Sustainability

Posts about sustainability

On Complexity and Collective Impact

I think it’s safe to say that we live in an increasingly complex world. All of our really “big” problems are now safely out of reach of simple solutions. From poverty to climate change, financial systems to water shortages, it’s becoming obvious that individual people, institutions and even governments aren’t able to adequately address society’s greatest challenges. Why is this? Let’s start by examining problems, from simple to complex.

Simple problems are like cooking a meal. Find the right ingredients, do things in the right sequence (follow the same recipe), and you’re pretty much guaranteed to consistently get the same result.

Complicated problems are a bit trickier. Take building a plane and flying it from one destination to the next. There are a whole lot of different disciplines that come together to make that happen, along with bits and pieces of material from around the globe. A lot of math and physics involved. Yet, building planes and flying them around is now commonplace. Companies have figured out the formula for air travel.

Complex problems are different. They’re a chaotic and moving target. Often times they’re “wicked”, in the sense that the problem you’re seeing is actually the result of a different solution, applied to a different part of the same system. Greenhouse gasses are emitted by the very furnace that keeps me warm in the cold Canadian winter. Burning carbon is the current solution to my heating problem.

So how then, are we to tackle complex problems? For starters, we need to act collectively. As I previously wrote, the really big problems our world faces are way outside the scope of any one organization.

I was recently at a conference about the idea of collective impact. Pretty compelling stuff, but definitely outside of the realm of most problem-solving protocols we’ve developed thus far. First, it requires that we come to a common shared agenda. I’m not sure, and I hope I’m wrong, but it feels like we’re moving in the opposite direction of shared agenda. It seems that we’re becoming increasingly polarized, at least politically.

Second, collective impact requires a shared measurement system. Which means we need to agree on what “success” look like and how we might measure it. Again, not something that we’re great at. I do have a bit more hope on this particular problem, as more and more communities are developing indicators for the “health and wellbeing” of the community. Check out a local Albertan’s work on this (Mark Anielski). Some good stuff happening.

Third, collective impact demands that all parties are involved in mutually reinforcing activities. This kind of strikes at the heart of our competition driven system, but I suppose that if you do have authentic engagement in a common agenda, then it’s not out of the question to believe that people could adopt mutually beneficial behaviour.

Fourth, collective impact initiatives require continuous communication back and forth across the system to ensure that activities are aligned with the vision, and that data from shared measurement systems is being appropriately analysed and used for course-correction.

And finally, collective impact typically requires some sort of “backbone” organization to support the collective efforts.

I’ve been to a lot of conferences and workshops on this whole “change the world” thing. This last one, put on by the Tamarack Institute in Vancouver, was by far the best. I’d highly encourage you to look into the work they’re doing across the country with regards to collective impact, read the book “Deepening Community” by Paul Born, and start to shift your thinking about what the real problems in our world are, and what solving them will entail.

Why we needed a carbon tax yesterday.

For starters, I’m not a big fan of taxes. I don’t know anyone who is. But I am a rather big fan of logical approaches to solving problems, so I find myself supporting the notion of a carbon tax rather enthusiastically (which, in a province like Alberta certainly puts me in a minority). This post explains why a carbon tax (and other consumption taxes) are a great idea, from a couple of different angles. First, I’m going to make the assumption that you don’t belong to the small percentage of the population that still denies that climate change is a reality and that it’s human-caused. Still though, if you are a climate change skeptic, you probably would agree that using less fossil fuels would result in a net-benefit for humanity and the environment. If neither of those is true, feel free to go read this piece of journalistic drivel by a British columnist.

Let’s consider something commonly known as “free market economics”. You know, supply and demand type stuff. Let’s start with a look at cigarettes, which for some time have been subjected to heavier and heavier taxation as society recognizes the high “externalized costs” (more on those in a minute) of tobacco smoking. In 2002, Alberta increased taxes on 25-packs of cigarettes by 2.25$, and smoking rates dropped 24%. Youth smoking rates dropped from 24% to 19% the following year. Pretty effective, no?

