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Balancing climate and the economy

From 'elephant in the room' to 'spheres of influence'



How can we balance climate goals with the need for a healthy and growing economy?

That's the question at the heart of a new advisory council announced by the province recently.

The Climate Solutions and Clean Growth Advisory Council, as it's been coined, will "inform a new climate strategy for B.C. that fights climate pollution and helps families come out ahead," according to a provincial government release, and will be made up of representatives from First Nations, environmental organizations, industry, academics, labour and local government.

Its goal will be to provide advice on policies that will reduce carbon pollution while optimizing opportunities for sustainable economic development and job creation.

In B.C., Whistler is an economical marvel, driving millions in tax revenues — and contributing plenty in terms of emissions itself.

For ski resorts, and the tourism industry in general, emissions caused by arriving guests have long been the "elephant in the room," said Whistler Blackcomb's (WB) environmental resource manager Arthur De Jong.

About one in 10 people make a living in tourism and travel — a $7 trillion industry, De Jong said.

"It represents about five per cent of global emissions, and roughly 40 per cent is from the long-haul travel from aviation," he said.

"I get asked this often... 'What are you doing about the air traffic, or the carbon emissions from the long-haul air travel, and people driving here from YVR?' and I go, 'well, you have to focus on your spheres of influence.'"

For companies like WB (and now with Vail Resorts and its "Epic Promise" to achieve a net zero operating footprint by 2030), it's about managing their own carbon footprint.

"When I look at WB's footprint, it's small, because we have the benefit of hydro electric power pretty much running our entire operation, except for our vehicle fleets, " he said.

"So we only emit about seven to nine tonnes of carbon annually."

For comparison, the Resort Municipality of Whistler estimates the community emits over 100,000 tonnes of carbon annually, De Jong noted, and when you factor in all the guests coming and going, it's well over 1 million.

So what to do about that elephant in the room?

For starters, you can try to expand your spheres of influence — which for WB would mean things like inspiring more responsible travel up and down the highway, rewarding guests who carpool, or driving more housing for resident employees, reducing emissions from daily commuters.

They've also got to stay abreast of the latest technologies and what they'll mean for emissions — things like hybrid groomers and autonomous cars.

Whether you're a massive company or just one person, focusing on the things you can control is key, said Claire Ruddy of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment.

"Climate change is this big global issue and it can seem overwhelming, but really what it is going to come down to is companies and individuals making changes in the way that we operate currently," Ruddy said.

On a personal level, it can start with behavioural change: choosing to walk or bike rather than drive, turning off the lights when you leave a room, eating less meat.

"I think for individuals the focus can just very simply be put on conservation," Ruddy said.

And while Whistler is indirectly responsible for the emissions of arriving guests, the amount of people coming from out of town presents an opportunity for education.

"I think we actually have a really important obligation to empower our visitors, to educate our visitors on what we can do," Ruddy said.

"There are people coming here who maybe don't have super strong initiatives at their community scale at home, so how do we inspire others to do more? Because climate change isn't just a Whistler issue, it's a global issue."

If you're interested in what's being done on a local level, an update on Whistler's own Community Energy and Climate Action Plan is set to come to council at its Dec. 5 meeting (5:30 p.m. at the Maury Young Arts Centre).

"It would be really great for people to come out," Ruddy said.

"If you're interested in climate change, then come to the meeting on Dec. 5."