CONTEXT FOR RESTORATIVE DEVELOPMENT: “We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see the land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect” – a famous quotable quote written by Aldo Leopold, professor and author of A Sand County Almanac (1949)

Note to Reader:

In October 2018, Kim Stephens, Executive Director of the Partnership for Water Sustainability in British Columbia, was invited to speak at the Annual Conference of Engineers & Geoscientists BC. The title of his presentation was Moving Toward a Water-Resilient Future: Reflections on Engineers, Science & Getting It Right.

The focus of his presentation was on what it will take to achieve the vision for the whole-system, water balance approach branded by the Partnership for Water Sustainability as Sustainable Watershed Systems, through Asset Management. In his presentation, Kim Stephens quoted Aldo Leopold – legendary American professor, author, philosopher, scientist, ecologist, forester, conservationist, and environmentalist.

A legacy of past community planning and infrastructure servicing practices is….

Water defines British Columbia, and the rhythms of water are changing. We are at a tipping point. Will we adapt? Will we restore balance to the water cycle? How? Will we get it right? Yes – provided the right people are in the right place at the right time to apply an understanding of science and technology to make better decisions.

The challenge for engineers/geoscientists is to grasp the inherent complexity and unpredictability of working with natural systems. Engineers/geoscientists are always trying to shove nature into some form that would make it predictable and controllable. And that is not real world.

The New Normal in British Columbia

“We have all been to major conferences where the inspirational speaker tells a story of personal survival to make a point about life and why we do what we do. In my case, it is my ongoing battle with cancer that provides me with the reason to speak from the heart and share how this life-changing experience has influenced my perspective on the ethical responsibilities of land and water practitioners,” stated Kim Stephens.

“Given the New Normal of floods and droughts in BC, we are at one of those ‘watershed moments’ in time where we need to challenge folks to elevate their horizons. In October 2018, my presentation at the Engineers & Geoscientists BC Conference allowed me to road test the audience response to the idea of restorative development and what it would mean for the way the engineering profession does business. Telling the story of my battle with cancer was a way to capture the attention of my audience, and open minds as to what really matters.

To Learn More:

For the complete storyline for the presentation by Kim Stephens, download a PDF copy of Moving Toward a Water-Resilient Future: Reflections on Engineers, Science & Getting It Right.

Reflections on What We Need to Do to “Get It Right”

“Speaking as a professional engineer with 45 years experience, I believe that the engineering profession is a weak link in making the adjustments that will be necessary to adapt communities to a changing climate. We do not have the luxury of time as we grapple with the challenge of ‘where to from here?’ in order to restore the water balance. Storm Cunningham, author and restorative development guru, expressed it succinctly when he wrote:

80% of the revitalizing work done by urban planners and civil engineers in the 21st century will undo 80% of the work their predecessors did to cities and nature in the 20th century.

“In a conversation with Storm, he told me about his observation that the civil engineering profession has trouble adopting the restorative mind-set.  The main problem, he says, is that engineering is all about control and certainty. Urban planners have a similar problem. But living systems – like watersheds and cities – resist control, and exhibit surprising behavior when they are healthy.

“My conference presentation provided me with the opportunity to plant seeds. One hopes that the seeds will take root with some members of the audience, and then germinate. In particular, I wanted to draw attention to the provincial government’s introduction of the Professional Governance Act to deal with the adverse consequences of the professional reliance model over the past decade.

“I also wanted to draw attention to the fact that our brains have two hemispheres, one for short-term thinking and the other for long-term. Unfortunately, the Left Hemishere for short-term thinking governs much of what we do. We need to achieve a viable balance with the Right Hemisphere which allows us to see the big picture.”

To Learn More:

Download a copy of an Op-Ed co-authored by Kim Stephens and published in the Vancouver Sun newspaper in September 2018. Click on Opinion: Province must halt the decline of its biodiversity – Kim Stephens, Bob Sandford and Tim Pringle urge change.

Then read Professional Reliance in British Columbia: Trickle-Down Consequences in the Local Government Sector

Trickle-Down Consequences of Professional Reliance

“In June 2018, British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy completed a review of professional reliance in the natural resource sector to ensure the highest professional, technical and ethical standards are being applied to resource management in British Columbia,” stated Kim Stephens in his presentation.

“In October 2018, the Minister introduced the Professional Governance Act. The legislation is designed to make sure decisions affecting the province’s natural resources are science-based, transparent and protect B.C.’s unique environment for future generations.

Provincial Oversight Function

“High profile consequences of the ‘professional reliance model’ have been well-publicized in the natural resource management sector. Not as well-understood are the trickle-down consequences of ‘professional reliance’ in the local government sector. The latter are insidious and have resulted from a comparable absence of provincial oversight.

“Entrenched beliefs and a reluctance to change 20th century engineering practices have consistently resulted in missed opportunities to ‘get it right’. A central authority is necessary to establish expectations and ensure practitioner accountability.

“The good news is that – starting with Living Water Smart, B.C.’s Water Plan in 2008 – a provincial policy, program and regulatory framework is in place to achieve this desired outcome. The not-so-good news is that policy and program effectiveness has been undermined over the past decade due to cutbacks in civil service capacity. With a reinvigorated provincial commitment, however, the current situation can be turned around such that the trickle-down consequences of past professional reliance are remedied,” Kim Stephens emphasized when he explained the rationale for a call to action.

Land Ethic by Aldo Leopold

Published in 1949 as the finale to A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold’s “Land Ethic” essay is a call for moral responsibility to the natural world. At its core, the idea of a land ethic is simply caring: about people, about land, and about strengthening the relationships between them.

Ethics direct all members of a community to treat one another with respect for the mutual benefit of all. A land ethic expands the definition of “community” to include not only humans, but all of the other parts of the Earth, as well: soils, waters, plants, and animals, or what Leopold called “the land.”

In Leopold’s vision of a land ethic, the relationships between people and land are intertwined: care for people cannot be separated from care for the land. A land ethic is a moral code of conduct that grows out of these interconnected caring relationships.

Leopold did not define the land ethic with a litany of rights and wrongs in A Sand County Almanac. Instead, he presented it as a set of values that naturally grew out of his lifetime of experiences in the outdoors. Leopold wrote that “we can only be ethical in relation to something we can see, understand, feel, love, or otherwise have faith in.”

He believed that direct contact with the natural world was crucial in shaping our ability to extend our ethics beyond our own self-interest. He hoped his essays would inspire others to embark or continue on a similar lifelong journey of outdoor exploration, developing an ethic of care that would grow out of their own close personal connection to nature.