Externalized costs: No proper discussion on taxes and free markets is complete without recognizing that businesses that cause problems, be they cigarette manufacturers or oil producers, benefit immensely by externalizing many of the costs of production, consumption and the clean-up that ensues from their operations. If cigarette manufacturers were on the hook for every case of lung cancer, they would quickly go out of business. Oil companies pay nothing for the air pollution caused by the consumption of their product…society at large is on the hook for that. A related idea to externalized costs is the “tragedy of the commons”.

Let’s get back to the economics for a second, and look at something called the “marginal cost of abatement”. Basically what this means is that there is a certain level of pollution (for all pollution) that is most cost effective, for both society and polluters. Once you move beyond that most efficient point, each additional “unit” of pollution that you’ve prevented costs more to the producer than the damage that it causes. For example, if it was going to cost a company more to eliminate the pollution (through technological upgrades) then it was going to cost them to pay the fine for emitting the pollution, chances are they’d go the fine route. Wouldn’t you?

How do we decrease (abate) pollution? We can either increase efficiency (buy a prius) or, alternately, use less of the pollution-causing substance (ride our bike). Both of those scenarios (efficiency increases and usage reduction) are influenced most heavily by price. An increase to the price of carbon incentivizes manufacturers to make more efficient products, and would encourage a decrease in consumption among consumers. Won’t a carbon tax drive up the costs of everything else? Yes. Which will have an adverse effect most notably on people who can’t afford it, people who spend a high proportion of their income on non-discretionary things like heating their house and buying groceries. Which is why, for a carbon tax to be socially acceptable, it should be accompanied by changes to the tax structure as a whole to ensure that it’s not implemented in a regressive manner (good definition of regressive taxes here).

Regardless of your stance on the environment, it’s tough to make the argument that we don’t need to reduce the amount of carbon that we’re currently burning.

Because it turns out that the air we breathe might be the largest “commons” left in the world. And unless smog induced “nuclear winters” are part of your desired future, we should probably figure out a way to manage it.

Time to Vote.

Well, it’s getting to that season in Cochrane. Voting season. Time to establish a new council and mayor into the role of steering this dynamic and growing community. In an effort to help people access relevant information on all the candidates, I’ve compiled them here (with links to their websites/Facebook pages where possible). And yes, another long blog post, with lots of words.

And because I’m not a newspaper, I do get to make endorsements. Keep in mind these are my opinions and as such don’t represent anyone else.

Let’s start with the candidates for Mayor.

Keep in mind that although I’m ranking them, they ALL have a shared love for this community and would in all likelihood do well in the job.

My Pick: Joann Churchill. Solid track record on council, very engaged citizen, strong view of a sustainable Cochrane. A few miss-steps over the years on a couple of issues, but she’s learnt from them and carried on well.

Close second: David Smith. A bit of a dark horse coming into this election, he’s got a great platform, a solid support base and a view of the town and issues that seems to align well with reality. He’s talking about some issues that no one else has, and he wants to expand the Cochrane Sustainability Plan to include targets on sewer and energy reduction for transportation. Awesome stuff.

Third: Ivan Brooker. Having served two terms as a councillor, Ivan certainly has the experience on council to contend for the Mayor’s job. I’ve found myself disagreeing with numerous ways that he’s voted on some key issues, so from a policy perspective I have a difficult time supporting him.

And the Councillor’s

There are 13 PEOPLE vying to be on council this term. Crazy. Similarly to the Mayoral candidates, it seems that people have a lot of passion for the community, which is great. My picks are going to be based on a balanced council, track records in the community, and platforms. The following 6 candidates are my pick;

Ross Watson. Thoughtful, articulate, genuine and informed. A top pick for sure.

Tara McFadden. Of all the current members of council, Tara has consistently done the best job of communicating what’s happening up at the RancheHouse. She’s active on social media platforms and sends out a great e-news update on council meetings (subscribe if you haven’t already). Another top pick.

