As Murray told us in the last edition of the Bulletin, there is a new “green” group on Bowen calling themselves True Green. They are proposing “solutions” for Bowen based on the idea that by increasing our density and population, we can become more sustainable, support more amenities and reduce our carbon footprint (the idea being that more amenities means reduced off-island travel). But the group’s logic seems flawed to me in some fundamental ways.
The first is the idea that “the pressure for growth [on Bowen] will be relentless” (quoting from the Undercurrent) and the implication that we must accept this premise and dramatically increase our population in response. What has, for so many years, been the main attraction for people moving here is the sense of community, smallness and connection with the environment that comes with rural life. This island was described not long ago in the Georgia Strait as a “leafy green oasis”, a refuge from the stresses of urban life. That is why I was so opposed to the CRC Neighbourhood Plan. It was a high density urban-style plan.
I see in the True Green group, many of the same people who supported that urban vision for CRC. They seem to want that for other parts of Bowen, despite the fact that it was rejected for CRC. But before we embrace that vision, let’s think about whether Bowen should be an extension of the Lower Mainland or not.
Bowen’s uniqueness comes from its retention of an overall rural nature, despite our proximity to the mainland. We have the power to retain this legacy. There are other parts of the world (England and France for example) where development pressures are intense, and yet substantial rural areas are maintained and valued. We can learn from them.
The other way that we part company is with the idea that by reducing our “per capita” greenhouse gas production (by expanding and building more) we are being green. This is a fallacy! Encouraging population growth in dense subdivisions may lower our per capita GhG production, but it will surely increase our overall GhG production (more people create more GhG). Aside from that, this increased growth will most likely come from the mainland. People who move here from the mainland will increase their personal carbon footprints, due to the extra travel-related GhG output associated with island living. Many of them will have jobs on the mainland, and all will depend on food that is shipped here by ferry.
No island, not even Vancouver Island, is self-sufficient. The trucks that lumber on and off the Nanaimo and Victoria ferries tell us that. And our resources are much more limited. We simply cannot afford all of the amenities that are found on the mainland (or Vancouver Island) and we likely don’t have the market to sustain many more services than we already have.
I can already anticipate the True Green response – this is just another example of the “old” way of thinking, of those who always say “no” to development on Bowen. Not so. I say “yes” to a reasonable pace of growth that retains our rural character and that respects the limitations of island geography and resources, including our limited tax base. I say “yes” to varied forms of housing in areas where that makes sense, and to affordable housing, without being naïve enough to think that everyone who wants to own a house here will be able to. I say “yes” to local food production and to home-based businesses. I also say “yes” to reasonable limits on growth so that we maintain the rural fabric of this island.
I do not accept that by building more and luring more people to Bowen from the mainland that we are being “green”. We need to consider the carbon cost of all that building and weigh the benefits that natural spaces provide, including cleaning our air, purifying our water, and providing habitat for species. And this is aside from an increasing understanding that contact with natural spaces provides benefits to human health and wellbeing.
One of the True Green founders was quoted in the Undercurrent as saying “While we have a lot of trees here that absorb carbon, we have nowhere near enough to counteract what we’re putting out of our vehicles”. Well, if that’s so, we should be planting more trees instead of building over them, and reducing our vehicle use. What we shouldn’t do is cut down even more trees to make way for even greater numbers of people, or the equation will be even more out of balance.
I feel strongly that our best course of action is to decide now what we want to be and plan accordingly. Many of us will choose the rural option. I choose being able to buy eggs from my neighbour, hearing tree frogs sing in the quiet of a summer night, and being able to see more stars in the night sky than I can ever hope to count. These are choices that are all too rare these days and once we lose them, they are gone forever.