As B.C.’s mayors met in Vancouver this week for the 2009 UBCM (Union of B.C. Municipalities) convention, the town of Whistler announced that it had committed to becoming the first carbon neutral community in Canada.
The Resort Municipality of Whistler (RMOW) joined 176 municipalities across B.C. in signing the B.C. Climate Action Charter, which commits municipalities to becoming carbon neutral by 2012.
Whistler has committed to reaching this goal two years ahead of schedule. The timeline commits Whistler to dropping its carbon emissions by 10 per cent next year and 30 per cent by 2015.
Under this plan, the RMOW will purchase $50,000 per year in offsets from B.C-based Pacific Carbon Trust, to bring its net emissions to zero.
WHAT’S BEING DONE
The plan involves measuring and reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that come from government operations, such as buildings, fleet vehicles and employee travel.
New projects currently underway includes:
– A $900,000 energy efficiency upgrade to Meadow Park Sports Centre that includes the installation of a ground source heat pump and a solar hot system designed to reduce the building’s energy load.
– Replacing the old fleet municipal vehicles and buses with new hybrids & hydrogen
– Vehicle allowance/staff vehicle mileage program to reduce single occupancy vehicle use
– New “green” building developments such as the 2010 Athletes Village, the Austrian Passive House, Town Centre lighting upgrades, and the Whistler Public Library.
REALITY OR GREENWASH?
The Minister of State for Climate Action, John Yap congratulated Whistler, “for leaving a carbon neutral legacy not only for the 2010 Games, but for everyone who lives and enjoys the natural beauty of Whistler.”
While this is an impressive undertaking for Whistler, I hope these words translate into realistic and meaningful changes on the ground. Having witnessed first-hand, the environmental degradation that has accompanied the building of the 2010 venues, I can’t help but be a little cynical.
– Yes, we are getting new hybrid and hydrogen buses, but the new transit facility was built on a rare, red-listed wetland and the hydrogen is being brought in from Montreal.
– The Sea to Sky Highway’s $650 million upgrade has expanded the highway from Vancouver to Whistler from two to four lanes, opening the conduit for vehicles visiting the resort. So much for reducing carbon emissions. Why wasn’t this money invested in a long overdue passenger rail line?
Instead, Olympic tourists will be bussed up and down the highway with VANOC’s Olympic Bus Network. The number of buses will increase form 39 to 135 for the 2010 Games and VANOC staff still continue to drive gas-guzzling GM SUVs.
– Despite Whistler and VAOC making claims that they’ve reduced the overall footprint of the Games, there’s no mention of the 100,000-plus, old-growth trees that were removed to build the Nordic venues at the Callaghan Valley (i.e., ski jump, nordic skiing), the 210 Medals Plaza, the new transit facility at Nester’s Wetland and the Athletes Village.
– Whistler’s award-winning “green” public library recently came under fire for energy bills that come in 35 per cent higher than originally predicted.
As health care, arts and education budgets are slashed across this province to pay for the OWE-lympics, it will become increasingly difficult for Whistler’s mayor to justify future “green” expenditures.
Drastic measures are needed to reduce carbon emissions and to achieve carbon neutrality by 2010. But just how far a premier ski resort like Whistler is willing to go remains to be seen, especially when high-end tourism and skiing by definition can never be “green” or sustainable.