Browsing the blog archives for August, 2012.

Will Ottawa’s Home Builders Ever Leave the 19th Century?

Climate Change, Green Reality, Legislative Gaps, South March Highlands

The Greater Ottawa Homebuilders Association (GOHBA) recently published an advertisement that appears to have no basis in any of reason, fact, or good judgement.  In what some may view as an  self-serving editorial, and by others as a not-so-funny comedy of errors, the GOHBA somehow managed to allow publication of an article in which virtually none of its facts were accurate.

This article uses tabs, click on each one to read the full article.

Misinformation

If that article is any indication of what the GOHBA’s members believe, one might wonder if they believe it is in their best interest to spread what seems to be misinformation about the need to protect endangered species:

  • According to Natural Resources Canada, urban land use in Ontario was already 1000x greater than claimed by the GOHBA over 15 years ago!
  • Not to mention the fact that Blanding’s Turtles were documented in the South March Highlands (SMH) 8 years prior to the Terry Fox Drive Extension (TFDE) proposal in 2000.
  • Ontario’s Endangered Species Act predates the Blanding’s Turtle studies done for TFDE by 5 years.
  • Macro-ecologists proved over 8 years ago that the number 1 cause of species loss is due to destruction of critical habitat because, duh, that species has nowhere left to live, eat, or reproduce.

Common Sense?

It appears that the anonymous authors of that article expect us to believe that Ontario should allow  developers to trash what remains of our environment because some “rural critters” “choose to” “hang out” in cities.  The article calls for, in the name of “common sense”, the abandonment of recent regulations that protect species at risk and in general require developers to behave as environmentally responsible businesses.

  • So was it common sense to build TFDE through the middle of the most environmentally significant area in Ottawa in the first place?
  • Why is the GOHBA quibbling about the cost of a fence when the entire $50 M cost of the road was not justifiable without the use of inflated population forecasts?
  • The Environmental Study Report done for the road in 2000 actually admits that the worst location for the road was chosen from an environmental point of view.  Could it be because that location was of greatest benefit to the handful of developers who needed the road to expand the urban boundary at that time?

According to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, relentless urban sprawl is a serious problem that does not make for cost-effective cities.   So is it common sense to allow developers to continually push the urban boundary outwards?  Several of the members of the GOHBA recently participated in the expansion of Ottawa’s urban boundary by 1103 hectares – a number nearly 5x higher than originally proposed in Ottawa’s 2009 plan.

Is it common sense for a developer to proceed with early phases of a subdivision plan based on a flawed master storm water servicing proposal?  And after it is discovered that earlier phases of that subdivision’s development are non-compliant with Provincial storm water approvals, is it common sense to allow that builder to continue to deforest the area?

Is an environmental assessment (EA) just red tape in a situation like that?  Is it environmentally responsible for the City of Ottawa to cancel the Class EA that exposed those very problems in the South March Highlands (SMH) in response to what appears to be a request by the non-compliant developer?

Is it common sense to increase flood risk by building storm water ponds in flood plains where these facilities could be submerged when we most need them?  Yet that is what developers appear to prefer along the Carp River adjacent to TFDE.  Even if Provincial authorities stretch the rules to allow them to get away with it, does that make those developers any more environmentally responsible?  Or should they take greater care and perhaps choose to build a few less homes so that those protective facilities are built on solid ground?  Even a subdivision with only a few hundred homes represents $millions in revenue for a developer.

Wildlife Contributes

Science informs us that a healthy climate depends on healthy forests and healthy forests depend on biodiversity. Even common species such as raccoons and porcupines are as important as endangered species when it comes to promoting a healthy environment because they are a major means for circulating a forest’s genetic resources.  Every species has a role to play and the loss of many species in one area inevitably leads to the loss of ecological function.

To portray species trapped within an arbitrarily changing urban boundary as merely “hanging-out” trivializes this essential natural function and suggests that the authors of the GOHBA article may be ignorant of how ecosystems function.  So when imbalances are caused by developers, is it common sense to reduce the protective measures that attempt to restore that balance?  Or does it make more sense to abandon current development in environmentally sensitive areas such as the SMH and to prevent future development in those areas?

In a world that is so obviously threatened by climate change, massive loss of biodiversity, and cancer-inducing pollution, no reasonable person can believe that the status quo is an appropriate response to these challenges.  Even the dimmest among us understands that our weather, crops, and economy are suffering as we pay the price for the excesses of the past.

Greed vs Sustainable

It is possible that a few greedy people may have a vested interest in the status quo which fails to allocate the long-term cost of recklessly exploiting the environment to those same businesses that gain from it in the short-term. However, it is hardly in the common good to continue to subsidize them by not making them do their homework and not requiring them to mitigate the impact of their business practices.

Fortunately a majority of industries are realizing that conducting business in a sustainable manner is not only socially responsible – it is also a more cost-effective and sensible way of doing business. The Canadian Council of Chief Executives has been lobbying our reluctant federal government for years to implement a carbon cap and trade system.  Modern businesses are realizing that their social license to operate depends on recognizing that the economy cannot be separated from the environment within which it exists.

A recent example is Imperial Oil that recently developed oil sands technology that has comparable carbon footprint to the extraction of conventional oil and is significantly better than the carbon footprint of extracting heavy oil in Saudi Arabia or Venezuela.  To quote Imperial Oil:

“Certainly it is Imperial’s belief that to gain and maintain a social license to operate and to grow, the oil sands industry needs to present a compelling case in how it’s addressing environmental challenges of oil sands development.”

While the oil sands industry has much further to go in becoming environmentally friendly, it is encouraging to see them making progress down that path.

Perhaps it is also possible that the less arrogant members of the GOHBA are embarrassed that the oil sands industry appears to be miles ahead of them when it comes to environmental responsibility.

In any event, why should Ontario tolerate less environmental responsibility from the industry that develops subdivisions? Is it so that a greedy few can continue to prosper at the expense of the common environment that we all must share?  The entire construction industry contributes less than 5% to Canada’s GDP and home building is a fraction of that number.  Where is the common sense in that?

If the green advertising of the members of the GOHBA is to be seen as more than superficial features in the houses they build likely depends on whether each builder is willing to make a meaningful commitment to improving our environment by conducting its business in a sustainable manner.

We can only hope that the more responsible home builders who may be members of the GOHBA will rapidly distance themselves from the colonial, 19th century style of thinking presented in that article and if necessary establish a more credible association that chooses to acknowledge that we all currently live in the 21st century and that the survival of our society depends entirely on our environment.

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