Citizens taking action ~ Vancouver, Lower Mainland, and beyond.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The crass exploitation of Lois Jackson

Lois Jackson is perfectly capable of looking out for herself, but I don't think she realizes how she is being exploited by senior Metro staff in their effort to pursue an agenda that is entirely their own.

Jackson is the only politician in our region (with the exception of Marvin Whatsisname) who has taken a strong stand in favour of the "waste-to-energy" agenda. All the other politicians have been very skillful at avoiding profile on this issue. But Jackson, once again this week, has put her political career on the line by backing the incinerator plan.

Metro Vancouver staff sometimes refer to our regional politicians as "the temporary help." Temporary because, after all, they come and go with the political winds, whereas the professionals on senior staff can survive for decades. Temporary, too, because they only come in once or twice a month -- busy the rest of the time with their real jobs representing the interests of their municipalities.

Metro staff brilliantly exploited Mayor Jackson's love-hate relationship with the Vancouver landfill (hate the concept, but love the millions of dollars in royalties and free dumping) to recruit her as an incinerator backer. They have convinced her - somehow - that turning the Vancouver landfill into a permanent dump for toxic ash is going to be a win for her community.

Staff are counting on Jackson's well-deserved personal popularity on the Board and her high profile as the Board Chair to convince fence-sitters on the Board to vote their way on Friday. What Jackson doesn't seem to see is that she will lose no matter which way the vote goes.

If the Board votes with her to approve an in-region incinerator, Jackson will be the lightning rod when it inevitably comes time to site the first facility in someone's community.

And if the Board turns down her recommendation on Friday and votes for a plan that says the burning is OK but it should be in someone else's backyard, Jackson will lose face (and the politically ambitious Chair of the Waste Management Committee will win a point).

The third alternative -- a majority vote that rejects the positions of both the popular Metro Board Chair and the promising Waste Committee Chair -- seems increasingly unlikely. It is late in the day for the Temporary Help to muster the political will to take back the region's waste policy from the bureaucrats.

But you never know.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Beyond incineration

The important question before us now that Metro's incinerators are pretty much off the rails is this: What will we do instead of building incinerators?

Our recycling programs are failing. The formulation that waste is a "resource" is rooted in a 19th Century economic world view. Just as we set up industries to plunder our natural resources (forests, fisheries, mineral deposits) for a quick financial return, we are setting up recycling programs that squander far more value than they conserve. We are culling bales of low-grade commodities from our garbage and selling them off cheap on the global market -- and the irony is: we don't even get much return (recycling has a net cost of $190 million a year!).

Meanwhile at every month's end, I am told by those who know, there are long line-ups at the garbage transfer stations. People are bringing stuff by the truckload that they don't want to take with them when they move. Perfectly good pots and pans, furniture, building materials, clothing, etc., etc., etc. These are things that have far greater value -- if exchanged -- than dirty plastic or old newspapers.

As we approach Peak Oil, and supply lines are cut off and we can no longer rely on the constant flow of cheap goods from Asia (sorry, Gateway), the inventory of stuff in our basements and closets is going to be hugely valuable. What are our cities going to do to help us "steward" those goods, so they can create new cycles of economic activity in our communities?