Climate change: Denial ain't just a river in Africa, Part II 


While there are those shivering in the middle of June and wondering why Whistler needs a Climate Action Plan (CAP), there are, according to the climate models informing the plan, three good reasons for us to stop treating Earth's atmosphere like a garbage can:

An increase in the frequency and intensity of heavy rain events.

Longer, hotter and drier summers.

Milder winters with increased precipitation falling as rain near valley bottom while snow pack at higher elevation sees limited change.

Even if you fantasize about growing bananas in British Columbia, none of us relish more frequent pineapple expresses or downloading because there's no snow on the lower mountain.

But there are two things you need to know about the CAP. First, it's a laudable plan into which many poured much effort. Second, the likelihood of its success is slim. One of it's opening statements references the remote possibility of success when it says, "Without the alignment and collaboration of senior levels of government through federal and provincial programs, regulations, incentives and other jurisdictional tools, as well as the continued committed leadership of the private sector, Whistler will not meet its 2020 emission reduction targets."

We have seen the enemy and it is us, or Christy's belief in LNG.

But as many military commanders said before many hopeless battles, "What the hell, let's give it our best."

And so here are a few BIG ideas and a couple of SMALL ones. I labour under no illusion any of them will be embraced.

BIG idea #1: Stop growing. We're as big as we should be. We're big enough we've already begun to impact the very quality of life we extol, the one that draws visitors here in the first place. No one comes to Whistler to experience gridlock! No one comes to Whistler to work 60 hours a week for the privilege of living in substandard, too expensive housing. We simply can't keep growing and be what we hoped we'd be when we grew up.

The more we do to attract additional visitors, the more auxiliary services — restaurants, lodging, cleaning, fun attractions, etc. — we need. The more of those we have, the more staff we need. The more staff we have the more housing we need to build. At some point it has to end. The question is whether it ends because we kill the goose laying those golden eggs or it ends through political will?

I liken it to our fossil-fuel addiction and the nascent steps to reduce/eliminate our dependency on them. Yeah, we might not run out any time soon, but doesn't it make sense to embrace the alternative as opposed to waiting for the inevitable to happen? As a community, we've always paid homage to our limits to growth. But when are we going to act as though they're real?

BIG idea #2: Keep it simple. I know that sounds trite but a chain is only as strong as the weakest link... which also sounds trite and has the additional bonus of being cliché. OK, here's the payoff. Humans are the weakest link. Simple thoughts for simple minds.

The CAP is complex and wanders in many directions. It reaches too far and loses people in the process. Instead of 70 things, hit us with half a dozen we can accomplish now, right away. The simpler the better. Spring another half dozen on us in nine months. Someday we might make it all the way.

For example, the biggest bang for our buck when it comes to reducing GHG emissions will be in reducing how much we and our guests use private cars to get around. We're doing OK when it comes to commercial and residential buildings. So why, especially given our experience with Cheakamus Crossing, spin our wheels and waste time exploring a district energy system for the entire Village? It'll be complex, expensive and, if our current experience is any indication, ineffective.

Want to reduce GHGs related to Village buildings? You can do it today in two small idea steps: Ban propane patio heaters and make retail stores shut their damn doors during the winter! Both seem like no-brainers. Both have immediate impacts. Both represent ridiculous, visible, gross wastes of energy. Both can be changed with a simple bylaw. Oops, there's that political will thing again.

BIG idea #3: Before leaving land use planning and tackling the beast — vehicle emissions — here's an idea, maybe even a BIG idea, maybe two.

If we take the first four recommended actions under land use planning and roll them into one, what do we have? We want complete and compact neighbourhoods. We may want to increase the number of employees living locally. We want to reduce auto trip distances and we want to locate development/redevelopment near settled areas served by transit, pedestrian and cycling routes.

There are two spots that fill all those desires... and neither of them are at Cheakamus since building more housing there will just add to our transportation woes and increase GHG. The first is the municipal works yard. It's walking distance to Nesters and the village, on a transit route and the Valley Trail. It's serviced, flat, easily redeveloped. The works yard can be relocated to the old Capilano Highways yard, a spot that actually makes more sense since it's not good for housing.

The second location is even closer to the Village and all amenities: half the Whistler golf course. Golf courses, in general, are anathema to sound climate action plans. They take up lots of land, they use lots of water and fertilizer, they're pimped by lots of gas-burning machines, they're dormant six or seven months of the year and, if we opened the books, we'd likely discover they're not much of a net revenue generator.

It takes a lot of time to play 18 holes of golf. People are stressed for time. Throughput on a golf course isn't very high — a foursome every 10 minutes if you rush people. Courses generally aren't very busy most of the day, Monday to Friday. Converting the Whistler golf course to a nine-hole course would be attractive to people who don't have time to play 18. The cost to play nine holes is generally way more than half the cost to play 18 so the net revenue effect, considering the reduced expense of maintaining nine holes and the ongoing revenue from the clubhouse/restaurant, wouldn't be that great.

And what a beautiful place for housing. Walk to the village, dip under the highway so seniors on scooters could even safely make it, assuming adequate snow clearing. Win, win, win.

Next week — last instalment; I promise — we'll tackle the beasts of the highway. For Part 1 go to


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