1.0 Introduction to the Research
1.1 Why the Research is Important
Ecological degradation throughout the world causes species extinction and threatens the future existence of human communities (Ryan, 1992, 10; Lenssen, 1992, 49). Perhaps no environmental change is more threatening than the decline in stratospheric ozone and the rapid increases in atmospheric CO2 and other green house gases:
Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have increased by about 25% over the past two centuries, from 280 parts per million by volume (ppmv) in about 1850 to 353 ppmv (1989), largely as a result of the burning of fossil fuels (Parry, 1990, 10).
The potential threats to human society from atmospheric changes are immense; crop production could be reduced (Brown and Young, 1990, 62), and some crop types rendered non-viable for commercial purposes (Parry, 1990, 51). The incidence and/or severity of respiratory and skin diseases may increase (Flavin, 1992, 32). Sea level rise could destroy many coastal communities, thus contributing to the problem of environmental refugees. Impacts on marine biological productivity and forests will necessitate adjustment in resource management practices (Bush, 1990, 12-20). Prior to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) delegates drafting the convention on climate change became increasingly alarmed by the evidence of atmospheric change. Thus, they adjusted the originally intended "framework convention" outlining principles, to one that included regulations specifying "targets and timetables for reducing greenhouse emissions" (Rogers, 1993, 187).
Despite the evidence that threats to human welfare are real if prevailing unsustainable patterns of activity and resource consumption continue, progress towards adopting policy for sustainable development is surprisingly slow. This slow pace of change does not result from a dearth of possible actions. There is a burgeoning literature that delineates clearly the primary directions society should follow in its bid to slow the rates of resource consumption, waste discharge, and the decline of ecological services provided by nature. The important question, therefore, is what are the barriers that keep society from turning this knowledge into action?
Before continuing, brief definitions of ecological sustainability and sustainable development are required. Ecological sustainability refers to the maintenance of ecosystems' integrity in terms of species composition, biomass and productivity (Pearce, 1989, 40). Fluctuations and cycles may cause minor disturbances, but the global system should remain in a stable steady state that is amenable to human existence, and the existence of most other species of flora and fauna. Sustainable development refers to improvement of the human lot without jeopardizing ecological sustainability. Since the economy is a subset of the ecosystem, development must result in positive socioeconomic change while simultaneously reducing rates of consumption and waste generation, i.e. economic through put. The economy is like an embryo embedded in the womb of the ecosphere (figure 1). Its growth depends on the amount of resources it can appropriate to itself; however, its survival requires that it not appropriate more resources than its parent can supply. The larger the economy grows, the greater the strain it places on the ecosphere which must support it through the provision of nourishment and the removal of wastes. Certain technologies help reduce the burden of the economy on the ecosphere, but they cannot break the relationship of dependency. Thus the following conditions must be observed (from Rees, 1994b):
1) Consumption by the economy of the products and services of nature cannot exceed rates of their production in the ecosphere.
2) Production of wastes by the economy cannot exceed the assimilative capacity of the ecosphere.
3) Economic activity must not jeopardize essential life support systems of the ecosphere.
However, development is not merely restricted to the consideration of economic activity. Improving the human lot also necessitates that (from Rees, 1994b):
4) Societies satisfy basic standards of material equity and social justice for all its members.
5) Political stability be assured through the effective participation of an informed citizenry.
Thus, a comprehensive definition emerges:
Sustainable development is positive socioeconomic change that does not undermine the ecological and social systems upon which communities and society are dependent. Its successful implementation requires integrated policy, planning, and social learning processes; its social acceptability depends on adequate standards of material equity and social justice; its political viability depends on the full support of the people it affects through their governments, their social institutions, and their private activities (Rees, 1994c).
1.2 Purpose of the Research
The research specifically addresses political and institutional barriers to sustainability. The goal is to identify what inhibits local government from acting on policies which support sustainable development. This involves describing the barriers and analysing how they function within a particular case. I analyse the barriers that exist in: i) personal perceptions, ii) institutional structures and iii) economic constraints, in the context of the City of Vancouver's attempt to implement the thirty five recommendations contained in the Clouds of Change report (City of Vancouver, 1990a).
1.3 Introduction to the Case Study
This case was chosen because it provides an example of a progressive report on air quality initiatives which encompassed a wide array of actions that the City of Vancouver could take to support sustainability. Not only was the report adopted as policy, but the issues it encompassed have continued to receive much public attention (Buttle, 1990, B2; Lee, 1990, A1; Munro, 1990, A5; Munro, 1992, B2; Hanna, 1992, A13; Munro, 1993, A1). Yet, actions by government have been insufficient to implement the report (Appendix A).
