A Green Economic Recovery for the Cowichan Valley

By Guy Dauncey

A Doughnut Economy

A green recovery! But wait – why green? At such a time of crisis, shouldn’t any kind of recovery be welcome?

The argument for a green recovery is that while the dangers from Covid are clear and immediate, lurking in the wings are other crises some of which hold just as much danger – the climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, the affordable housing crisis, and the low-income debt crisis, which is placing people in miserable poverty. 

If we continue to operate our economy the way we have for the past many years, here’s what will happen. We’ll lose much more of our forests. We’ll experience more flooding, as the winter rains pour off the forest clearcuts. We’ll lose more forest topsoil, as storms wash it away, turning the Salish Sea brown with mud. We’ll lose the beauty of the Cowichan Valley to tediously awful suburban sprawl. We’ll see steadily increasing rents and homelessness, with ever more people living in cars, vans and tents. 

And because of the way free market economic development contributes to the climate and biodiversity emergencies, we’ll continue to increase our climate pollution. We’ll experience more forest fires, more summer droughts, more tumultuous winter storms, more loss of species, more loss of insects – including pollinators, and more cancers caused by chemical pollutants. 

It’s long past time that we shaped up and started doing business differently. Chambers of Commerce and other business leaders, are you listening? Are you hearing the distress of our teenagers and young adults? Are you hearing the distress of all who struggle to earn a living wage? Are you hearing the distress of our wildlife? Are you hearing the alarm bells around the world warning of the climate emergency? Let’s not rebuild more of the same. Let’s build a green, socially just, circular economy. Let’s build an economics of kindness. 

Green Affordable Housing

As a start, we need a huge amount of new affordable housing, built not by for-profit developers but by non-profit agencies and housing cooperatives, so that once the land and building costs have been paid off the tenants will enjoy the same low cost of housing that is normal for every home-owner who has paid off their mortgage. 

We need these and all other new homes to be built to the Passive House standard, which is so efficient there’s no need for any external heat source, whether gas, oil or woodstoves, eliminating climate pollution. They cost a little bit more, but with no heating bills, it comes out even. We need them to be built not on green space, but by increasing density within our existing communities, rezoning some single-family neighbourhoods to allow three storey row-housing and other creative designs. And we need them to be designed using the pocket-neighborhood principles of Seattle architect Ross Chapin, emphasizing human contact over cars, making it easy for neighbours to get to know each other, building ‘the missing middle’ in scale between single family homes and big tower blocks.

Shipping Container and Tiny Homes Villages

We need to create homes for all who have been pushed out of the market by AirBNBs and ridiculously high rents. In Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle and Portland architects and designers have been converting shipping containers to make comfortable well-insulated homes, finding vacant land where containers and other tiny homes can be clustered into mini-villages. Just because some homeless people have mental health and drug addiction problems and some are habitual thieves does not mean we should leave them out in the cold in their tents and vans, feared by local residents, and living with stress and fear so high that they are unable to get their lives together.

Building Retrofits

To eliminate the climate pollution from our buildings we need to retrofit every building that burns gas, oil or wood, making them more efficient and installing heat pumps. There are generous grants and rebates to help with the cost, and with the rising carbon tax and the efficiency of the heat-pumps, many retrofits will pay for themselves. Our goal should be to develop the policies, the low-cost financing and the technical support so that every home and building owner is lining up to get a retrofit. 

Bike Lanes

Cycling on safe, separated bike lanes is the healthiest, lowest-cost way to get around. Electric bikes take the pain out of the hills, cargo bikes allow you to carry children, shopping and small business deliveries, and electric tricycles allow older people to get around. All with no climate pollution and very low trail maintenance costs, while reducing congestion and creating more road space for those who want or need to drive. What’s not to love?

A green recovery means investing in active transportation for pedestrians and cyclists, as the CVRD is doing. And for horse-riders. It means sitting down with cyclists to work out how we can have safe separated routes all over the place, as they do in Holland and Denmark. And though some will disagree, I believe it means forgetting the train, and converting the E&N Railway corridor into an amazing long-distance bikeway from Courtenay to Victoria, opening up a host of opportunities for by-the-trail businesses and tourist accommodations. 

Value-Added Wood Products

How can it be that there are so many trees on the Island, yet so few business produce value-added wood products? Why have we become such an exporter of raw lumber, ignoring the income to be earned and jobs generated by turning the lumber into useful products? Someone in the BC Ministry of Raw Log Exports needs to give their head a shake and craft whatever policies or tax-regimes are needed to build a much stronger value-added wood products sector – which does not include chipping trees and shipping the chips to Sweden, so that they can pretend that they are reducing their climate pollution by burning them to produce electricity. 

