Unsustainable dream

A few days ago I was walking by the Waterfront area in Vancouver, enjoying a perfect sunset surrounded by a landscape of sea, mountains, seaplanes and modern architecture.

Vancouver is well known by, among other good things, being a city moving towards sustainable futures. Biking is a popular way of transportation supported by a good system of bike trails getting bikers almost everywhere. Its transit system runs based on the sky train and electric trolley buses (like the ones we enjoyed not so long ago here in Edmonton) and makes driving cars almost unnecessary, although you can see a big number of hybrids. As an unavoidable reference, UBC -one of the most important Universities in this part of the world- holds the CIRS:Centre for Integrated Research in Sustainability, a great example of form, function and content represented in one place.

In my walk on the harbor I found a sequence of boards describing different important moments of the history of the place. One of these panels entitled “Unsustainable Policies” caught my attention. It makes reference to a period from 1865 to 1911 in which many fortunes were made by hunting seal in BC. Actually, the problem was not hunting seals as northern aboriginals have done for centuries, but the over-hunting driven by industry and a no-limits economy. It took half a century of local and international conflicts, almost leading to war, to ban this unsustainable practice. The process left this species facing extinction in the northern seas. Curiously, Canada didn’t take the initiative to stop this industry, perhaps more concerned about the impact this action would have over local economies than over aboriginal cultures. The United States led the stage in seeking an international agreement.

I wonder if some day in the future, we could walk passing by the new downtown development in Edmonton, after a game in the downtown arena, and read about the historic moment in which the tar sands and the whole oil industry were declared unsustainable and by law banned, when US and Europe finally move forward to 100% sustainable energy and lead the world to follow their path. A panel telling us the story of why our home team is named  “Oilers” while others are called “Canucks” or “Canadians”,  and why it took so long to realize that living from oil was a bad dream. This will be an explanation that our grandchildren deserve.

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