1.3.1 Sustainability and Vancouver
Vancouver City is home to 471,844 people (Census 1991), and it is the locus of activity for a metropolitan population of 1,098,604 (Census 1991). The activities taking place in Vancouver generate an array of environmental impacts which affect a much broader range of people and territory (Hutton and Davis, 1991, 50).
The results from the CityPlan process indicate that of these impacts, citizens are most concerned with that of air pollution (City of Vancouver, 1993a; Munro, 1992, B2). Although air pollutants have been associated with respiratory illness in Vancouver (Bates et al., 1990, 60), the City's draft report of the State of the Environment states:
While there has been no documented evidence of any detriment to human health in Vancouver the various contaminant levels are approaching those that have been shown to cause health problems in other areas (City of Vancouver, 1993b, 11).
The fact that the City's perception does not account for existing evidence begins to illuminate the type of barriers, namely lack of understanding and differences in perception, which can prevent society from turning knowledge into action. The City does state that ground level "ozone has been implicated in crop damage in the farms of the Lower Fraser Valley" (City of Vancouver, 1993b, 11). Recently, ground level ozone has also been found to cause decrements in lung function in Fraser Valley farm workers (Brauer et al., 1994, A659). A study completed on prospects for Vancouver's sustainable development contained the following statement:
Recent surveys have demonstrated that the quality of Vancouver's environment represents the highest value and greatest concern of the resident population... (C)oncerns have recently been expressed about deterioration in some aspects of the natural stock, in terms of air quality (subject to growing pollution, especially from automobiles, which generate about 80 percent of atmospheric pollutants).... Policies and regulatory frameworks both at the local and regional levels of administration are being adjusted in order to arrest this deterioration, but there are indications that significantly higher levels of effort and expenditure will be needed to ensure that succeeding generations will enjoy similar levels of environmental quality as the present (Hutton and Davis, 1991, 55).
In the interest of health and sustainability both in the immediate area and for the planet as a whole, it is important that these issues of negative environmental impacts caused by the activities of citizens of Vancouver be addressed. Such recognition was made in the adoption of the Clouds of Change report. Yet, despite being adopted by Council in 1990, few of the recommendations in the report show visible signs of implementation. It is crucial to find out why this is because anything short of successful actions to improve Vancouver's air quality will result in deleterious repercussions for the region.
1.3.2 The Clouds of Change Report
Recognizing that local day-to-day activities of urban residents and businesses are the root cause of global atmospheric problems, and recognizing that municipalities are constricted by scarce resources and a "narrow and ineffectual conception of the domain of local government concern" (United Nations, 1990, 21), the Task Force on Atmospheric Change "endeavoured to examine the rationale and strategy related to an action plan" for Vancouver to address the concerns of atmospheric change (City of Vancouver, 1990a, 1). The Clouds of Change report was the result of the Task Force's efforts. It is structured in four parts. Part one explains the causes of global and local atmospheric change, its known and probable effects, and the role of the City in reducing its hazards and protecting public health. Part two defines a framework for action. Part three proposes recommendations to "phase out all uses of ozone depleting chemicals, reduce emissions levels of sulphur dioxide, and reduce the amount of methane released into the atmosphere" (City of Vancouver, 1990a, 2). Part four addresses the challenge of C02 reduction.
The report outlines actions that should be taken by the City to demonstrate leadership, lobby senior levels of government and network with other municipalities. It makes recommendations for transportation planning, land use planning, and energy conservation. Thirty-five recommendations (most containing subsets) were made. The majority were to be acted upon by June 30, 1991 (City of Vancouver, 1990a). A smaller number of recommendations received a longer time frame. However, regardless of deadlines, there is a perception that few of the recommendations have been successfully implemented. Many have not been fully implemented despite ample public support and Council's endorsement of the report in October of 1990 (Munro, 1993, A1). Even concern at the Provincial level is undermined by inaction as illustrated by the following comments from Premier Michael Harcourt who states:
The air pollution problem in Greater Vancouver is terrible. In fact, it is worse per vehicle than Los Angeles... we will need much greater emphasis on public transit, and will eventually have to switch our cars to natural gas and ethanol fuel as an interim and then move on to hydrogen, solar and electrically powered cars. It is going to take some very bold new measures to maintain the high quality of life we want in British Columbia (Quinn, 1992, 24).