Food and Farming

It might seem that the Cowichan Valley is already a food-producing Delitopia, overflowing with fresh greens, kombucha and duck eggs. Appearances can be deceptive, however. By far the greatest part of our food still arrives on the ferry, and most of our farmland is growing hay, or nothing at all. There is so much more that we could do to encourage local agriculture, and enable more people to earn a good living from the land. 

In Quebec, Jean-Martin Fortier and Maude-Hélène Desroches generate $110,000 in annual sales and feed two hundred families on less than a hectare at Les Jardins de la Grelinette, using Community Supported Agriculture and farmers’ markets. At the nearby La Ferme des Quatre-Temps, Jean-Martin’s eight-acre market garden generates gross annual sales of $73,000 per acre and a profit of $29,000 per acre, employing twelve workers who use ecological polyculture and appropriate technologies, supported by good business skills, good farming skills, good land, and access to capital. 

Cowichan Regional Growers Cooperative with thousands of members could assist many more farmers to earn a good living, while helping the farmers with pest problems, food distribution, and value-added farm businesses.

Ecological Restoration

We have just had a century of ecological loss. We have destroyed our oldgrowth forests, allowed invasive species to spread, lost native animals and plants, and lost the heaven-blessed abundance of whales, fish and shellfish which used to grace our waters. A green economy of kindness must be ecologically regenerative, restoring Nature’s Economy alongside our own. We need to identify every local area that needs restoration, form partnerships with landowners large and small, including Mosaic and Western Forest Products, find the recovery funds to hire and train a host of young people, and use the skills of ecological restoration elders like Dave Polster to show us how it should be done, on land and in rivers, lakes and estuaries. 

New Businesses and Cooperatives in a Circular Economy

A vibrant green economy should be constantly generating new businesses, both private and cooperative. The failure rate for new businesses is sadly high – but when start-ups are supported by community economic organizations that provide training and peer-support the survival rate increases. At the same time, we should encourage new businesses to become part of a circular economy, generating zero landfill waste and recycling wastes into new materials for re-use in the economy, following the Synergy Foundation’s leadership. 

Community Banking

Every year, Vancouver Islanders invest millions of dollars in RRSPs, but scarcely a dollar supports local businesses. In a green economy, local banks and credit unions would offer their members and customers opportunities to invest in a balanced portfolio of local businesses and cooperatives, seeking angel investors, risk investors, and steady-as-you-go RRSP investors. The non-RRSP part is already happening through Island Investment Clubs, but on a very small scale. It needs to become normal, so that we can all participate in building our local economy with our savings.

A Framework for Development – A Doughnut Economy

We need more than a shopping list of projects: we need a new framework to support the new economy. The old framework based on free market economics is one of the causes of our many problems. It ignores nature, ignores homelessness, ignores poverty, and ignores the realities of power. The free market in housing has created spiralling housing price inflation alongside homelessness and unaffordable rents. We have to do better. 

We need a market economy, but we need a socially responsible market economy, not a selfish market economy in which the only assumed purpose of business is to make money, regardless of the social and ecological costs. Kate Raworth is a British economist whose book Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a Twenty-First Century Economist is causing a stir around the world. Her framework for economic development is like a doughnut, where the outer edge is the ecological ceiling, beyond which lie all sorts of ecological dangers, and the inner edge is the social boundary, beyond which people live in a world of poverty and injustice.  ‘The safe and just space for humanity’ lies within the doughnut. The City of Nanaimo has recently adopted this framework to guide all its development, joining Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Brussels, Portland, Philadelphia and other cities.

A Partnership to Get Things Started

The Duncan Cowichan Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Cowichan have already started in this direction, partnering in a Lunch n’ Learn with the Synergy Foundation to explore the circular economy. To further advance these ideas, maybe they could develop that one event into a series, increasing their outreach to other players in the community. The pandemic has many awful downsides, but it has one upside, which is that with everyone staying close to home, it is much easier to organize meetings of this kind. 

First Published in Valley Voice, April 2021

Guy Dauncey is President of the Yellow Point Ecological Society, and author of the forthcoming book The Economics of Kindness: A Ten-Year Transition to a Green Cooperative Economy. You can find his work at www.thepracticalutopian.ca

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