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Splendour Without Diminishment

collaboration cumulative effects environmental impact assessment land use management framework planning project planning / approval Jul 07, 2016

We British Columbians have a common vision for our future – one that sees us benefit and enjoy the land, air and waters that sustain us today – but one that also recognizes that today’s use of these resources must be tempered by the knowledge that we do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors, rather we borrow it from our children. This common vision is reflected in our commitment to sustainable development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. It’s even deftly captured in the Provincial motto of BC – Splendor Sine Occasu – translated from Latin to mean Splendor Without Diminishment. 

And despite this awareness, the path towards our future seems strewn with conflict, misunderstanding, mistrust and frustration. Disagreement over land use is one of the biggest sore spots. Whether it is the conflict at Burnaby Mountain over Kinder Morgan’s pipeline survey work, BC Hydro’s proposed Site C dam, broad-scale LNG exploration and drilling, the proposed Endbridge pipeline or the issuing of an eviction notice to Imperial Metals by the Neskonlith First Nation – disagreements over land use are a dominant disruption in BC.

And as the general public becomes increasingly aware and better educated about the environment and their dependence on it for health, global weather influence, jobs and personal enjoyment, there is growing demand for more responsible environmental stewardship, even in industry dependent areas. And much of the pressure for raising environmental management standards is coming from within our personal networks. An explosion in personal global communications thru social media is elevating our ability to engage in these discussions to an unprecedented level. And because of this, social license to operate has become as important for economies to remain viable as traditional market forces and technology.

It’s never been so easy to communicate and collaborate. So why are we having such a difficult time moving together toward our desired future?

The root of it lies in the restrictive and legislated land use decision-making processes that a growing proportion of us feel excluded from. The environmental review process is rigid, narrow in scope and hangs a two-year timeline over review boards like the Sword of Damocles.

And most importantly, environmental impact assessments are not adequately examining the cumulative effects of all land uses and natural disturbances across meaningful time and space.

The typical approach for project assessments examines the economic and social benefits measured as jobs and royalties alongside comforting assurances of negative impact mitigation or harm-reduction strategies. Assessment scope is restricted to the “effects” of the particular development in isolation and compared only to current conditions. However, it has been widely acknowledged that individual project assessments are simply inadequate without being considered within the context of the big picture view of where we want to go. And in many instances today, the uprising of conflict and disagreement comes from fear that with the next project, we may be throwing on the straw that will break the camel’s back.

It is no longer enough to look at one individual land use in isolation. We need to examine the cumulative effects of all the different land uses together. And we need to understand what actions move us closer to our desired future – and those that do not.

What is missing and what we need is to engage British Columbians in an inclusive process to describe our desired future at the scale of watersheds and landscapes. And in the process of describing our future, we need to have the ability to consider a range of options and growth plans, consider all land uses as well as mother nature and measure performance across the new benchmark – the triple bottom line of people, planet and prosperity. It is unreasonable and quite frankly irresponsible to depend upon individual project proponents to define our future one project at a time – and yet this is the current default.

Rather, we need to converge the collective thinking of many perspectives and create synergies where innovative solutions can and will emerge. We need to develop resilience frameworks that build on historical lessons and use them as roadmaps that minimize our risk and vulnerability to uncertainty with new global forces like climate change and world economies.

Without these roadmaps, the future will simply happen to us and we’ll have to live with the consequences. But with these roadmaps in our hands, it will be possible for British Columbians to define our future and we will be able to sidestep the conflict and confusion thru meaningful and informed conversation about whether an individual project proposal moves us closer to where we want to be, or not – whether the trade-offs are worth it, or not.