Engaging the Community

25 01 2010

Question:

How can we engage the community of Colwood in moving towards being a carbon neutral city . . . with NO budget or current sustainability committee?

The Capital Regional District (CRD) does have a Climate Action Program, which is based around 4 major (and attainable goals), encompassing the broad initiative of “engage-reduce-repair”.  A climate action, or sustainability plan, may look good on paper; however, there will always be an area of stagnancy separating what we would like to do versus the multiple barriers preventing this action from proceeding.  In many cases these barriers involve . . . wait for it . . .  money! The economics of sustainability really raises the question: will the costs on inaction outweigh the costs of action?  What are the paybacks in the short term, and long term?  So if there is no budget for creating a sustainable community (at least not at the moment), what is our largest resource? People!

“Environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens, at the relevant level. At the national level, each individual shall have appropriate access to information… and the opportunity to participate in decision making processes. States shall facilitate and encourage public awareness and participation by making information widely available.” – United Nations Rio Declaration,
Principle 10, 1992

There can be many difficulties in the implementation of community engagement including: land and business ownership, funding, heterogeneity (makes consensus difficult), community “wants” and environmental concerns, etc.   However, all the negative pieces aside, local people are always the best source of knowledge and wisdom about their surroundings.   Smaller municipalities rarely have the skill bank needed to solve all the problems in an area, but local people can bring additional resources. Design solutions are more likely to be in tune with what is needed and wanted if a diverse range of community stakeholders come together to agree/disagree on policies.  Development of new policies and initiatives may gain momentum as people gain a better understanding of the options they are likely to start thinking positively rather than negatively; thus, time-wasting conflicts can be avoided.  Looking ahead to a sustainable future, people feel more attached to an environment they have helped create; therefore, they will have help manage and maintain it better.  Maeve Lydon from the Office of Community Research at Uvic illustrated the importance of creating relationships amongst community umbrella groups, businesses, and universities.  The idea of mobilizing assets and knowledge, and facilitating learning and policy initiatives are all key to communities moving forward to a more sustainable (and informed!) future. In my opinion, Colwood should be eyeing Royal Roads University as a major resource- offering a large sink of knowledge, innovative ideas, people resources (faculty and students), and for its leading example of ecological preservation.

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One response

25 01 2010
Rick Kool

You remind us of an important point: “will the costs on inaction outweigh the costs of action? ” Of course, this can be seen in the context of the Pascal’s wager… who benefits from not acting now, and who will pay if their are greater costs in the future. “Rational” economics would always tell you to get someone else to pick up the costs of something you otherwise would have to pay for, thus allowing you to lower your costs and increase your profits. While that thinking worked for the 19th and 20th century (well, it didn’t really work but it took a while to notice!), it won’t work in the 21st century.

You’ve written a nice posting here, Charlene… I look forward to seeing more thoughtful stuff from you through this course!

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