Gaynor Levisky. She’s got a good platform focused on Environment, Parks and Rec and Protection/Safety. She also seems to be well grounded in the issues facing families, a large segment of the Cochrane population.

Jeff Toews. I know what you’re thinking…haven’t you blogged a lot about disagreeing with Jeff Toews on a lot of issues? Yes. I have. And I’ll probably continue to disagree with him on a number of issues. But this election isn’t about MY view of Cochrane, it’s about OUR view of Cochrane. And Jeff brings a different perspective to the table, and I feel that he’s done a lot of learning about the complexities of the issues over the past term, and he’ll continue to learn and grow in the role.

Steve Grossick. I don’t actually know Steve, but he’s got a Code of Ethics on his website. And experience with politics, business and volunteering in the community (including being the current President of the Cochrane and Area Victim Services Society). A solid choice.

And unfortunately that only leaves one more seat in my “slate”. And there are several candidates worthy of the spot, but my vote is for Kaitee Del Pra. Born and raised in Cochrane, and only 23 years old, what she might lack in political experience is made up for by the sheer fact that she’s running for council. I think she’d bring a much needed perspective to the table.

Of course, that leaves out some worthy people, and I’ll outline them here.

Jamie Kleinstuber. Active community member, strong environmental ethic. Supports transit. It’s actually really hard to see him not on my list above. Maybe we can have 7 councillors this time around?

Shana Bruder. A long time Cochrane resident, Shana’s also been actively involved in the community (including the Cochrane Foundation, the Community Awards and Light Up committees).

Morgan Nagel. Another representative from the “youth” division, Morgan has some strong political experience and a firm focus on the “small town, family feel”.

Dan Cunin. Has a comprehensive platform that includes some great initiatives. And he came out of the gate and announced his candidacy in JANUARY. Eager and passionate.

Marty Lee. All I could find this morning was his Facebook feed, and will admit to not knowing much about his platform and how it might differ from the rest of the candidates. Has been in Cochrane for 14 years, and seems to have been reasonably well involved throughout.

Mary Lou Davis. A Google search turned up no campaign information, so I wonder if she’s doing it the old fashioned way (door-knocking and coffee drinking). Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just makes it hard to pin down her stance on things when you’re writing a blog post. She did serve on council during a pretty controversial period of time (2004-07), where a lot of development decisions were being made that we’re just now feeling the repercussions of.

Jim Uffelmann. Jim has been a champion for increased public engagement on a variety of issues (namely transit and the dog park). He appears to be running on a “keep taxes low” platform. I’ve had numerous Facebook conversations with Jim where I ended up leaving the conversation due to the negative tone of it. That said, he’s running for council and is obviously passionate about a couple of community issues.

And there it is…my thoughts on the 16 people running for Town Council this go-around in Cochrane. Agree with me or not, get the heck out there and vote!

Advance polls: Cochrane RancheHouse. TODAY from 4-8pm, Friday from 4-8pm and Saturday from 10-4pm. Election day is Monday, October 21st and polls are open at various stations from 7AM to 8PM. Info here: http://www.cochrane.ca/election

Rodeo Grounds

I forgot one of the apparently most sacred of cows in Cochrane these days, and that is the Lion’s Rodeo Grounds in Glenbow (just below the current pool/Boys & Girls Club/curling rink). There’s been a lot of interesting discussion about what should happen with that piece of property when the lease is up in 2019.

So here’s my thoughts.

First, we have a purpose built agricultural complex on the NW corner of town, with tons of parking, an indoor arena, a few different outdoor arenas/tracks and numerous other amenities. Does a town of 18,000 need two rodeo grounds?

Second, what’s the usage and economic impact of the rodeo grounds for Cochrane? I live in Glenbow so have a fairly good handle on how much it’s being used. Between Summer and Winterfest, the labor day rodeo and a few other events, it’d be generous to say that it’s utilized 6 weekends out of the year (aside from slow-pitch tournaments on the 2 fields). And I do understand that the Lions contribute greatly to this community (~4 million in the last 11 years), but my sense is that a good portion of that is raised at things other than the rodeo.

