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Former board member questions direction of environmental organization



The Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE) is finding its mandate under the microscope after a back-and-forth in the pages of this very paper.

Three weeks ago Al Whitney, a longtime Whistlerite and former member of AWARE's board, wrote to express his disappointment in the organization's direction, which he said includes "banal observations" and "holier than thou" criticisms.

"Where AWARE had influence it did so because it kept a rational stance," he wrote. "Sadly that era seems to be behind us. We now have an AWARE board that publishes blanket statements that confuse opinion with information, implies connections where few exist, makes banal observations as if they should alarm us."

Whitney was reacting to AWARE's position on the Olympics, released to the public in a joint press conference with Whistler Watch and the Council of Canadians on Feb. 15.

Taking aim at the International Olympic Committee, the organization feels that the Olympic Games have negative environmental impacts such as "loss of biodiversity, huge energy and water demands, increased greenhouse gas emissions and waste, and a lack of institutional accountability."

Whitney feels the position oversteps the organization's mandate.

"They're off, going completely wrong and in very negative directions," he said in an interview. "These are such banal and easy statements. It feels like the whole document was written by three people on a Saturday afternoon. It just makes me sick."

Claire Ruddy, vice-president of AWARE and spokesperson for the organization during the Games, said it is preparing its own response to Whitney's letter, adding that the group is always open to feedback and criticism.

"I'm not going to get into a debate about the various points in Al's letter," she said. "The thing with the IOC is the Olympic Games happened in Whistler, so yes we're focused on Whistler, so therefore the impacts of the actions of the IOC as an organization have become something that concerns us."

Ruddy went on to say that the IOC, as the body that oversees all Olympic Games, needs to have an environmental mandate and be more accountable to the public.

"They need to be the one to mandate on environmental issues and demand the highest standards for the environment and environmental protection and create a transparent and publicly accessible system," she said.

AWARE, a volunteer-driven initiative, was founded in 1989 with the purpose of helping to establish a recycling program in Whistler.

Successful in that initiative, it helped introduce the concept of sustainability to the community, participating in the municipality's "Whistler: It's Our Nature" program that included a community symposium on the concept, as well as speakers such as David Suzuki and Ray Anderson.

Beyond that, AWARE was active on a number of working groups for the Vancouver 2010 Bid Corporation, trying to ensure that the Olympic Winter Games had a green legacy.

In 2002, when Whistler council deliberated on whether to host the Games, then-Treasurer Eckhard Zeidler announced that the organization was seeking a protected area to offset encroachment in the Callaghan Valley, which eventually became the location for Whistler Olympic Park.

AWARE has since been credited with helping to ensure that Whistler Olympic Park is as compact as possible and entrenching sustainability as a core value of the bid.

Today, however, there's new blood running the organization and Whitney, for one, is unhappy with their direction. It was after speaking with a number of people in the community that he decided to pen his letter.

"If you go through the statement on the website right now, you'll find it filled with banalities," he said. "If you like cheap shots, you know, just little statements that really are not well-researched and are not the kind of thing that AWARE used to do as well. AWARE didn't go off half-cocked before, it was really along the line of how can we sit down with authorities involved and make real progress."



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