Hooksum (Part 2): The sustainability concept

Over the course of our conversations, Stephen Charleson often referred back to the concept of sustainability. As he proceeded to describe his involvement in a series of sustainability planning meetings for Clayoquot Sound, it became apparent how this term acquired a hollow meeting for the First Nations participants. 

 Here is a picture of our group around the table at Hooksum, just up from the beach, talking philosophy with Stephen Charleson. The hillsides, devastated by clearcut logging, provided a sobering backdrop for our discussion.

The conversation with Stephen Charleson began with a discussion of the concept of sustainability.  He recounted his involvement in a sustainability council in the early 1990s that was organized by the Provincial Government. The objective was to develop a sustainability plan for Clayoquot.  Stakeholders from various industries (fish farms, forestry industry, tourism groups), the districts of Tofino and Uclulelet, as well as all all five First Nations sent representatives to the table.  However, according to Stephen, The First Nations groups were given little say in the plan being developed. Meetings occurred on several occasions (I get the impression that they were monthly) over what I gather was a year or two. Stehphen’s impression during this time was that each of the industry groups were jockeying to to parcel up as much of the region for their respective interests. He also mentioned that no one seemed to be paying attention to the overall implications of their activities on the region. These shortcomings seemed contrary to the objective of the sustainability council. Even worse, First Nations representatives were rarely invited to participate in the conversation. Yet, when agreements would be reached, their presence at the table was regarded as tacit consent. So the First Natoions stopped attending. In November 1993 they bypassed the sustainability council, and travelled independently to Victoria and negotiated with the Provincial government for forty days to arrive at a plan for the region.  This is perceived by Stephen and the other First Nations as an important political victory.

Something that became apparent to me over the course of this conversation is that the concept of sustainability consists of at least three dimensions. The first dimension is temporal: over what time period is a given practice being evaluated? Stephen mentioned that the sustainability council aimed for a five year plan. But from his cultural perspective, as a people whom have occupied the region for thousands of years, this time period is laughable. A five year plan is not a plan for sustainability. Instead, his group came up with a two thousand year time line. They based this idea on the model of the life cycle of a Cedar tree. Cedars are an immensely culturally important species for the people on this coast, who use for everything from housing to canoes to clothing. The cedar is regarded here as the tree of life. A cedar grows for a thousand years, is blown over by wind, and then serves as a nursery log for other species for another thousand years. Drawing on this iconic species is how Stephen's group arrived at their time line for sustainability.

The second dimension of the sustainability concept is spatial. This has been a recurring issue in our conversations with various stakeholders out here on the coast. Even if one develops a sustainability plan for Clayoquot Sound, this region is embedded within a global economy. Indeed, the vast majority of resources extracted from this region are exported abroad. The global demand for wood and fish is a threat to local sustainability. Hence, Stephen's group proposed that for the next 100 years Clayouquot sound should not "feed the world". By this, he meant that there should be a moratorium against international exports for a sufficient period of time to allow the forests and the fisheries to begin to heal. 

A third dimension of sustainability is the dimension or domain of interest. That is, the resource or product (both of those words are problematic) being assessed for sustainable management. For example, sustainable forestry is one dimension that is sometimes evaluated independently of sustainable fishing. A point that Stephen emphasized is that discussions about sustainability often consider a limited number of dimensions, focusing only on those with economic value. He was highly critical of this perspective. Within his culture there is a value assigned to all sorts of organisms that have no economic value and it troubled him that these were being left out of the political discussion. 

Given that this concept consists of these three dimensions, one can understand why it takes on so many different meanings. People sometimes operate with very different ideas of the spatial,, temporal dimensions of sustainability, or, they occasionally limit to the discussion to certain domains.  Unless these differences are made explicit there is a danger for people to talk past one another. We attempted to carry this insight forward during subsequent conversations. Whenever the discussion would turn to sustainability, we attempted to determine how each of these three dimensions were being understood. 

No comments:

Post a Comment