CARPE DIEM: Is the pandemic a ‘reachable, teachable moment’ for actually achieving sustainability in British Columbia?

Note to Reader:

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a life-altering moment for every British Columbian. Because the threat to health and life demands it, minds are open to changing behaviour. This week, the Partnership for Water Sustainability features an article contributed by George Hanson, President and CEO of the Vancouver Island Economic Alliance (VIEA).

The Partnership and VIEA have a history of collaboration, with the goal of achieving water sustainability through greener communities. George Hanson’s article is a ‘personal’ piece of writing excerpted from his President’s Message for the 2019 State of the Island Economic Summit, and republished in April as a newsletter to the VIEA audience. The Partnership felt it apropos for the times; and therefore relevant to share with a broader BC readership via our Waterbucket News.

Unity is strength. Where there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.

“The French word ‘prevoyant’ has no English equivalent. It is the power of a prepared mind to act upon chance events in a world of deep uncertainty,” says George Hanson, President & CEO, Vancouver Island Economic Alliance

Look Beyond the Pandemic and Create Actionable Visions for Change

In reflecting on a path forward for British Columbia, George Hanson shares his philosophy on the case for thinking and behaving differently. In an email to the Partnership, he commented that “perhaps post-pandemic the appetite for ‘actual’ sustainability will be whetted…”

The article is structured in three parts. First, George shares some words of wisdom’ when he recounts the advice that he gives his children. Then he focusses on the ‘conundrum’ that is the conflict between short-term and long-term thinking. George concludes with reflections from Lord of the Rings, with his message being that the pandemic has given us time to pause, reflect and seize the moment – carpe diem!

The timeliness of George Hanson’s reflections is found in the middle part of the article. He introduces the word ‘prevoyant’, which is another way to describe an ‘actionable vision’. So, working together let us look beyond the pandemic and focus our minds, energy and efforts on ‘walking the talk’ and implementing actionable visions for truly sustainable communities in British Columbia – such that settlement, ecology and economy would be in balance.

Well known for his achievements in community, organizational and economic development, George Hanson has a reputation for getting things done and ‘making a difference’. He has served on numerous community committees charged with improving social, educational and economic conditions. For example, George served as President of the Business Improvement Areas of BC for two terms.

He has consulted for corporations, community organizations, district, municipal, provincial and federal governments on Vancouver Island and beyond. George has led a comprehensive urban renewal project to considerable, award-winning success—attracting significant business and redevelopment investment while helping to guide design policy.

We Must Think & Behave Differently

“Like you, I fulfill many roles in life. Chief among these, as a father of two—a daughter in graduate school and a son about to finish high school,” wrote George Hanson in his President’s Message to the VIEA membership.

“In our family conversations, it is clear that our children are concerned about an uncertain future in our chaotic world. I think that they are not alone… To say that the world has always been uncertain, while true, would be to gloss over a growing perception that ‘the chickens’ of countless human generations many be finally ‘coming home to roost’.

“There is much to do to avert the mounting storms of climate change, trade wars, mass migration, political upheaval, and social unrest. And with no consensus among nations and peoples, the prospects for coordinated solutions often seem beyond our reach.

“The advice I give my children is counsel that seems apropos to our Island community and economy:

  • Expect Change. We do not know what the future holds, but all indications point to dramatic change in the not-too-distant future; (Here we are…)
  • Hone Critical Thinking Skills. The speed and volume of information now available is unprecedented. Ability to discern fact from fiction and think clearly under stress is to be prized;
  • Be Flexible. Challenges and opportunities are likely to arise with little warning. Ability to respond quickly and effectively will be advantageous;
  • Be Resilient. There will be bumps along the way. Ability to withstand pressure and recover quickly will be important to prospects for success;
  • Have Fun. You can’t live your life in continuous fear of the unknown that lies beyond your control. Plan for success. Commit yourself to your chosen course. Be lively.

This, is realism

“Being ‘stuck in the past’ has always been a liability. Now, as the pace of everything accelerates, it is logical to expect disruption. It is prudent to be nimble and responsive.

“There is a French word ‘prevoyant’ that has no English equivalent. It is ‘the power of a prepared mind to act upon chance events in a world of deep uncertainty’.

