“The ‘S’ Word” – Whistler Question Column

I’m going to go ahead and say that word right off the bat, and use it in a sentence that might ruffle a few feathers in this town, but here goes: Whistler is not sustainable.

Let’s ignore for a moment that the same goes for our entire western society. Instead of merely skimming the surface on why this is, I’ll defer you to former Defence Minister Paul Hellyer’s recent book entitled The Money Mafia for further reading on why our whole economic/energy system will never work properly.

For the sake of this column, I will focus on the sustainability of our immediate environment, and what we can do now to divert our path of contributing to the fastest degradation of our ecosystem since that asteroid allegedly took out all the dinosaurs. There’s enough material on this topic to write a book, and many people far more educated than myself have done just that. So I’ll focus on one particular issue for now, an issue that seems to have no relevance in this day and age: single-use plastic. Whether it’s a bag, fork, or bottle of water, our society loves the idea of using something only once, despite the time and effort taken to produce it.

The idea that something should be used only once and then discarded is so far from the idea of sustainability that it can be sad to think about, and even sadder when you see what’s happening in our oceans and on our beaches. Sure, using something only once is convenient and easy, but when did the idea of convenience trump common sense? In some cases it’s even less convenient.

Council has discussed plastic bags on numerous occasions with no real action happening, despite our mayor and several council members being quoted as personally considering plastic waste a problem. Perhaps the plastic issue is one of the best examples of group-think out there. I don’t know a single person who is passionate about the preservation of single-serving plastic, yet for some reason it still persists.

It also shows the speed at which a bureaucratic government works; it’s a pace where issues get deferred for “further review” for months, and sometimes never coming back into discussion ever again.

Of course, it would take much more than curing our single-serving addiction to create a sustainable environment. From transportation to our food supply, we would need to address the fact that much of the way the human world is constructed is done so on the pretense of profit and not for the betterment of the world. It can be sad to see what people like our premier and prime minister are doing in our name; somehow believing their lies that their crimes against the planet are executed responsibly.

Whistlerites, in all our ambitious benevolence, thought the idea of sustainability was a value worth pursuing, and a deadline of 2020 was given. Of course, this deadline was instilled when 2020 was more than a council term away. I checked the whistler2020.ca site, and it seems as though it hasn’t been updated in years. Did the whole idea of pursuing a sustainable community fall by the wayside?

Sustainability should not be a political word. It is a concept that existed in Canada for thousands of years until western thought came, saw and conquered. Reversing a mentality that we inherited from previous generations will not be easy. Whistler’s status as a worldwide destination could serve as a launching point for the “s” word to be more than a tool of political rhetoric, but a concept of common sense where people see the positive effects in Whistler and take those lessons home. This type of reality is possible, but it will take the efforts of our leaders to pursue this reality, often sacrificing the easy road along the way.

Maybe one day saying the word will be so uncommon that the mere thought of using something once and throwing it away will be as foreign as the idea that snowboarders should not be allowed on Whistler Mountain. It’s a trivial example, but it serves as proof that new ideas can produce fundamental changes if they are allowed to set root.

Steve Andrews has lived in Whistler since 2003 and skied here since 1985. He ran for council in 2011.

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