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Sustainability in the eye of the beholder

Oh to be sustainable now that summer has arrived. As much as I enjoyed school when I was a child… adolescent… adult, there was an indescribable feeling of luxury when summertime finally rolled around.

Oh to be sustainable now that summer has arrived.

As much as I enjoyed school when I was a child… adolescent… adult, there was an indescribable feeling of luxury when summertime finally rolled around. Ephemeral, it was nonetheless all-enveloping, like a hot shower on a cold day or, more appropriately, a cool swimming pool on a stinking hot day. Lazy, languid and unstructured, the first free days of summer were simultaneously filled with adventure, hope and potential. No more teachers; no more books. No bells, no schedules, no plans. Summer was a river of time and we were all captains of our own ships of imagination. Let the days begin; hope they never end.

That feeling of foreverness rarely lasted the entire first week. The illusion of unlimited potential generally slammed into realities of no dough and the been-there-done-that law of diminishing returns well shy of Humpday. In those days before children’s lives were scheduled and scripted, when we were encouraged to make ourselves scarce lest we pester our mothers for something to do, we mostly bobbed along aimlessly, testing the limits of both our imaginations and socially acceptable behaviour in a vain attempt to stave off boredom.

Sustainability was at the heart of our problem. We had a sustainable summer comprised of nearly identical sustainable days and weeks. What we lacked was a sustainable income. We always ran out of allowance long before we ran out of days until allowance day. Since no adult in their right mind would hire a kid to do what they could make their own kid do for free, employment prospects were dim. A day’s worth of poking in ditches might yield enough dirt-crusted empty pop bottles to buy a full one but the economics of that enterprise seemed dubious, not to mention the guy who ran the corner store was about as happy to see us coming with a load of old bottles as he was to see his bologna turn green.

Our early experiments in sustainability — our own low-hanging fruit — began with co-operation. My best friend and I recognized our allowance would go farther if we didn’t duplicate each other’s efforts. We signed a formal comicbook pact, agreeing to freely share the comics we bought with each other, thus eliminating duplication and enabling us to stay on top of both Superman’s and Batman’s exploits instead of having to choose one over the other and be reduced to furtively reading the one we didn’t buy while hiding behind the rack to keep from getting caught.

That experiment worked so well we tried extending it to other kids but the law of large numbers caught up with us and in no time we were sharing comics with cretins who defaced them with peanut butter and allowed younger sibs to have at them with Crayolas.

When co-operation failed to get us through the week we tried running a crude protection racket. As soon as that began to look like a possible solution, the law of large kids caught up with us and we were soon paying protection to someone bigger — meaner — than we were.

The only experiment with innovation and new technology we tried was aborted in the post-planning, pre-doing stage. Having convinced Butch our summertime salvation lay in buying Tampax — I showed him the ad in my older sister’s teen magazine that said we could swim, play tennis and ride horses with Tampax — we were set straight by the amused druggist who explained, without going into much detail, that Tampax wasn’t the solution to our summertime blues, despite what the ads implied.

So we pretty much gave up on sustainability and just let summer drift on until school started again and we were faced with the challenge of remembering what we’d spent the summer forgetting.

But the sustainability dance goes on in Tiny Town. The question is: when do we up the tempo?

The feistiness of council on this issue was shown recently when West Coast Freeride Guides’ thrill ride down the road of excitement was sideswiped onto the path to sustainability. “Time to walk the talk,” of which there has been so much, according to Hizzonor.

There are at least three problems with the proposed heli-biking — yes, we’re going to use a helicopter to take a few people and bikes up to the top of a mountain so they can coast down — venture. Parts of it take place in the 21-Mile Creek watershed, from whence a large part of Whistler draws water people mindlessly avoid in favour of less good water in little plastic bottles. It is not carbon neutral. And it moves us further away from goals we’ve painstakingly drawn award-winning plans to reach.

That being said, it appears heli-biking is just the kind of thing Whistler needs, at least in the eyes of Tourism Whistler.

In the epic struggle of environmental sustainability versus economic sustainability — the latter phrase often used, and perhaps not confusingly, to mean “growth” — environmental sustainability has always been the 97-pound weakling. But now it has a powerful ally, a magician’s cloak of superpower: carbon offsets. Of course, carbon offsets may well be simply a feel good illusion, a cloak not so much of power as emasculation, a salve to the emerging conscience. Plant a tree, ride a helicopter; good tradeoff.

We’ll have to wait and see what the very surprised heli-bike entrepreneurs come back with before we know how this drama unfolds but two things are already known. Council is prepared to “react” to proposals with one eye seriously on their principles of sustainability. And we’re still waiting for council to shape Whistler’s own actions with as fine an eye.

Some day, assuming mankind makes it through this confluence of forces conspiring against evolution to a more enlightened lifeform, our distant heirs are going to look back on this time and wonder what kind of pitiful, delusional creatures we were. Consider: We use drinking-quality water to flush our toilets. We build our houses as though the sun were just an annoying source of illumination. We burn finite hydrocarbons for ambience. We try to heat the entire outdoors so we can (a) convince people we’re open for business and not make them expend the energy to actually open a door to walk into our shops, and (b) enjoy a cold beer on a cold patio in a cold climate in the middle of winter. We drive a 490 horsepower Porsche Cayenne to take two people and two pairs of skis up the road, arriving only minutes earlier than the two people in the Prius behind but with an inflated sense of self-worth if not actual penis size.

How much longer are we going to wait to find the fortitude to put an end to some (any) of this madness? At least in our sustainable little corner of the world?