Canadian Consulting Engineer

A premier, a chief and a prince drive home message at GLOBE

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell couldn't resist a reference to the magnificent landscape outside during hi...

March 17, 2008   Canadian Consulting Engineer

British Columbia Premier Gordon Campbell couldn’t resist a reference to the magnificent landscape outside during his opening sessions for the GLOBE 2008 conference, last Wednesday, March 12.
Campbell referred to the Two Sisters mountains visible on Vancouver’s North Shore across the Burrard Inlet from the Vancouver Convention Centre. He reminded the audience that First Nations traditionally believed that the mountains watched over the peoples of the area and promoted harmony. Now, he told the large international audience, a new harmony was called for between business and the environment.
The dire need for business leaders to realize that we are in a completely new era of environmental consciousness and consequently they must work from sustainable principles was driven home by Campbell and all the other four speakers at the plenary session.
The Bruntland Commission Report introduced the idea of sustainability to the world back in 1987, Campbell reminded the audience, and now the term “wears all sorts of outfits.” Still sustainability “is the most imperative idea of our time,” Campbell said. Upon our decisions to conduct business in a sustainable way depends “the future of the earth and the human family.”
The other speakers on the plenary panel had similar hard-punching messages. Sean Atleo, Regional Chief of the B.C. Assembly of First Nations, signalled his people’s welcome to a conference devoted to what is dear to their hearts: “peace and harmony” and the desire “to create a better world, one based on the best teachings of our ancestors.” He startled the audience, even the seasoned environmentalists who have been attending the conference for all of its 10 years, by his image of today’s consumption. In the next hour, Atleo said, “each person here will consume the same resources as our ancestors consumed in one year.”
The panel’s moderator, Dianne Dillon-Ridgley, director of Interface in the U.S., said “We are in the throes of change,” and reminded the attendees that “business had better be on board.” We have reached “the Tipping Point,” she said, and announced it was time to “mother” Earth. She concluded, “something absolutely has changed. There had been the spiritual-philosophical dialogue of environmentalists, and the “hard business” type of dialogue, but now the two are finally coming together.
His Royal Highness Prince Philippe of Belgium was another panelist who saw dramatic changes taking place. He said we are “now looking beyond Kyoto.” With the adoption of a roadmap at the UN Conference on Climate Change held in Bali, Indonesia last December, he said, developing countries have been taken on board.
Prince Philippe said it was “paramount” for everyone, including business, to have consensus and a level playing field. Environmental conscientiousness goes hand in hand with human rights, democracy and justice, and we have a moral obligation to help the poorer countries,” he said.
Finally, Beth Lowery, Vice President of Environment and Energy with General Motors in Detroit, announced that we have moved beyond deciding upon definitions of sustainability and into the arena of taking action. “We must develop alternative sources of propulsion,” she said. Today, 96% of vehicles are dependent on petroleum,” she noted, adding that aside from the environmental repercussions, “this is not a good business strategy.”
Lowery went on to describe the various alternative vehicles that GM and other manufacturers are developing to cut down on emissions and increase their fuel efficiency: cars using biofuels, hybrid cars, electric cars, and cars relying on fuel cells. “We really can reinvent the car,” she said, but added that to make a difference we need to adopt these new vehicles on a large scale.
From a Canadian perspective, British Columbia seems to be leading the environmental charge. Premier Campbell described how the province has legislated a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 30% by the year 2020, and 80% by 2050. The province is also part of the Western Climate Initiative, which is developing an emissions cap and trade system, and the government is investing in bioenergy technologies. Campbell said, “we do not accept a separation between the economy and the environment.”
The Premier ended on a poignant note. By the year 2050, “I probably won’t be here,” he laughed. But, he said, he has two sons and one day hopes to be a grandfather and provide “the best world” for them. “Don’t we all?” he asked.
He reminded the audience that means having to make difficult decisions to change our own behaviours first.


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