By Tim Pearson
In January, the Real Estate Foundation of B.C. released the results of public opinion research it conducted into British Columbians’ attitudes and priorities about sustainable land use. The results were extremely interesting and offer a number of causes for optimism in these often discouraging times.
British Columbians care deeply about this place we call home. Our identity is grounded in our sense of place and in the beauty of the natural landscapes we live within. The core principle underlying our attitudes to land use is sustainability. We want a sustainable economy that works both for us today and for future generations.
Our top land use priorities include habitat for nature, community-scale renewable energy projects (rather than industrial-scale projects like Site C) and agriculture.
One of the most significant things that came through is people’s desire for more local control over land use decisions that affect them. This is especially true of decisions that threaten community members’ health and communities’ ability to maintain reliable access to food, water and energy.
British Columbians are also suspicious of the influence of outsiders in local land use decisions, whether those outsiders are big corporations, distant governments in Victoria or Ottawa, or even environmental groups such as ourselves. People clearly and unambiguously want to see local needs take precedence.
British Columbians’ concerns vary somewhat by region, but there are a number of common threads. Residents of the lower mainland, Vancouver Island and the southern interior consistently rated climate change, local food security and water as key land use issues. Wildlife habitat was prominent in both the southern interior and Vancouver Island.
Gratifyingly, old-growth forests came through as a key issue on Vancouver Island. While Sierra Club BC cannot claim all the credit, the work we have done with our partners raising the profile of this critical issue has undoubtedly contributed. All the more reason to for us keep pushing and growing support and momentum for the protection of the last remaining unprotected old growth, both on the island and the south coast!
The lower mainland, unsurprisingly, is preoccupied with issues around population growth and affordability.
Northern B.C. stands out as having different preoccupations than the rest of the province. Northerners are concerned about the mismanagement of natural resources, environmental pollution and the influence of big corporations. This is not surprising when you consider the cumulative impacts of resource extraction in the Peace, for example. Northerners are also most suspicious of the interference of outsiders and of the provincial and federal governments in their affairs. There are lessons here for environmental groups such as ourselves, who—despite sincere intentions on issues such as LNG—are often perceived as “holier than thou” finger waggers from the big cities of the south coast.
Overall, British Columbians feel ambivalent about the future. Three quarters of us believe our quality of life was excellent or good 25 years ago. Yet when looking 25 years into the future that figure drops to a minority: just 42 per cent.
It’s clear British Columbians are concerned about multiple threats to our quality of life and the life support systems we depend on. We are also very much bought into the need for sustainability and the priority that must be placed on health, food and water supply, and energy needs.
There is clearly a basis to build wide support for the type of solutions to these threats that Sierra Club BC and other environmental groups have been advocating. And it’s also clear that putting in place mechanisms for increased local control will help increase that support.
We’re grateful to the Real Estate Foundation of BC for conducting this research. We’re also grateful for the financial support REFBC has provided for our work on land use and old growth on Vancouver Island.
If you want to check out the results of their research in more detail, visit refbc.com.
And if you have any thoughts on what this means for our work at Sierra Club BC, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your input is always welcome!
Feature image: Jens Wieting