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First Person: Dr. Scott Harrison

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Whistler exemplifies a beautiful place in the world, even in B.C., because everybody recognizes that Whistler is the place it is because of its natural heritage. The corporations recognize that, the people who come up to ski recognize that, and the people who live up there recognize that – all the people in Whistler are brought together by that natural heritage.

And so, as an ecologist, or as a naturalist club… what the Olympics represent is a chance to show how humans can interact with the landbase sustainably.

Q: Sustainability is not a new concept, but it’s only just recently been fleshed out in terms of what it might mean ecologically, economically and socially, but it’s still kind of an experiment at this point. The Olympics provides an opportunity to take that experiment to another level, to put some of the theory to work on the ground. Is that how you see the potential of the Olympics?

A: Exactly. The next phase, and this is something I’m going to talk about when I come up, is how do we do that? Sustainability is really coming to fruition now, the idea of sustainability.

Although I must say, it’s still a big step. The idea of sustainability in development that came out of the Bruntline Commission hasn’t been used all that well, it’s been used to mean whatever the person speaking wanted it to mean.

What I’m hoping we’re entering now is a better understanding of ecological sustainability. This is all big picture stuff, but we have to understand that the world is a fixed place – you go a little beyond atmosphere and there’s nothing there, it just does not support life. Everything that happens on earth is dictated by how much sun hits the planet. Then you have primary production, secondary production, those sorts of things. So it’s the ecological sustainability that’s critical. It’s not about having a few jobs for 15 years, it’s about maintaining the systems that have kept the planet functioning for millions of years.

Then the question is how do we get there, because people have lifestyles they’re not about to give up. It’s not about going back to living in caves. How do we get from the path we’re on now – the lifestyle in North America is not ecologically sustainable and the ecological footprint concept developed at University of British Columbia shows that– and change the way we go about doing things?