The Blue Boundary

May 31, 2018
Rick Kool
Vancouver Island

I’ve been thinking a lot about islands. I love islands, and have spent most of my life being very aware of the blue boundary that separates me from the mainland. I think about islands because it seems to me that islands would be natural laboratories for investigating sustainability, in the sense that sustainability leads one to think about limits and about boundaries, about living within the means of nature to both provide resources and remove wastes. And islands might help us remember that the Earth itself is an island floating in space, and itself is bounded and not without limits.

What is the situation on Vancouver Island, the 43rd largest island in the world, with an area of 33,000 km2 and a population approaching 800,000?

What about food? We love our local agriculture, wines and ciders, fresh seafood and all… but the food footprint for the Island population is about 11,000 km2, while the island has 1000 km2 in its Agricultural Land Reserve.  What about energy? BC Hydro generates less than 40% of our electricity on the Island; the rest comes from the mainland on two cables under the Strait of Georgia. Natural gas? One pipeline runs from the mainland to a storage facility near Nanaimo. Gasoline? Six million litres a day are used on Vancouver Island; having no oil resources here, it takes more or less one tanker or barge delivery each day to keep our cars moving. Garbage? One regional district ships its garbage to Washington State.

Nearly all of the basic necessities that allow the residents of Vancouver Island to live as we do comes from away, and yet most of us, I’d argue, are not at all aware of those tenuous physical tethers that connect us. And neither do our planners. A small project I’ve just completed that examined these plans for the  Island found that they simply don’t mention the fact that we live on an island and are completely dependent on those tethers providing us with food and energy.

Part of the problem here may be that with seven regional districts and nearly forty municipal governments and more than fifty First Nations, there is no political “Vancouver Island”; no premier, no minister, no island-wide decision making processes. We have a large number of relatively small political jurisdictions making decisions that serve their local or even regional purpose, but have no ability to make the large and integrated decisions that will ensure we move towards living more sustainably.

And until we can really confront “what is”, we’ll likely never get to “what should be”: how we can live within our means on Vancouver Island.