Yet, when the City of Vancouver, in keeping with recommendation twenty-seven of the report, approached the Provincial Government with a proposal to use a three-cent per litre carbon tax to raise money for transit alternatives, the Province declined (Munro, 1993, A2). Admittedly, Harcourt's government only came to power in the fall of 1991, after the June 30, 1991 deadline for this recommendation. Nevertheless, there has been plenty of time since the NDP government took power for this decision to be reversed. Council did present the proposal to the NDP government, but Finance Minister Glen Clark initially refused to implement it. This refusal is perhaps not without justification, for it was seen in the eyes of many to be a regressive tax, placing an unfair burden on the less affluent members of society. Such a social concern, valid in its own right, nevertheless presents a barrier to adopting actions that support sustainability. Furthermore, lack of understanding about how burdens on the poor can be avoided (see Rees, 1994d) inhibits action taking.
1.4 Research Questions
The research attempts to answer the following questions:
1. In the view of the responsible authorities, what are the barriers to implementation of the Clouds of Change recommendations?
2. In the view of citizens, what are the barriers to implementation of the Clouds of Change recommendations?
3. How do these barriers operate?
4. For those recommendations which were implemented, what facilitated their implementation?
5. What are some suggestions for overcoming the barriers?
Information for this research has been gathered in two ways: i) through a review of relevant literature and ii) through interviews (Appendices B and C) with people who either had a direct responsibility in implementing the Clouds of Change report or showed an interest in its implementation.
The research focussed primarily on changes within democratic societies and institutional structures. The literature search identified conditions for social change, social change theories, how change can happen, motivation for action taking and barriers to action taking.
From the literature search, a list of potential barriers was generated. Interviews were then conducted with government officials and citizens who not only confirmed barriers represented on the list, but also identified additional barriers which were then added to the original list. A frequency table was used to identify which barriers were perceived by research participants to be the most prevalent.
I interviewed key informants and administered questionnaires to four target groups consisting of:
1) City of Vancouver Members of Council, 2) Task Force on Atmospheric Change members, 3) civic staff and 4) participants in the Task Force's public participation process and other individuals who have since that time written letters to the Vancouver Sun newspaper expressing an interest in the outcome of the report's implementation (Appendix D).
Eleven of the twelve members of the Task Force on Atmospheric Change and six of ten Councillors were interviewed. The reader must therefore bear in mind that answers represented in the category listed Members of Council will reflect the opinions of those members who took an interest in participating in the research. Several Councillors whose term in office encompassed the time during which Clouds of Change was adopted and implemented did not respond to interview requests. Most of the civic staff contacted agreed to interviews. Those that did not, suggested alternative people who could be interviewed and these people consented. A total of twenty-one people were interviewed in this category. An attempt has been made to interview department directors, deputy directors and line staff from each of the civic departments that played a major role in implementation of the Clouds of Change report. Only department directors were interviewed in departments that played a lesser role in implementation. By interviewing representatives from different levels of the departments' hierarchy an attempt is made to distinguish which barriers operate at what level within the City's institutional framework. Generally, those at the top of the hierarchy were least worried about being identified in the research. Concern about the ramifications of identification increased among research participants at the line level. Finally, presenters to the Task Force and interested citizens who wrote letters in response to newspaper articles about Clouds of Change showed a keen interest to participate. Eighteen people, out of a potential of sixty-six, were interviewed in this category. They were chosen because a) they still reside in Vancouver and b) they represent a wide spectrum of perspectives, with representation from Federal Atmospheric Services, the Greater Vancouver Regional District (GVRD), the B.C. Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, public corporations, private corporations, citizen's groups, and nonaffiliated citizens.
Although only one research participant is listed in Appendix D as working for the Greater Vancouver Regional District, there were participants from each of the interview target groups who work for the GVRD in some capacity. Thus, in the interest of maintaining the anonymity of research participants' responses, it should be remembered that comments made with respect to the GVRD come from a broad range of perspectives, not just from a specific individual.
In addition, two interviews were conducted with people involved in creating the Healthy Atmosphere 2000 report. This report was commissioned by the Capital Regional District to address Victoria's atmospheric concerns. It was initiated in direct follow-up to Clouds of Change. I make a brief comparison of the barriers experienced between this initiative and those of Clouds of Change to illustrate the fact that many of the barriers identified in the research are common to both cases. The responses of those involved with the Healthy Atmosphere 2000 report appear separately at the end of chapter four.
The data collected from the interviews of people involved with Clouds of Change are analysed in chapter four. They are used to illustrate the barriers and how they function. The theoretical framework developed in chapter two is applied to these findings to analyse why the barriers exist and how they function.
Finally, the research participants' suggestions for ways to overcome some of the barriers are presented in chapter five.