Self-sustaining cities that use renewable energy and grow food in giant “living” buildings. Islands of densely populated urban areas in a much larger sea of more natural landscapes. These are a few scenarios for the future of urban life presented by author Paul Hawken at the Resilient Cities conference I recently attended.

The mood in my own rural forestry sector has been so low for years that I went to the opening day of this conference not really knowing what to expect. If our rural province is so seriously stressed, just what is the mood about the future at the hub, where the majority of our forest products reside?

The organizers had attracted 600 people to the event, a pretty impressive tally compared to who shows up for forestry events these days (the CFS has twice cancelled a planned conference for Nanaimo this year due to lack of interest!). Amongst the presenters and the attendees there was an incredible degree of enthusiasm and a fair degree of optimism that progress is being made in regard to creating a sustainable future, and specifically that Vancouver is on the right track.

We listened to Mayor Gregor Robertson describe his vision for the city of Vancouver and he unveiled a new 10 point plan to make it a truly world leading, sustainable city within ten years. Impressive stuff if it comes to pass. Then the keynote speaker, the well known environmental author Paul Hawken, presented his view that cities will in fact be the saviour of the world: a world population topping out at 8-9 billion by middle of this century but coupled with a shift from rural life and high birth rates to urban dwelling and very low, unsustainable birth rates leading to a crash down to 2 billion people within 100 years. (Personally, I think I would remain one of the 30% or so living in rural areas.) One interesting fact he did stress was that many of our cities are at or close to sea level and the last time the earth had an atmospheric carbon dioxide level of 400 ppb (which was 20 million years ago and where we are predicted to be soon) sea level was 24 meters higher than it is today!

I spent the day talking with and listening to people very much excited about the opportunities out there and what some of the solutions will be. What I did find missing were any ideas about how to get the average person on the street to start taking an interest in all of this, and not whether they can save a $ buying from WalMart instead of Canadian Tire. Because it is only when people realize there are consequences from their actions that efforts like FSC and truly sustainable resource management will become dominant on the landscape. And what is Ecotrust Canada’s role in helping to create these resilient cities? From the positive reaction I had from most people when they found out I work for Ecotrust Canada, it seems we are already doing great work that has been a catalyst for everyone to work with.

– Neil Hughes, Forestry Program Manager