Opinion » Maxed Out

Climate change: Denial ain't just a river in Africa, Part I



The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) released a draft of its — our — Community Energy and Climate Action Plan (CAP) recently. It hopes the community will read, respond and provide useful feedback on the details of the plan, including BIG and small ideas of our own.

The plan runs 107 pages. Don't panic. Quite a bit of it is appendices you can skip or blow your mind if you quickly scroll up and down through the multi-coloured maps of historic and projected precipitation and temperature data. A fair bit of the early section is skimmable, akin to the windup before the pitch.

The nitty-gritty is in the actions recommended. These fall into two camps: Actions to reduce our greenhouse gases (GHG, as if you didn't know), emissions and actions to mitigate the inevitable, negative forces unleashed by the accumulated crap mankind has released into the atmosphere since the beginning of time, or at least the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

As usual, being a civic-minded guy, I read the report. You don't have to... but you should.

There are two things you should know about Whistler's CAP. The first is it is driven by a justified sense of moral duty. If we don't act, how can we expect anyone to act? Think global; act local. The second thing is the one climate-change deniers hang their hats on: it won't make any difference. Climate change is a global phenomenon and even if Whistler closes up shop, bulldozes all the buildings, tears up the roads, reforests the ski runs and kicks everyone out of town, it won't significantly affect what's going on.

Which is not to say we should do nothing. But it is to say we should do things that make sense and not hurt ourselves patting ourselves on the back while we do them. After all, regardless of the advances we've made in reducing our GHG emissions over the years, Whistler is a poster child for climate crimes. Our very existence is an affront to climate stewardship. We exist so people can come from all over the world by plane, car and bus to burn up energy riding to the tops of mountains so they can slide down in winter and ride down in summer. After which they can enjoy adult beverages on propane-heated patios 12 months a year while contemplating their next snowmobile/ATV or other energy-consumptive frivolity.

Don't feel guilty about this. It is what it is. But bear it in mind when you feel good about riding your bike to work instead of driving your car.

Before delving into the guts of the CAP, I'd like to thank all those who worked so hard to produce it. The, hopefully, constructive criticisms and BIG and small ideas I'd like to present aren't meant as an indictment of their fine work.

Having said that, the single most glaring oversight of the CAP is Whistler's ongoing Achilles heel, one for which we as a town have shown no desire nor political will to actually face in a meaningful way — our limits to growth, assuming any exist.

The CAP demands action across the board, action from everyone living in Tiny Town, if we are to meet our targets for GHG emissions. Yet, even it embraces growing the resort while admitting our most recent failure to meet GHG emission reduction targets the past two years is due largely to increases in population and increases in visitors. On a per capita basis, we are, each of us, emitting fewer GHGs and would be meeting our targets. But factoring in the greater number of us and the greater number of visitors, the graph is going the other way.

While this is understandable, it leaves me wondering whether, as a community, we are trying to suck and blow at the same time. We continue to chase the illusive perpetual motion machine that allows us to invite innumerably more visitors — for example the 100,000 WB projects will come after the Renaissance — requiring more beds, restaurant seats, entertainment and concomitant worker bees, while somehow mitigating the environmental impact of their presence.

And while the plan is long on actions we, as residents of Tiny Town can take, it asks virtually nothing of those who visit here. The impact of this is obvious when you consider roughly 58 per cent of Whistler's GHG emissions come from the tailpipes of passenger vehicles within municipal boundaries. Naturally, this is where many of the actions are aimed. But within that 58 per cent, the split is roughly 50-50 between residents and visitors.

Clearly there are many ways residents can reduce their/our half. But there are scant few actions directed at reducing the half produced by visitors. No bold actions around satellite parking and shuttles, for example. No mention of developing that long talked about southern portal at Cheakamus. No realignment of the highway.

Instead, we get two actions that — forgive me — call into question the seriousness of the whole exercise. Grand planning documents, calls to action, need to be, well, actionable. When clearly absurd actions are recommended, for whatever reason, it calls into question the seriousness of the whole scheme.

One of the two is to "encourage the provincial government and private sector to pursue the return of higher-volume, affordable and more frequent passenger rail service." This is a non-starter. The province isn't interested; CP isn't interested. The railbed from Vancouver to Whistler isn't designed for passenger travel and any passenger cars would travel at about the speed of the Rocky Mountaineer. In other words, even failing to factor in the hassle of people getting to the train station in Vancouver, it would take far longer to get here by rail than by either bus or personal auto. Why even mention it?

More absurd — and I thought long dead — is investigating the opportunity for a Whistler, Pemberton or Squamish airport. Anyone who's ever flown into YVR from outside the country knows how absurd that is. Why? Arrive at the international terminal. Line up and go through Immigration. Wait for your bags. Get your bags, go through Customs. Schlep your bags over to the domestic terminal. Go through security... again. Oh, be there 90 minutes before your flight. Fly to, more likely, Squamish or Pemberton. Get on a bus or rent a car. Drive to Whistler. Get here long after you'd have arrived had you taken the bus from YVR or driven. Do that once and never come back.

Quite simply, there isn't enough volume of visitors flying from within Canada to support whatever scant benefits a closer airport would bring. Stop talking about it.

Next week: BIG ideas.