Things are heating up on the global climate change front. Just last week, for example, a report released by the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) warned that we earthlings were dancing dangerously close to the edge. “Biophysical and social systems can reach tipping points,” warned the 540-page report, “beyond which there are abrupt, accelerating, or potentially irreversible changes.”
And those tipping points, advised the international panel of scientists, are disturbingly close. Their conclusion: “These problems will… require a complete re-thinking of notions of progress and well-being.” In other words, unless we’re ready to change our relationship with the planet — on all sorts of fronts — we’re going to tip right over the edge.
Arthur DeJong was in Davos attending a UNEP conference when that report was first unveiled. As an invited speaker, Arthur got VIP access to all the big thinkers — and all the big discussions. He came away from the Swiss gathering with a greater sense of urgency than he’s ever felt. “It’s simple,” he says in that quiet, near-priestly way of his. “If one recognizes climate change as a legitimate global challenge, then every conventional model goes out the window…”
I’m taken aback for a moment. Bold words — particularly bold for a guy in his position. Sure, his title says “W/B Mountain Planning and Environmental Resource Manager.” But how far can he really go to challenge the status quo? How far is he willing to push his employers to venture beyond safe thinking?
As it turns out, pretty far…
“This is an amazing opportunity for us,” he says, with not a hint of irony in his tone. “In fact, how Whistler responds to this whole climate issue could boost us to the next level.” To my questioning glance, he just laughs. “Look, I’m convinced of at least one thing. As the rest of the world gets more polluted and ugly, those places that manage to protect their environmental integrity will prosper.” He pauses for just a beat. “Don’t you see? It’s Whistler’s destiny! It’s obvious that we have to become better stewards of the land. That’s a given. But what if we become a global inspiration by doing so? What if we become a leading example of sustainable tourism for other mountain resorts? And you know — it’s not that big stretch for us.”
He stops talking. His tone becomes more serious. “We are now being recognized globally for our ‘intent’,” he says. “And that’s fine. But it’s not quite good enough. We now have to act on the deliverables — we’ve got to seize the opportunity and walk our talk…”