Canada’s Federal Department
The phrase “sustainable development” means different things to different people and organizations. At the federal level in Canada Environment and Climate Change Canada has the lead on sustainable development .Their website displays their overriding goal of meeting the needs of today without comprising the needs of future generations.
Sustainable Development Defined
From a purely literal perspective, sustainable means to be maintained a certain rate or level. Similarly, the word development means the act of creating or growing something over time. The goal of this department seems to contradict the literal meaning of this phrase. For development (creation and growth) to be sustainable (maintained) one has to wonder why their aim is not something like meeting the needs of today and tomorrow while being a good and responsible steward over the resources on which we depend.
Stewardship is defined as an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources. It should be considered an obligation for which something is entrusted to our care. This involves a trust that we will do the right thing for the right reasons. Being good stewards means having the authority, taking responsibility for, and being accountable for the things that are entrusted to us.
We live in a world that provides us the means to live. Our most basic needs include having water, food and shelter. These fundamental needs have not changed for millennia. As our societies developed over time transportation became a more basic need. To thrive we also need to be safe, secure and healthy. We depend on our climate, our environment and our water for many, if not all of our most fundamental needs. As individuals we have many responsibilities for our own health but we also depend on others for some aspects of our health as well as elements of our safety and security. These social, environmental and economic responsibilities and dependencies are complex in the world of today and they will become no less so in the world of tomorrow.
Homes and Shelter
As communities in BC continue to grow the demand for new homes and other forms of shelter increases and so does the demand for the resources with which they are made. This is one area where social, economic and environmental priorities can collide. The International Institute for Sustainable Development is an independent non-profit organization that aims to provide practical solutions to these types of challenges.
Building homes is an economic activity that requires many different types of resource and maintaining and sustaining the home and the communities within which they are built and located requires additional ones.
There are generally always new homes for sale in the Comox Valley that often require many different forms of materials made from the natural resources our world provides us. For us to continue to build homes at an increasing level to meet increasing demands our resources have to be more than sustainable. They need to grow or we need to find alternative means and methods to support the growth.
Take wood, for example. It is not good enough to protect the forests that we have. They need to be nurtured and developed and grow and be re-grown at a rate that meets or exceeds our demand for the raw resources. Other resources such as the fuel and electricity used in the construction process also need to be treated the same way. We must be good stewards over our resources so that they are not depleted. Our water and climate also is extremely important. We depend on them for our most basic needs as well as many needs generated by our contemporary and modern societies. Societal and economic needs are generated by us, the people who inhabit this planet. We, those same people, have responsibilities to be good and effective stewards over the resources that our planet provides us such as a livable climate, water we can drink, food we can grow, shelter we can build, etc. We cannot afford to ignore these responsibilities. How we embrace and discharge them is also important.
Within Canada and within most developed countries we have adopted different forms of bureaucracies to help deal with the complex issues discussed above. Federal, provincial, and municipal governments were created to help us be good stewards of our resources and to help us with our basic and other needs. It is important for different levels to work together towards common goals that are in all of our best interests. Where this process often breaks down is when there is lack of cooperation or lack of consensus on the goals themselves and/or the priorities afforded to them. Some things are simply more important than other things if we are to live healthy, safe and secure lives. Yes safety and security are different. Think of security as the overarching umbrella (processes, methods and safeguards) used to ensure our public and personal safety (physical and emotional).
The most fundamental needs should be afforded the highest priorities but this is not always the case. Small fiefdoms within bureaucracies can and do exist and they can and do derail valid initiatives. Greed, power and personal agendas can and do sometimes rear their ugly heads. As well, rules and regulations can and sometimes are written with the best intentions but they can result in unintended consequences. Moreover, blanket solutions to unique problems can cause more problems than they resolve. All too often rules and regulations are added to “help” us but all too many merely burden us. Take, for example, setbacks established by the provincial government for Riparian areas. Yes we need to protect those resource but more importantly we need to grow them and be good stewards of them. A 30 metre setback applies to watercourses across the board on all areas of the province is easy to write into a regulation but is it the most effective method to help us be good stewards? In some situations 30 metres may be way too much and in others not nearly enough. In yet others it may be the wrong approach entirely. When solutions are proposed they need to address identified problems and not create more problems than they solve.
Local Experts and Local Needs
Local experts and residents are often best placed and positioned to address local problems. Why? Because they will be most affected and have the most to gain or lose. While higher level bureaucracies may be called in to assist they should assist with the provision of the requisite resources. Local experts sometimes are found in local municipal bureaucracies but many are found within the local community. Local bureaucrats all too often forget that they are there to serve the needs of the public and not to dictate to them. The public and not the bureaucracy should agree on the problem and the solution. All too often local bureaucrats and politicians get too involved in the decision making process related to problems and solutions. This is an area where the USA has it right. The people decide on whether or not major initiatives go forward or not.
For example, if a community enters into water restrictions nearly every summer because of a water supply problem, the source of the problem needs to be found and addressed. Let’s say that a community draws its water from a nearby lake and that the lake is very deep yet the draw from it is shallow. The most logical solution is to install a deep water access and draw and to put measures in place to monitor changes to the depth of the lake on an ongoing basis and to also understand how and from where the lake is replenished and to assist in this process if mother nature cannot do it on her own. Trying to address shortages (quantity) with things like new filtration plants (quality) just makes no sense yet this very issue is being discussed in this way at the time of the writing of this blog.
The public consultation process in Canada is often broken. Too many times elected officials and bureaucrats take it upon themselves to involve the public on issues that affect people only after solutions are being proposed. The first step should be agreement on the problem. The second step should be an analysis of the problem and potential solutions. People should decide on the course of action to be followed and then when the economic implications are known vote on its implementation. Does this occur in your local area? Is there a reason why so few people from the public get involved in the First, Second and Third Reading process? Do your local officials actually listen to and act on the voice of the people?
Yes sustainable development is a very complex issue but the fundamental tenant is fairly simple. The care of our planet is entrusted to us and we depend on it for our livelihood. Sustainable development should aim to meet the needs of today and tomorrow while ensuring good, effective and responsible stewardship over our climate, environment and the natural resources on which we depend to live and thrive. Building homes and communities is a small piece of this process.
Canada’s Federal Department