ENVIRO NOTES: Emotions lord over enviro debates

Worldwide, the population is becoming increasingly concentrated in cities and large towns.

It’s estimated that more than 50 per cent now are urban dwellers.

In Canada, about a third of the population lives in just three cities. While this concentration confers many benefits, there’s also a downside: air pollution; habitat loss due to urban sprawl; traffic congestion; waste disposal and water issues.

Another concern – much more difficult to assess, though far-reaching and long-lasting – is the disconnection between city-dwellers and our environment.

People who grow up and live in ‘concrete jungles’ do not easily connect with the slow and steady pace of inevitable changes that characterize the natural world. Lacking appreciation of these changes, they can be swayed and misled by persuasive zealots and propagandists.

For example, not realizing that change is the one constant in nature, some city dwellers have been persuaded “to preserve old-growth forests,” when, in fact, old growth is a temporary, albeit long-lived, state. In time, it will give place to a young forest with a different complex of animals, birds and plants that will eventually reach another old-growth stage.

Attempting to halt this progression would require massive and likely unsuccessful intervention.

The slow pace of succession can be deceiving but, in principle, it is little different from the annual shift in student composition of a classroom, where the syllabus remains the same but the mix of pupils changes from year to year.

It’s unfortunate that so many – perhaps too many – environmental discussions are conducted at an emotional level, with a short time frame, when it’s better they be addressed dispassionately and factually, if a rational decision is to be reached without spin-doctoring or hyperbole.

But this requires an informed debate by knowledgable participants.

Disconnected from agriculture, few city dwellers have much comprehension of the processes which bring food to their tables, and so many remain complacent as farmland gives place to urban sprawl. Are they concerned that B.C. has suffered a 35,000-hectare net loss of Agricultural Land Reserve since it was introduced in 1973 – almost three-quarters of that loss from high-quality land in southwestern B.C and Vancouver Island?

Even when wrong-doers are convicted of malpractice with regard to agricultural land-use decisions, the buildings which were improperly permitted remain, the loss of farm land permanent.

Far from doing anything to inform the public about environmental concerns, our authorities widen the information gap.

The federal government seems bent on muzzling critics; BC Provincial Parks has discontinued its valuable interpretive program; the petting zoo in Stanley Park has been terminated, despite its usefulness in connecting city children with animals; few schools in Surrey take advantage of their readily-accessible outdoor laboratories of Green Timbers and Sunnyside Acres Urban Forests.

These are short-sighted and ominous measures.

Dr. Roy Strang writes monthly on the environment for the Peace Arch News.



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