“Pulitzer Prize winning historian, David Hackett Fischer wrote that prevoyant is also ‘learning to make sound judgements on the basis of imperfect knowledge; taking a broad view in projects of large purpose; and thinking for the long run.’

“It has been said that ‘providence favours a prepared mind’. In business, in life, in community, it has always been beneficial to ‘look ahead’. Smart investors, whether entrepreneurs or municipal/institution leaders, anticipate the future and are thus in position to act as opportunities or challenges arise.

“Yet, herein lies a difficulty—corporate leaders are often chained to quarterly reports, the immediate-term financial returns expected by their shareholders, and the bonuses they receive for meeting these short-term expectations, while politicians are strapped to four and five-year election cycles.

“A number of years ago I met with a senior elected official asking for consideration of a 30-year plan VIEA was proposing. The response was: We have zero interest in anything that cannot be done within the next three years.”

We Must Think & Behave Differently. We Can Do Better!

“In Tolken’s Lord of the Rings, when the Fellowship is lost in the Mines of Moria, Frodo turns to Gandolf and says: ‘I wish it need not have happened in my time.’ ‘So do I,’ said Gandalf, ‘and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

So, what shall we do with ‘the time that is given us’?

“While we reflect on our good fortune living on Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, let us be mindful that, as we have learned coping with Summer fires (and now with COVID-19), we are not exempt from smoke that billows from fires elsewhere—and there are many kinds of fires—ignited by fear; spread carelessly, fanned by populism; and justified by history.

“Someone once said: ‘You don’t have to be good all the time. Just when it matters!’ In this context, I define ‘good’ as ‘inspired, inventive, collaborative, passionate, and dedicated to weathering the storm, emerging whole, and participating in resourceful recovery’.”

Note to self – ‘It matters!’

VIEA and the Partnership – A History of Collaboration

Collaboration between VIEA and the Partnership dates back a decade to 2010 when VIEA initiated a community dialogue about Fresh Water Sustainability and hosted the Dialogue in Nanaimo.

Held at Vancouver Island University, the Dialogue was the venue for the formal launch (by the Partnership) of Beyond the Guidebook 2010: Implementing a New Culture for Urban Watershed Protection and Restoration in British Columbia.

Also in 2010, VIEA completed a remarkable body of work with its Link Project Report. The Link team conducted interviews Island-wide. The results of this project contained the collective voices of several hundred island leaders.

A unifying theme emerged from this process, and that was: “Unity is strength. Where there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved”. That finding is as true in 2020 as it was in 2010.

The Link Project aligned with the work of the Partnership. In the years that followed, the Partnership would host a “Forum within the Summit” at VIEA’s annual State of the Island Economic Summit series.

In 2012, the Partnership for Water Sustainability hosted the ‘CAVI Forum within the VIEA Summit’. The forum theme was “Economy and Ecology: A Necessary Partnership for Water Sustainability” – A Future Vision for Vancouver Island.

In 2013, and in collaboration with Royal Roads University, VIEA and the Partnership launched Vancouver Island 2065. This bold initiative envisioned a future where settlement, ecology and economy would be in balance.

COVID-19 response provides hope for countering the Shifting Baseline Syndrome and Bending the Curve

The Shifting Baseline Syndrome is an underpinning theme that connects George Hanson’s reflections with recent articles published by the Partnership. While ecological decline in urbanized areas has been incremental and imperceptible over multiple generations, an optimistic view is that we can Bend the Curve in the opposite direction. But this would require a prevoyant guiding philosophy, political will and commitment by all.

The COVID-19 response in British Columbia demonstrates all three – a prevoyant guiding philosophy, political will and commitment by all. Simply put, when there is a will, there is a way. Lookiing beyond the immediate emergency response, the goal of shifting to an ecologically functioning and resilient baseline and creating a creekshed legacy would ultimately depend on the nature of change to standards of engineering, planning and financial practice.

So, what is an ‘Actionable Vision’?

An ‘Actionable Vision’ translates good intentions into practices on the ground. It is driven by leadership that mobilizes people and partnerships, a commitment to ongoing learning and innovation, and a budget to back it up. At the end of the day, an Actionable Vision is driven by the line items that comprise each local government’s annual budget.