Tuesday, October 3, 2023
October 3, 2023

Galiano’s ecological impact measured in two-year study

The results are in: If everyone in the world lived like residents of Galiano Island, 4.3 Earths would be needed to sustain the global human population.

That conclusion comes from a two-year study done by the Galiano Conservancy Association together with partners, one of the first small island communities in the world to undergo an ecological footprint study. 

The footprint started at UBC in the 1990s as a tool to calculate “the amount of productive land and water required to produce the resources they consume and to absorb the wastes they generate,” the conservancy stated. Results are measured in global hectares, a “biologically productive hectare with globally average productivity for that year.” What this analysis demonstrates is that climate change is a symptom of overshoot, with human demands “outstripping the regenerative capacity of the biosphere.” 

Footprint calculations have been done for Victoria and Vancouver — which would need 3.5 Earths — and in smaller communities like Saanich and Powell River. The only other small island community that has done a footprint calculation is Helgoland, Germany, making this study the first of its kind for a small Canadian island, population 1,396.

The global average ecological footprint is 1.7 Earths, far lower than Galiano’s, yet Galiano’s footprint is lower than Canada’s average of 5.1 Earths. In some areas such as food, consumables and waste, Galiano is below the average for B.C. jurisdictions. In other areas, including developed area, electricity use and air travel, the island is above average.

The report’s intent, co-authors Michelle Thompson and Adam Huggins wrote, is not to “pressure or guilt individual island residents” but rather to “help inform conversations about community-scale responses to the climate, biodiversity and social crises that characterize this moment in time.”

While action at the provincial, federal and international level are outside the scope of the report and comprise around 40 per cent of the footprint, the other 60 per cent or 2.6 Earths can be influenced by local community action. The study outlines 10 recommendations for local action to reduce the footprint, which would require community consultation and setting goals together to start working on. 

Galiano has a long history of banding together for a cause, Thompson said, and many issues are already being tackled by local grassroots initiatives. One of the recommended actions is to support efforts like the Galiano Club’s community food programming and the Galiano Recycling Resources Society, which are “foundational” for meeting the one planet goal. According to a one planet scenario adapted to Galiano by the BCIT Centre for Ecocities, an 80 per cent reduction in food waste and a 50 per cent reduction in solid waste are required.

The study also looked at the biocapacity of the island, meaning the biological productivity of the terrestrial and marine ecosystems on the island.

“We were able to see that we are very biocapacity rich,” Thompson noted, adding that perhaps Galiano needs to be a “biocapacity steward” so that cities like Vancouver can exist into the future. 

To this end, the study suggested a new target of 50 per cent of the island’s biocapacity through “efforts to protect intact ecosystems, restore degraded areas, enhance productivity and apply ecosystem-based management” while ensuring Indigenous peoples and others can make “sustainable use of island resources.”

The largest contributor to the footprint was transportation, the area where the community can also make the most impact. The BCIT one planet scenario called for a 50 per cent decrease in the island’s vehicle fleet and 100 per cent electrification of all transport, including vehicles, boats and ferries. Actions suggested in the report included advocating to BC Ferries to electrify their fleet, “creating active transport infrastructure, supporting the adoption of electric vehicles, improving public transportation options, and experimenting with island-adapted transport solutions [for example] electric truck co-op, delivery services, vehicle sharing, revival of canoe culture.” 

One of the more shocking findings for Thompson was how much space the island’s built area took up. The community “claims a very large spatial area relative to its population for roads, structures, clearings and other infrastructure,” the report noted. This “rural sprawl” has negative impacts on “ecosystem connectivity, island biodiversity and access to harvest areas.” The report, and Thompson, acknowledged that there is no easy fix in this area and efforts at densification face hurdles such as groundwater availability.

The conservancy noted that part-time residents as well as tourists double the ecological footprint of the island.

“Interviewees associated this increased population with increased traffic and development, increased water use, decreased availability of housing, and decreased access to harvesting areas are associated with increased population; at the same time, interviewees recognized some economic and cultural benefits provided by the seasonal population,” the report stated.

The interviews were conducted as part of an “ecological fingerprint,” to evaluate attitudes, self-image and intrinsic values of the community with respect to resource use. 

Through interviews with older community members, Thompson noted the felt loss of the fishing and forestry trades. One recommended action is reviving the local economy for both forest and marine resources. 

Other recommended actions included investing in a Southern Gulf Island-wide circular economy and widening the use of technologies and practices such as composting toilets and rainwater harvesting. 

The report stated that all action should be guided by concepts of reconciliation, resurgence and landback and that “the Indigenous lifeways that were practised in the Salish Sea prior to colonization provide the ultimate, locally adapted example of ‘One Planet Living.’”

Having done the legwork adapting the footprint methodology to the island, finding data and filling data gaps through community surveys, Thompson said other islands who want to do such an analysis will be able to pull from their work. A spreadsheet will be posted on the project webpage that people can download and apply data to in order to get a rough estimate of biocapacity and consumption for their island. Thompson said other islands should also reach out to the conservancy if they are interested. 

The conservancy’s goal is to present their findings to the community and allow community members to let them know what their priorities are.

“We’re trying to throw it back to the community to say, “Do we want to focus on transportation? Do we want to rally for more bike lanes or electrification of ferries, or do we want to focus more on local food systems?,” Thompson said. 

A follow-up survey is open for residents to share their thoughts, and a podcast about the project is in the works. Visit galianoconservancy.ca/oneisland/ for more detail.

“A lot of people have climate anxiety and they feel like a lot of it is not in our own hands . . . but through this project we were trying to bring it to the community’s hands,” Thompson said. “If you’re getting discouraged in your individual actions . . . let’s join together as a community and try to do something together.”


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