Sunday May 16, 2021
Spring in the Okanagan Valley sees yellow flowers everywhere. There are two kinds of yellow flowers. One, the familiar dandelion, grows only on land that has been cultivated. Altered by human intervention.
The other, the Arrowleaf Balsamroot, grows only on wild land.
At the height of the Arrowleaf season, I set out to hike a favourite trail that winds around the slopes above Okanagan Lake with spectacular views everywhere.
That trail has been there for at least 28 years – as long as I’ve lived here – and always open to the public.
This time was different. The new owners of the land at the north end of the trail erected “No Trespassing” signs. Right across the trail, where they couldn’t be ignored.
So I went to the south end.
The developers there had previously installed a signboard, taking credit for maintaining trails that had been there long before they began building subdivisions. But instead of maintaining the trail, the owners had bulldozed it.
So that they could expand with yet another subdivision.
Bare earth. Loose rocks. Not a tree left. Not a single yellow flower.
In both cases, the owners had every right to do what they did. In our social structure, private property is close to sacred. It’s his land; he can do whatever he wants with it.
The tombstones Moses dragged down Mt. Sinai said so, didn’t they?
The value of wild lands
The problem, it seems to me, is that we humans don’t know how to value anything unless it can be taxed.
Undeveloped lands have no intrinsic value.
Currently, an organization of tree-huggers is trying to save an old growth forest on Vancouver Island. Ironically, to demonstrate its un-logged value, they have to show how it will increase the value of the neighbouring forests -- which will be logged.
Old growth forests, magnificent as they are, have no value in themselves.
Just as unpolluted streams have no value in themselves.
Yellow flowers growing wild on hillsides have no value.
Parks and wild lands are not treated as assets in municipal accounting, because they don’t produce tax revenue. Even though they certainly add value to other real estate. Imagine Vancouver without Stanley Park. Or New York without Central Park.
Another way of accounting
An eye-opening article in the June issue of Broadview magazine suggests that it doesn’t have to be that way.
The article features the town of Gibsons, long known as Gibson’s Landing, site of CBC TV’s long-running Beachcombers program.
Gibsons, writes author Alanna Mitchell, “is one of the first municipalities in the world to declare that nature has a formal book value.”
By way of example, the town sits on an underground aquifer, which stores and purifies the town water supply.
Town officials wondered what it would cost to replace the “services” provided by the aquifer, should it fail or become unusable. That process let them establish a value for the aquifer, which now has its own line item in the annual budget.
Cooperating with the aquifer has actually saved money for Gibsons. The town needed to improve drainage, from the upper part of town to the lower. The usual engineering solution would bulldoze the hillside and install concrete pipes. At a cost of around $4.5 million -- too much for a town of just 4,600 people.
But expanding existing ponds that fed the aquifer, Mitchell reports, did “a better job, at less than a quarter of the cost.”
Town representatives, she says, “have been presenting the ‘Gibsons Model’ of bookkeeping all over the world.”
She calls it “the polar opposite of how people have traditionally thought about nature: something to be controlled, perhaps feared, but certainly hemmed in and made use of for human needs.”
More than 20 Canadian towns and cities have signed on to learn from Gibsons “how to build an inventory of their own natural assets and how to manage them – just as they would a water treatment plant or a sewage system.”
And why not? As the old-growth forest supporters have shown, the natural areas enhance the value of the developed areas. Without the wild ridges, the canyons, the lakes and the streams of the Okanagan valley, an endless vista of look-alike roofs would have much less appeal.
“In the old days,” Mitchell mused, “developers of new subdivisions would scrape everything off a plot of land before building.”
Not just in the old days. It’s exactly what they are still doing in my community.
And they can, and they will continue. Because natural land has no value in our accounting systems.
Copyright © 2021 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I’m still getting letters about the vaccination column two weeks ago, and some of the responses to that column, but I don’t think they add to what has already been said. So I’m going only with responses to my Mother’s Day column.
Moira White: “Your column on mothers was beautiful and really struck a chord. It’s so true: from the minute we knew that each of our children was on their way, I was attached to them in a way I hadn’t thought possible. One of my daughters told me that the minute her son was born, she looked into his eyes and instantly knew him. It’s a wonderful bond that keeps us going when times are good and times are tough.”
Laurna Tallman: “I felt that my husband was fully involved in being a father from the moment we decided to have children together. You can appreciate what mother’s do without denigrating the contributions of fathers, which goes far beyond the donation of sperm. One of the terrible social mis-constructions of our times, in my view, is the diminution of the male’s rights in the conception and life of the fetus, which seem to have survived only in regard to child support payments following divorce.”
Bob Rollwagen offered a tribute to many mothers: “There are a lot of mothers in my life. In my memory, every one of them were proud of their kids in some way. All shared stories about their kids, and most of all, they put responsibility for their children at the top of their priorities 24/7/365. This is probably why the first thing many will do when they can [when Covid restrictions end], is hug their mother.”
Tom Watson credited a specific mother: “I went to university when I was 36 years old, with four daughters under 13, to study for the United Church ministry. For the next six years, I went to school full-time and worked full-time on a three-point pastoral charge. I wouldn't have been able to do it at all without the constant support of Janice, the girls' mother, who constantly held down the fort.”
Jessie Carlson: “I enjoyed reading about mothers. I was 72 when my mother died so I was very fortunate to have a mother that many years. She was over 95 and fully aware of everything until the end, including making the plans for her palliative care. As she did this my sister and I were there to support her as she made that end of life decision. I was very blessed.”
Cliff Boldt: “I don’t think I took my mother for granted, although as I age, I get these niggling doubts as I remember all she did for me. I think I was a good son, I hope I was a good enough son for my mother. Thanks for a gentle reminder without being maudlin about it all.”
Isabel Gibson liked my comment: “Love is continuing to feel you right under my heart, even when you’re not there anymore. Because that’s what mothers do.”
“Yes it is,” Isabel responded. “Even when we don't choose to. Maybe because we can't choose any differently.”
Judy Lochhead added something new, for me: “Jim you wrote a wonderful tribute for mothers last weekend. Thanks for the reminder that there is nothing like motherly love. (I am so lucky to still have my mother of 83 yrs in very good health.) Wouldn’t we do well to approach all our living with such compassion? Matriarchal love would solve so many problems in this world, it seems to me.
“Something that stuck out for me, though, was your exemption for men in contributing to potential affects from abuse of alcohol. I read some research that, in fact, it is possible that detrimental fetal effects could result from male over-consumption. Here is one such article: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/03/200330152119.htm”
D. Martin agreed that mothers have a special role. But he added comments about “the devastating impact that not having a father has on boys and girls growing up. If a boy does not have father in his life as he grows up, the list of problems is appalling . It impacts girls as well, but not to the same extent as boys. I hope that if you do an article on Father’s Day, you will point out the immense value, and need, fathers play in a child's life. If a boy does not have a father in his life, he will look for another role model, and often that is in the streets.”
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