Green-washing Vancouver isn't reducing our carbon footprint – it's just empty hype
Many of us are realizing now that there was "fine print" on Gregor Robertson's promise to end homelessness. By slyly adding the word "street" before the H-word, Robertson is basically saying that mats in a warehouse, or sleeping on a pew equals Mission: Accomplished. Even former VV mayoralty candidate Jim Green said on CKNW the other morning that homelessness is "down by 50%" under Vision's governance. Oy vey.
However, it's the Mayor's promise to make Vancouver the world's "greenest city" that might be his biggest nose-stretcher yet. Exhibit A is the op-ed published in the Vancouver Sun yesterday by David R. Boyd, co-chair of Gregor Robertson's GCAT committee. Boyd is an environmental lawyer who also serves as an adviser to Joel Solomon's Renewal2 project, and he also taught at the Hollyhock School for Environmental Leadership.
The op-ed is intended to make Vancouver under Robertson's leadership as a veritable beehive (pardon the analogy) of leadership on the green file. What the piece does show is that Boyd has either been seriously misinformed by his political masters, or he too believes that GCAT is somehow responsible for years of hard work by staff that preceded Roberton's government.
Boyd crows about requiring LEED Gold for new buildings, yet he takes pains not to use the term EcoDensity, which is how that City standard was implemented. Recall that Robertson ran against EcoDensity, yet he embraces it today. Laneway housing – another EcoDensity initiative – is also boasted about, but David should know that all the heavy lifting getting public buy-in for it was completed in the Fall of 2008, before that year's election.
Even food scraps curbside collection, which Boyd credits as one of GCAT's accomplishments, has been in the works for years after being initially proposed by Coun. Suzanne Anton. Even Vision's own staff report from last March states:
Since the spring of 2008 Vancouver staff have been discussing with MV staff our interest in participating in a regional food waste diversion initiative. In 2008 and early 2009 Metro Vancouver conducted a competitive contracting process for securing regional food waste composting capacity.
The report then says:
At the In Camera session of January 26, 2009, Council provided approval for staff to negotiate and enter into a contract with Metro Vancouver for composting of yard trimmings and food waste...
So in other words, curbside composting was ready to implement a full month before the first meeting of Robertson's Greenest City team at the end of February 2009.
The list of empty boasts goes on...
- Olympic Village certified LEED Platinum – that project was under construction two years before Robertson took power.
- The Village's Neighbourhood Energy Utility, also planned for and under construction for years.
- "Vancouver enjoys the lowest per capita greenhouse gas emissions of any city in North America." Did that happen overnight? Of course not, it's been achieved through decades of planning and development. See here and here.
What Robertson can take credit for is his community garden that he decreed be built on City Hall's front lawn with no community input. He can also take credit for putting in a single solar hot water system at Brockton Oval's public washroom, which means that tourists can marvel at this innovation. No mention of the carbon footprint created by manufacturing the system's plumbing and solar cells.
Robertson can also take credit for the costly Green Capital brand and the embarrassing vanity of Vancouver House during the 2010 Games. The Mayor is promising 20,000 "green" jobs by 2020, but has provided no benchmarks as to what a green job is, or how long it should last.
Speaking with another lawyer, an expert on international commerce, I asked if Robertson's pledge of 20,000 jobs in the green sector was achievable within city limits. The lawyer chuckled and said, "What the green technology sector needs is affordable land and lots of space, of which Vancouver has neither. While other parts of Metro Vancouver might benefit by this economic direction, Vancouver will struggle to reach those kinds of job numbers."
Completely missing in Boyd's op-ed is any mention of how the City will deal with waste. Robertson and Vision embarrassed themselves by filing a set of amendments to kibosh a waste to energy initiative under consideration by Metro Vancouver. By comparison, New York is now seriously looking at W2E to deal with their massive garbage problem.
Of course, Boyd's op-ed contained the oft repeated request for more transportation dollars from senior levels of government. As we know Robertson's "bumping into Ministers" strategy hasn't succeeded so far. What would be nice is if the Mayor actually came up with a plan and approached the Feds or the Province instead of making statements in the press, then someone might take their requests seriously.
The green game in Vancouver today is all about optics. Saying your green is much different than being green, and Vancouver can do much better than Gregor Robertson's style of symbolic environmentalism.