Third, given that the pool and curling rink are being relocated to Spray Lakes Leisure Center in the next couple of years, it’s safe to say the upper tier is going to need redevelopment. Is a rodeo ground that gets used sparingly the best use of that prime real estate? It’s tough to say.

Proponents say that it’s a very unique feature of a small town to have the rodeo right in the heart of the community. And I’m certainly not one to disagree on the cultural aspect of that argument.

Of course, as a taxpayer and someone generally interested in the fiscal sustainability of this community, it’s a hard stretch for me to see us not getting the maximum amount we can for that property, and allocating that money to some of the other big-ticket items that this rapidly growing community needs.

All nostalgia aside, it might be time to take a step back and look at the big picture on this one.

Cochrane’s Sacred Cows

Warning: This post is longer than most and contains a lot of words.

Well, we’re heading into the homestretch of the “silly season” in municipal politics, that time when the papers and facebook feeds are full of familiar promises. More amenities! Lower taxes! Small town feel! Transit! To name just a few.

So here’s my 2 cents on some of the “sacred cows” of the current municipal election, in no particular order of importance.

Aquatic Center and Curling Rink: Possibly one of the largest municipal projects ever attempted in this town, the 54 million dollar curling rink, aquatic center and associated upgrades is dominating the discussion. There seems to be general consensus that we NEED a pool, except for a few voices suggesting we show some restraint in times of economic uncertainty. Having just gone to the current pool this afternoon with my 2-year old I’m even more uncertain of this pressing need. 2$ Friday and the pool was WELL BELOW capacity. Like, we were the only ones in the hot tub for awhile.

Taxes: What would a municipal election be without promises to keep your taxes low? And would anyone be voted in on a “I’m going to raise your taxes” platform? Even though that’s pretty much an inevitable outcome? For once it’d be nice to see some honesty in a potential politician, something along the lines of “You say you want a bunch of shiny new amenities (aka a pool), but you don’t want your taxes to go up? Well, here’s your cake…feel free to eat it.”

Density: Not quite as prevalent in the conversation as the first two topics, but density is certainly flaring up in Airdrie, along with the connection to the Calgary Regional Partnership and the Calgary Metro Plan. It’s another sacred cow that needs to be examined closely. I would be highly questioning of anyone who suggests we can continue to build a bunch of single family homes with big lots and keep our taxes low. There are so many issues tied up in density targets that it’s tough to draw all the connecting dots for folks, but here’s a few;

  1. Density is more efficient. Less road, less sidewalk, less utility, less driving for the garbage truck. Theoretically less money required to service less infrastructure.
  2. Increasing density drives up the value of single family homes with big lots. Not a bad thing if you happen to be among the lucky folks who enjoy that luxury. Why pay a premium for a house with a big lot in Glenbow, when you can pay significantly less for a big house in Sunset, Fireside, Riversong, Heritage Hills, Heartland…etc.
  3. Dense developments are more affordable for young people. You know, the kinds of people that we might want to work in this town and have a family, and the ones who can’t afford those big houses right now.  They’re also the kinds of people that are going to work in those businesses that lease the 30,000sq ft in the new aquatic center…unlike the folks living in those big houses that have to drive to their job in the city to afford their mortgage in the small town!

Traffic: Ahhh…if only there was a system for moving large amounts of people quickly and efficiently on a network of roads and railways…wait….

Traffic is certainly an issue, and no, transit won’t fix it (but it certainly won’t hurt it). I’m sure there are people much smarter than I currently scratching their heads on what the hell to do about traffic in this town. Between terrible highway intersections, a railway that cuts through town, and a bunch of in/out access to large subdivisions…we’re pretty much screwed on the traffic front for the foreseeable future. Which is why I live in Glenbow, so that I can walk places. A good start would be some traffic circles…seriously. I spent a few months in New Zealand a few years ago and there were traffic circles everywhere. Way better for traffic flow than 4 way stops and signals.

