Tuesday, April 23, 2024
April 23, 2024

In Response: Conversation Needed on Healthy Ecosystems and Healthy Community


Jason Mogus is known as a staunch campaigner and strategist on various environmental and social issues. No doubt, he believes passionately in the causes he takes on.

In the heat of argument, though, sometimes one can get carried away. In his zeal to make his point about affordable housing (“Small dwellings not the villain,” Driftwood, Jan. 26), Jason argues that some of us may be suffering so much from “climate grief” that the pain is clouding our judgment and we are unduly “taking it out on our small community.” And he ends up suggesting that we should “get help” — somewhat insensitively, I would say, even more so that we are suffering from the effects not only of climate chaos, to which islanders contribute little, but also of clear-cut logging and other forms of environmental degradation for which our actions on the island are fully responsible.

The global crisis that human activities have unleashed is affecting and will continue to affect everyone, beyond the much-touted “working class vs. moneyed elite” divide. That divide, it seems to me, is a red herring and definitely a “tired trope almost as old as Salt Spring,” to quote Jason’s words. In reality, there are plenty of well-to-do (or at least “comfortable”) individuals who care deeply about both the environment and people. And there are plenty of well-to-do individuals who care about neither. Likewise, there are plenty of less well-off people who do care about the environment, and plenty who don’t.

The divide is not so much an economic one as it is a cognitive one: a difference in the way we think. We either see ourselves as separate from nature and dominant over it — and then we consider nature as just “out there” to be taken from — or we see ourselves as a part of nature and utterly dependent on it — and then we realize that what we do to nature we do to ourselves, and take action to care for and protect what cares for and protects us. Both ways of thinking cut across economic classes, and that fact needs to be roundly recognized and acknowledged.

In addition, Jason states that “every trustee . . . is a hard-core environmentalist” who takes “protection of this special place seriously” according to “the unique conservation mandate of the Trust Act” — so that any argument to the contrary “has no basis in reality” and “creates unnecessary fear.” At present, it is not easy to see how such a statement might be supportable. In the process of reviewing and revising the Trust Policy Statement, over half of all Islands Trust trustees (and our entire local Trust committee) have been in favour of diluting the Trust’s mandate by putting social and economic goals on a par with the original goal of environmental protection.

That old “three-legged stool” model of sustainable development doesn’t work, and has long been discredited. The balancing act among the three goals has always resulted in trade-offs in which the environment loses. What we understand now is that, if we are to reach any kind of sustainability on this planet — and on this island — we need to recognize the primacy of the natural world, to which we belong, as the indispensable source of life support for ourselves and all other species. And we need to subsume human activities under the paramount goal of sustaining life. That responsibility applies to all of us, regardless of our economic standing.

Most of us would agree, however, that here and everywhere we are miserably failing to bring about a just society. The plight of many working people, young families, seniors and disadvantaged individuals on the island is heart-wrenching. We don’t control many of the pressures that cause that plight, as they come from well beyond our confines. But in our well-meaning efforts to address the local effects of those pressures, we must avoid further adding to what is ailing our already fragile, degraded ecosystems — lest we cross thresholds beyond which the island will no longer be able to sustain any of us. Water is already a limiting factor, ever more so with mounting climate instability. Other limiting factors are bound to follow.

No, we do not need more sprawling mega-homes on the island. But neither can the island sustain ever-increasing densities (even if now re-christened as “intensities”). What we do need, urgently, is an honest, respectful, in-depth conversation on what it really means to have a healthy community within healthy ecosystems, and how we can all work together to achieve that. Let’s get that conversation going.

The writer has been a Salt Spring resident for 16 years and has been involved in a local project to assess the health of the island’s ecosystems and the impacts on the health and well-being of islanders.

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