ENVIRO NOTES: Good intentions hardly enough

January, the start of another year, the time when New Year’s resolutions are made and, almost as often, broken.

How about resolving to make this year the one when we all take seriously our environment and its protection, not just the subject we talk about and leave for someone else to deal with?

Surrey’s estimable Sustainability Charter identifies three elements or ‘pillars’ of the social fabric; the economy, the environment and the socio-cultural.

It’s unfortunate that the charter document depicts these three pillars as adjacent but separate and discrete entities. This is misleading because the environment is made up of many inter-linked and inter-acting components where impacts on one component can and often do have far-reaching and unexpected consequences.

For example, building food-producing greenhouses on old-field grasslands around Boundary Bay, with its benign climate, seems a sensible operation. But those greenhouses destroy the habitat of Townsend’s vole and other small rodents thus reducing their populations which are the principal prey – food source – of northern harriers and other raptors.

Thus, greenhouses are harmful to many bird species, though I’m sure greenhouse operators had no such intentions when they started.

Take seriously the recognition that the many and varied elements that make up our environment are not separate and independent but are intimately linked and connected, sometimes in unexpected ways. This viewpoint encourages us to look at the whole environmental picture in the long term.

Too many of our environmental arguments are based on partial, and limited, short-term thinking.

If, for example, land is to be taken out of the ALR to allow an industrial facility to be built, then one component of the total cost should be the value of resultant lost food production throughout the life of the facility plus the costs of bringing in substitute foods.

Reliable, well-supported data are critical for good decision-making. One of our environmental resolutions should be to insist on seeing comprehensive, testable data for any project of interest, to ask pointed questions and to persist in asking until a full answer is provided.

We should not allow ourselves to be fobbed off by incomplete, inaccurate or unbalanced presentations from the protagonist, what is called ‘spin-doctoring’ in the political world.

At the same time, we must not confuse correlation with causation as has happened in the carbon x climate-change debate.

There will be times when emotional, even spiritual reasons may be advanced in opposition to a project. They are impossible to quantify and can be countered by equally imponderable contrary considerations so that agreement cannot be reached.

An arbitrary decision is then likely, probably leaving one party dissatisfied and quite possibly aggrieved.

Supporting one’s position with provable facts to the greatest possible extent makes it all the harder for critics to validate opposition. Assembling such data can be a time-consuming and costly undertaking beyond the capabilities of one individual or a few.

This is when our governments, representing the whole community and the long term, should become impartially engaged so that another of our environmental resolutions should be to demand that degree of impartial and dispassionate political involvement.

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


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