Small town feel: That elusive, yet essential, quality that attracted so many of us to move to Cochrane in the first place. This might come as shocking news, but a small town feel is just that. A feeling. Whether you’re riding a bus, living in a new subdivision, swimming at a new pool or shopping for cheap plastic at Walmart, the only way to keep that “small town feel” alive and well is to act it out. Shop locally. Get to know your neighbors. Join (or start) a community association. Come out to the farmer’s market. Volunteer with a nonprofit. No town council or mayor has the power to turn you into a small town person, or to help a community keep that feeling. Sorry, this one’s up to you. Which, given how often politicians are able to keep their promises, is probably a good thing…

Local Economy: Again, this one’s being looked at by people much smarter and more in tune with economic development than I am. Certainly an 87% residential tax base isn’t very good, and we need to diversify our revenue streams. Here’s something to chew on… a lot of business owners were in favor of transit to and from Calgary. Why? Because there’s no labor market in Cochrane (or a very small one). Why? Because people who serve coffee and stock shelves can’t afford to live in this town. Why not? Because there’s a shortage of denser, affordable housing. Funny how all this is connected. And no, I don’t have any answers, other than people taking that small town feeling to heart and putting their money where their mouth is…shop local, preferably at small shops and at places that give back to the community.

There it is, the sacred cows as I see them. I have a feeling a few of them will be slaughtered shortly…it’ll be interesting to see which ones!

And stay tuned for some more in-depth analysis of various platforms, including my top picks for mayor and council, for whatever that’s worth to you.

The deluded environmentalist

I’m not an environmentalist.

“Wait, don’t you drive a truck on vegetable oilAnd aren’t you always going off about sustainability? And don’t you have a Master’s degree in Environment & Management?”

Yes to all three, and more. I co-chair a sustainability minded non-profit in Cochrane, bought a bunch of veggies at the farmer’s market this morning, and generally try and live a conscientious lifestyle.

I’ll tell you why I’m not an environmentalist (anymore). It’s because I live in North America, specifically in Alberta, near the capital of oil country (Calgary). I can’t be an environmentalist. The impact of even my most conscientious lifestyle on the planet still greatly exceeds that of probably 80-90% of the world’s population (I’m making up that stat, because it doesn’t really matter). How can I claim to be an environmentalist? What does that even look like in today’s 100mph consumer culture? A new prius? Curbside recycling? Driving a veggie oil truck like it’s my personal carbon offset so that I feel less guilty about taking a holiday to Hawaii?

It’s this very act of rationalizing our actions, offsetting the bad with the image of the good, that feeds our delusional picture of environmentalism. Like the cartoon above so aptly illustrates, our collective conscience is all to easily soothed by the placards of modern environmentalism. 3R’s? Yes please (except for the first two, they’re pretty inconvenient). Ban plastic bags? You betcha! (Except when I forget the cloth ones…)

Stop buying cheap consumer goods transported halfway around the world, used once and then tossed into a landfill? Uhh…hang on a sec.

Stop draining wetlands for those suburbs? Not so fast big guy…I have to put my starter castle somewhere!

Stop bottom trawling the ocean to get every last fish? But I really don’t want to pay more for my canned tuna…

I’ve got nothing against (most) environmentalists. Hell, I used to be one. But if we think that the planetary crisis’ of our time is going to be solved by token acts of conscientiousness, we’re seriously deluded.

And delusion’s a problem, because it maintains for us a belief that the world is the way we want it to be, instead of the way that it is.  It allows us to feel great about recycling our pop cans, while allowing us to turn a blind eye to our SUV’s and iPads. Add a little rationalization (my truck’s not as big as THAT GUY’s) and you’ve got a pretty dangerous combination.

I’m picking on environmentalists in this post, but the same could be said for philanthropy, religion, governance, education, finance…the list of societal systems afflicted by the threat of rational delusion is long.

And a little delusion goes a long way, so we’ll hang on tight.

 

 

The status quo

Status Quo

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to actually move systems in the direction that we want them to go. I’ve written previously about things like transit in Cochrane, so I’ll use that as an example.

