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The sustainable philosopher king

Arthur DeJong’s passion is protecting the environment. He’s trying to make an economic model for it



Arthur DeJong has a problem. It's his truck. It's a huge all-terrain vehicle and every time he presses his Salomon hiking boot on the gas pedal it burns more fuel than he cares to think about.

As much as Whistler Blackcomb's mountain planning and environmental resource manager works toward a zero carbon operating footprint for the entire company, he's caged by the cursed technological shortcomings of the human race.

"I try to eliminate as many contradictions from my life as I can," he says. "But then watch me put out a fire in a Smart Car."

He laughs. The Motorola radio strapped to the breast pocket of his reflector vest crackles and through the static comes a little nasally voice that sounds like an otherworldly Bob Dylan - a songwriter he just so happens to love.

We've spent over two hours discussing his appreciation for Eckhart Tolle, his love of bears, a passion for photography. But mostly, we discussed Whistler's role in the future of global sustainability.

"If Whistler is sustainable, so what?" he says. "We don't live in a global reality anyways. We're at the top of the pyramid here, and whether Whistler existed or not is not going to - I mean truly - affect the world in terms of the issue of sustainability."

But because tourism is 10 per cent of the global economy, Whistler could become a model for sustainable tourism and, ideally, influence 10 per cent of the economy. For Arthur, this is vital both economically and socially because tourism provides a social adhesive, bridging the cultural divides that are at the root of much of the global tension we see today. He says it's Whistler's calling to lead this change.

"It brings people together, it allows us to understand people's cultures," he says. "The more we understand each other the more likely we are to get along and work things out. I think from a sustainability perspective, tourism has a very, very important role in social integration."

Spend 10 minutes with this man and one thing is deafeningly clear: Arthur DeJong bleeds altruism. He's the kind of guy who busses tables at Christine's when they're understaffed. The type of guy who gives presentations to the UN on sustainability, who wants to take the powder from the gun of everyone in the room. If there's an obvious fault, it's that he doesn't laugh enough - something he chalks up to a Dutch heritage.

Or maybe it's that he can talk for hours on end. Only it's not the senseless droning of a narcissist. His monologues are thoughtful and engaging. He speaks deliberately, pausing often to find the right words, eyes closed, left hand help up with the finger tips pressed together like a lotus flower ready to bloom - and listeners find themselves hanging on a verbal cliff face, reaching for that next word.

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