June 8, 2010

Clouds of Change is Twenty

From Donna Passmore:

Twenty years ago today, the City of Vancouver released the Clouds of Change report.


It was the culmination of a year and a half of meetings in a dank, airless meeting room at Vancouver City Hall, and some of the most exciting public hearings I’ve been involved in throughout my 25-year environmental career. I’ll never forget the elementary school children or having the likes of Larry Berg and Nancy Skinner fly up from California to present. 

The late Dr. David Bates’ appearance before our Task Force was a significant moment quite beyond the work we were doing, because it was the first time (thanks to the Shaw cable broadcast of the full proceedings) that the people of the region became aware of the research that David and his colleagues had been doing, and the concrete connections they had drawn between smog episodes and spikes in hospital visits.

I ran into Diana Colnett at a SmartGrowth event several years ago and she reminded me of the presentation we heard from this obscure startup company that was trying to market something called a hydrogen fuel cell — and how incredibly far both Ballard Power and the technology advanced from that seemingly inauspicious moment.
It took 15 years and a seemingly ungreen Stephen Harper to pick up our recommendation to give bus riders a tax break. I think Ian Moffatt, who presented the suggestion during the public hearings, must be very proud.
When a group of us got together four years ago around our 16th, it was pretty amazing to watch people of such diverse but significant achievement all point to the Clouds of Change as one of, if not THE, proudest accomplishment of our lives. Not without reason.


It was the world’s first municipal blueprint for responding to global warming, a concept that was very young and pure science fiction to many people. Mark Roseland and Diana Collnet were brilliant young grad students of Bill’s, and for both of them, the Clouds of Change experience was a career launchpad.

At the get together four years ago, Mark reminded us that it was this body of work that gave rise to the International Council of Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) – which I think Vancouver’s David Cadman chairs. And ours is a body of work that Mark estimated at the time had been replicated or adapted by approximately 8,000 local governments around the world.

And thanks, Donna, for your ongoing commitment to the issues that were raised in a comprehensive way in this report.  I’d also add that it was Mark Roseland’s additonal recommentation to use the city lands at Southeast False Creek for an experiment in an energy-efficient community that led to the Olympic Village project – now one of the greenest communities in the world.

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  1. Post

    From Tom Perry

    What a nice idea to remind us of something constructive.

    I’m afraid I had a trivial role, but I’m glad to be reminded that I had any. Now that cabinet secrecy from 1992-1993 is irrelevant, I can mention that I pointed out the possibility it might be a poor long term idea to subsidize coal extraction (at that time the southeast B.C. industry was in trouble) given the likelihood of global warming.

    A well known former Finance Minister, who at that time was the actual Finance Minister, responded during the cabinet meeting: “Surely you don’t believe in that bumph!”. I suspect now-Premier Campbell was of the same school at that time. Humans have never tended to like science if its findings conflicted with what they believed or wanted.

    I think we continue to face the same problem as always: the Western economies are built on the need for continuous economic growth (whether or not such is inherently “good”) and the developing countries’ population explosion remains problematic but less dangerous than the ongoing population and economic growth of the developed countries of China/India.

    I’m glad there are still a lot of people thinking about these issues and making some small bits of progress. After all, at the same time cycling advocacy in Vancouver was dominated by “professional” cyclists who insisted everyone should ride in the main traffic lanes and made out the rest of us who were scared of cars as wimps. Even as an MLA, for a long time it struck me that we had no hope of making progress toward European views of cycling … yet things are substantially better now.

    Maybe for the more elderly among this group Vancouver will eventually provide “crawling paths” so we can get at least short distances on green routes separated from the gas guzzlers.

    Tom Perry

  2. Great post Donna and wonderful letter Tom.

    Only 20 years, and have things changed that much?

    I know your work responded primarily to Atmospheric Change in 1994. But it begs an even more interesting question about not only how industry can/has effected our climate, but also how we could/can make significant changes in our lives to effect change as well. I believe the greedy 80’s were both a litmus for change and in many cases contradictions toward the need for change.

    I remember the early 80’s as the fight between those of us who preferred (for both health reasons and a care for the unnecessary pollution of our shared environment) biking versus driving. I think we can say we have seen positive movement towards adopting alternatives to private gas powered vehicles, but not enough.

    I remember the big fights between those of us wanting to save large swaths of public forest from large cooperate and government greed. I think the jury is still out on that one.

    I remember debates about making Vancouver City affordable for those who worked in the core, avoiding the long polluting commutes toward the valley. Definitely haven’t reached any where near that goal.

    The Cambie Street Bridge $50 million, six-lane replacement was open December 9, 1985, with expanded side walks for people and cyclsts. O.K. was needed and not just for Expo.

    Construction began on the Broadway SkyTrain finished in 1985. Ready for operation for EXPO 86, January 3, 1986.
    As much as I use and appreciate the speed of getting from downtown to Metrotown, this was a politically expensive white elephant. Today difficult and much to costly to justify expansion.

    The above are just a few examples of how little has really changed to effect better habits and allow for choice of alternatives in transportation and hence make the air we breath safer and provide for a little peace of mind in diminishing or environmental footprint in Greater Vancouver.

  3. “I remember debates about making Vancouver City affordable for those who worked in the core, avoiding the long polluting commutes toward the valley. Definitely haven’t reached any where near that goal.”

    But Ian, surely the goal of much policy making in Vancouver is to increase real estate values. So really, I am not surprised that this goal is now further from achievement than ever. The reason is that the real goal, more expensive real estate, is being achieved.

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