First off, the diagram above shows my thinking around the “status quo”. Too often we think of it as a point in time, instead of the path through time that it really is. What we’ll have tomorrow is more of today, unless we do something different. Pretty straightforward.

I think what often stops those game-changing paradigm shifts in society is the sheer magnitude of the change, the large gap between the “status quo” and the “?” in the above diagram. But what if we didn’t have to make that huge leap tomorrow? What if instead we shifted in a smaller, more manageable way?

Take, for example, the proposed expansion of the Spray Lakes Family Leisure Centre here in Cochrane. Recently Town Council was presented with some initial reports that suggested a 54 million dollar price tag for a new pool and curling rink. I’ll save the obvious thoughts around “why we need more sheets of ice where people can chase rocks around and drink beer instead of just about any other project I can think of” for some other blog post.

Proposed rec center expansion

What caught my attention was the need to potentially construct up to one thousand more parking stalls to accomodate these new facilities. 1000 parking stalls.

Here’s a thought. Build a parkade on the Quarry (the old domtar site). Make it free parking. Charge a couple of bucks for parking at the leisure center. Run a free shuttle bus every 20 minutes back and forth from the Quarry to the leisure center.

What would that accomplish? First of all, we’d save some serious space down at the leisure center for things like grass (always nice to have) and further expansion of the facility. Second, all the merchants on the Quarry site would see a significant boost in traffic. Who wouldn’t grab a quart of milk and eggs at Sobey’s after running at the track? Or a coffee before they head down to watch the game? Third, it would be a great dip of the toe into the transit market. Try it for a year or two. Not working? Go ahead and build another thousand parking stalls.

Who knows, it might be the sort of small shift that leads to something altogether different than the “pave paradise, put up a parking lot” path we seem to be on.

The End of Growth

It’s been awhile since I’ve reviewed a book on here. Probably because I don’t have a helluva lot of time for reading these days.

I’m about half way through “The End of Growth” by Jeff Rubin, former chief economist at CIBC and author of “Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller”, and interested enough to blog about it prior to finishing it. He’s painting a pretty dire picture of the state of the world’s economy, with very compelling arguments. The combinations of triple digit prices on oil, the quadrupling of coal prices in recent years, combined with a general anti-nuclear stance around the world (particularly after the Fukushima incident), are flatlining growth in Europe and North America. Add to this mix a voracious appetite from China and India for fossil fuels, and it’s pretty apparent that the era of cheap energy is over.

And without cheap energy, our current system of globalization falls apart. It no longer makes sense to build cheap widgets in China, if the fuel for the boat costs more than the cargo is worth.

Why are we drilling in the arctic? Levelling the boreal forest in northern Alberta and boiling sand to extract bitumen? Because “conventional oil” (the kind that erupts out of a hole in the ground in Texas) is basically tapped out. As oil companies run out of cheap oil, we have to turn to oil that’s harder and harder to find, extract, refine and ship. Which means it’s never going to be cheaper. The price will fluctuate of course, but the days of using cheap energy to shock our economies out of recession are over.

So if growth is dependant on cheap energy (which Jeff makes a pretty clear argument for), and we no longer have access to cheap energy (also pretty evident)….it’s pretty safe to assume that no-growth or very slow growth is our new reality.

There are some pretty big consequences for society, if that’s indeed the new reality. From sovereign debt loads to youth unemployment, to the performance of my RRSP…a world with no growth looks very different than the one we currently inhabit, the one that’s been propped up by cheap energy for the last 200 years. Of course, we know that GDP (Gross Domestic Product) doesn’t influence the happiness and satisfaction of society…so maybe a “no-growth” economy might actually do us some good? I’m pretty sure that’s where the book’s headed.

Either way, it’s looking like it might be time to lock down some more grease suppliers for the ol’ veggie truck

Good to the last drop.

