryer vents into neighbourhoods. When researchers from the University of Washington took a closer look at the air from dryer vents in the Seattle area, they found a whole list of hazardous pollutants, including more than 25 volatile compounds, and two known carcinogens, acetaldehyde and benzene.

So please, for everyone's sake, do not buy ANY scented laundry products. Even the fragrance-free' softeners can not be trusted since chemicals can be added to mask the other smells. If you want to add something, add a quarter cup of baking soda to the wash cycle to soften your clothes, or a quarter cup of white vinegar to the rinse cycle to eliminate static cling. When you dry your clothes outdoors, or inside on a clothes rack, you'll never get static cling, so that's the best energy-saving option, unless you live in an already damp house.



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ELECTRIC BIKE REVOLUTION

If you have never ridden a pedal assist electric bike, you don't know what you're missing. They're just like a regular bike, but when you come to a hill or need to rest your legs you just zip on the electric drive and zip up the hill.

Some bike-riders may mock this, just as some dismiss the need for bicycle lanes, but when it comes to the general public, and our need to massively increase cycling as a means of transport, tackling climate change, reducing air pollution and improving our health, electric bikes absolutely rock. Worldwide, 27 million e-bikes sold in 2010, mostly in China. In Canada there were 20,000 e-bike sales last year.

David van Seters is a Vancouver entrepreneur who founded SPUD, the local organic food home delivery company that has been so successful. He is deeply committed to our planet's wellbeing, and he researched 50 different models before choosing the Elite Electric Bike, which has literally changed my life. Its total running cost, including electricity, depreciation, repairs and insurance comes to 4 cents a kilometre, compared to 50 cents for a regular car. Its lithium manganese battery is 100% recyclable, rated for 1200 charges, has a total life of 80,000 km, and takes 3 hours to charge (cost 25 cents), or 1 hour for an 80% recharge. Using pedal assist, a single charge will take you 60 km at an average speed of 32 kph on level ground. For details, see eliteelectricbikes.com

The Elite costs $1,895 + HST, and David believes in it so much that he is offering a $150 discount or a 36 month lease for about $85 a month (less than an average bus pass) to anyone who responds to this article. If you switch from commuter driving, you'll recover the cost in a year. David writes If we can get enough people out riding to work on electric bicycles, I believe that we can literally kick start a green commuting revolution. If you want to take David up on his offer, please call him directly at 604-841-6730 or email him at davidvanseters@gmail.com.

BIKESHARING REVOLUTION

Bike-sharing is another revolution that's taking off, gangbusters. Most cities in Europe have a scheme, as do Toronto and Montreal. Vancouver is just getting going. How far can bike-sharing go? Check out Washington DC's Capital Bikeshare. It has 18,000 yearly members who have access to 1,100 bikes which are parked at 110 solar-powered stations around the city. The bikes are bright red, and first half-hour is free, then it's $1.50 for the next half hour. The pricing is designed for short trips - a whole-day's rental costs $70. And it's really working - they have completed a million rides since last September, and are expanding with 32 new stations and another 265 bikes.

Add electric bikes to the bike-share mix, which is already happening in Genoa, Vilnius (Sweden), Kitakyushu City (Japan), Cambridge (UK) and the University of Tennessee, and you've got the potential for enormous change.

TRANSPORT REVOLUTION

For five million years, we used our feet. For five thousand years, we also used horses. For a hundred years, we used oil-powered automobiles. So what's next? What will the transport of the future look like? What should we plan for?

Victoria and every city faces huge decisions. Should we make a $950 million investment in light rail transit? In expanding the bus service? In widening roads and building new bridges? In a rapid charging network for electric vehicles? Or in a massive expansion of cycling trails? We can't do all of them - we have to choose.

But one thing must be an absolute first principle for all transport planning: it must be integrated. We must not waste money on separate stand-alone studies which argue for one particular option while disregarding the others. The future of walking, cycling, transit, LRT, bike-sharing, ride-sharing, car-sharing, road-pricing and ferries must all be considered together by a single regional transportation planning body. If every green-minded candidate who is running for municipal office in November argues for this, it could be made to happen quite quickly.

OR ?

FUTURE OF E & N RAILWAY

Locally, for instance, upgrading the E & N railway between Duncan and Victoria to make it safe would cost $15 million for urgent track repairs, which comes to $200 per passenger trip. A study last year found that a full upgrade between Courtenay, Victoria and Port Alberni, with new trains and stations, could cost $200 million.

Should we make this investment, or should the railway line be ripped up and repaved with a smooth long-distance cycling route, all the way to Courtenay? Mill Bay to Victoria is 40 km. That's within easy range of an electric bike, and avoids the Malahat entirely. My guess is that such a bike route might see many more riders than a train, even on a very expensively upgraded railway line. The railway may be romantic, but does it make commercial sense, compared to a long-distance bike-route? And maybe that's just a crazy idea. These are questions that need urgent consideration from an integrated transportation planning

perspective. - Guy Dauncey


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