I had the privilege of attending a “Water Conversation” last night here in Cochrane. It brought together a range of interested folks (from normal citizens to town employees and businessman) to chat about 4 key areas related to water, and was facilitated by folks from WaterSmart. There was also representation from Alberta Energy and the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB)…not surprising given that one of the areas under discussion was hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

I’m not going to be able to encapsulate the whole discussion, but a few interesting things popped out for me.

Water usage: Did you know the average Canadian uses 329 liters of water a day? (The average Albertan uses 350L). Compare this to places like France (150L/day) and Sweden (200L). Same, or better, standard of living…half the water consumption.

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 1.53.17 PM

Water cost: How much do those 350L cost you? The answer…not nearly enough.

Screen Shot 2013-04-10 at 1.53.29 PM

So what does this look like for Cochrane? Well, if you’ve been reading the Cochrane Sustainability Plan Progress Reports (which I know you have), you would have noticed that the 2011 average for Cochrane was 203L/person/day! This is thanks in large part to an innovative pricing scheme, where residents and businesses pay a tiered rate for water consumption, along with good educational programs.

For the first 25 cubic meters (25000L!), you pay 1.13/meter ($0.00113/L). For 26-60 cubic meters, you pay $1.51/1000L. Anything over 60,000L/month and you pay $2.25 per 1000L.  This tiered rate is in and of itself pretty innovative, but I argue that it’s still too cheap.

If the goal is to continue to reduce TOTAL water consumption (not just per/capita), then we’re going to have to take things to the next level. The flow of the Bow River doesn’t change, and Cochrane’s population is growing rapidly. This scenario will result in water scarcity issues, regardless of how efficiently we’re currently using water.

A couple of ideas:

  1. Make the first 40L/person/day FREE. Totally free. Water should be a right, just like the air we breathe. 40L should provide for drinking, cooking and basic sanitation. After 40L….charge the hell out of it. Triple or quadruple the current pricing scheme. Make me think about how much water I’m using, and give me an economic incentive to use less. At 1/10th of a cent per liter…I don’t even blink when I flush the toilet. And I drive a truck on vegetable oil.
  2. Create bylaws around grey water recycling. All the water that goes down the sink or the bathtub could be reused to flush toilets, or recycled and used for watering the garden. Using expensive, treated water for EVERYTHING is unsustainable.
  3. Develop a full-cost accounting structure for water, from intake to discharge. Include that price in the consumption of the commodity. Change the tiered structure so that the thresholds are much lower.

There were some interesting conversations around “private management” of water resources here in the province. A lot of us at the table were pretty leery of that idea, although business certainly has a track record of improving efficiency and getting products to markets in the leanest way possible. What about a social business or non profit? Someone tasked with managing the resource, but not standing to make a killing from it?

I highly recommend you get acquainted with what’s going on with water resources in this province, because it’s changing quickly. Check out the water conversation here (you have until FRIDAY APRIL 12th to contribute to the online survey).

Information? No thanks.

As Judy Stewart (a long time steward of all things environmental in Cochrane) put it recently, the silly season has begun. Unfortunately, it’s actually been around for quite some time around a few hot topics in town (namely transit).

Recently, there was a motion before Town Council here in Cochrane that read:

That Council directs administration to prepare and submit a Transit Implementation Plan to the Alberta Transportation Green TRIP incentives program to confirm capital funding approval.

Now, you would think that this sort of motion wouldn’t cause a lot of fuss, and seems like a logical step in a process that’s been running now for a couple of years. Namely because the Green TRIP funding for Cochrane has already been approved (to a total of 6.1 million dollars), and this request is merely asking for information from the province, on which future decisions could be made. (Read the recommendations here).

Of course, if you’re a counsellor who’s already made up your mind that Cochrane is too small for transit, then this information is irrelevant, maybe even inconvenient, for your unwavering opinion on the matter. It seems that Councillor’s Brooker and Toews aren’t just anti-transit, they also take issue with gathering information on the topic.

I’m not always certain of the qualities I like most in a politician, but a stubborn unwillingness to gather the appropriate information prior to making major decisions that have long term impacts on the growth of a community, certainly isn’t one of them.

Bring on the silly season.