Formed from the former Agriculture & Food and Land & Water Sectors, the merged Sector will engage the community to enhance sustainability across all of the former Sectors areas of interest but with a natural capital perspective.
These will include but not be restricted to:
These broad topics will be supported, planned and implemented through research, demonstrations, policy papers, legislative review, white papers, communication and education, seminars, and projects designed to engage the community and develop more sustainable behaviours by individuals, organizations and business.
Natural Capital – The World Forum on Natural Capital states that: “Natural Capital can be defined as the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things.”
Figure 1 (left) courtesy of Vancouver shows Natural Capital with 4 main components. Ecological
Services support us e.g. soil; provision us e.g. food and oxygen; provide cultural opportunities e.g. beauty and regulate e.g. flood control. Natures services are fundamental to our existence.
For some time environmentalists have argued that GDP does not well represent a nation’s wellbeing and perpetuates the notion of continuous growth. World Economic Forum (WEP) agrees. It asserted “one quick fix is to adopt a measure like median income per capita,…” A more ambitious measure is “natural capital,” based on a country’s ecosystems, fish stocks, minerals, and other natural assets. …” (Fortune, Oct 2019). A natural capital approach also supports the importance of a circular economy.
Natural capital is a good way to look at the environment in context. A natural capital perspective (rights of nature) promotes nature to that of being all encompassing, figure 2 (Ecologist.org), left, as opposed to the traditional Venn diagram view of the triple bottom line.
Our Account is Overdrawn – Natural capital is ultimately more important than Financial and Social Capital. Most economic activity is directly dependent upon natural capital. Human health, wealth, culture, identity and happiness depend on nature; often complex and little understood. The air we breathe is renewed on this planet due to plant and algael processes. Other planets have actually lost their life giving oxygen. Simply put: Our green spaces give us life.
The Global Footprint “Overshoot Day” proves that our natural capital account is overdrawn. The Global Footprint Network, with a bio-capacity focus, calculated that as of Mar 18 2020, Canadians had used up their share the earth’s resources and were drawing down the capital (i.e. next year’s share). This is not sustainable and is ultimately an existential threat. A natural capital approach allows us to illuminate this issue. It also can and should be used by decision makers to understand the complex ways in which natural, social and economic systems interact, impact, and depend upon one another.
Decisions makers – individuals, organization and business should look at the downstream resource requirements of decisions, not just current requirements. You wouldn’t buy a house if you could afford the mortgage but not the taxes.
“EAT TODAY? – THANK A FARMER.” All of us have seen this slogan on license plates and in signs in our community. Since the production of healthy, plentiful food for the people of this community and this planet is key to life itself, to ensure that agricultural practices in Ontario and in our local community are sustainable is a no-brainer.
Agriculture, as a business, is the number one value-added sector in the province of Ontario, encompassing everyone from the prime producer (the farmer or rancher) to the processor to the waiter in the restaurant. All these folks are contributing their knowledge, their skills, and their work to deliver quality food to the public.
At the same time, agriculture is intricately connected to each of the other eight community sectors identified by Sustainable Orillia, the recently-organized Mayor’s Task Force in Orillia. This article will look at this interconnectedness while also identifying some of the issues that arise when looking at the agricultural sector and sustainability.
Land/Water/Habitat – Rich productive land, supplied with adequate, clean water, supporting strong vibrant eco-cultures, both in and on the soil, is the farmer’s goal. The farmer is the first to understand that fostering the health of the environment is the way to maximize return on investments. The soil is the medium in which he will invest most heavily. Yet cllimate changes threaten to make farming more unpredictable, with sudden heavy rainfall at times and drought conditions at others. Warmer conditions can also lead to the emergence of new pests that threaten crops. Farmland preservation in the face of these weather challenges will be challenging, to say the least. Cutting waste in food practices will become an important goal, as well.
Education – With more people choosing to live and work in urban areas, the understanding of how food is grown is left to a smaller percentage of farmers (currently about 2% of the population). More and more farm operators and their families are encouraging agri-tourism, first as a method of selling their produce, but more importantly, to show the urban populace an understanding of farming practices. On the other hand, education is crucial to the survival of our farms and farm families in the disruption threatened by climate change. Farmers understand that continuing their education through training sessions and seminars on methods of fine-tuning their operations will help not only their bottom line, but also their ability to cope with changing farming conditions and the growing need for climate-resilient crops.
Transportation – Food doesn’t get from the farm to our plates without a huge dependence on transportation. Trucks and farm equipment are expensive to purchase and expensive to run. And at this time, most of them run on oil—gas or diesel. The introduction of carbon pricing will further increase these costs, though given the importance of farming to all of us, the farm may be exempt from some of them. At the same time, to become or remain sustainable, farm
operations will have to look at green energy sources, even electric vehicles, going forward. Autonomous vehicles are also on the horizon given new emerging technologies.
Private Sector Capital and Operations / Goods and Services – As farm communities deal with changing conditions, their challenges will need recognition from private sector capital and services. These challenges will have to be met with understanding by bankers, architects, engineers, inspectors, construction companies, and insurance companies who will be called upon in their turn. The farm family engaged in sustainable practices will also need help to devise a succession plan so that the family operation can continue for future generations. “Sustainability on the farm” means ensuring that future generations can continue to make a living while working in close connection with the land they own and manage.
Housing – The customary housing practice in rural Ontario is to place a housing development on green, undeveloped land. Climate change effects will lead to growing awareness of the need to preserve our farmland in order to ensure our food supply. Developers and municipal governments will have to curb urban sprawl and to ensure that valuable and productive food growing lands are not usurped for other purposes—no, not even for a solar farm. We may also see urban areas built around community and private gardens that will provide healthy food to many. Farm families may become the stewards, not only of their own lands, but also of the community—or common–lands. The farmer can again become the teacher to those who live in cities.
Health and Wellness – The market gardener and the farmer have immediate control over the plants and animals grown and consumed. Being outside on the land and being proud of the work and the products of the farm lead to a state of well-being for most. Those who choose to buy their food from the farm gate or the local market can take satisfaction from their support of local agriculture while at the same time knowing that “local foods” produce fewer greenhouse gases. As awareness of climate change increases among the populace, many will make the decision to eat less meat. Decisions like these will be reflected in changing demands for food, affecting the farm family directly.
A farmer’s life is no stranger to stress—and climate change effects may in a variety of ways increase that stress. Working alone much of the time, dealing with the weather, being “a price-taker” rather than “a price-setter,” and being responsible for not only a family but for crops and animals can be a huge burden. Farm organizations such as the Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA), Christian Farmer’s Federation of Ontario (CFFO) and the National Farmer’s Union of Ontario (NFU-O) are now developing programs to alert farm families to mental health issues—as well as on how to address them. Sustainability means keeping farming families healthy.
Arts and Culture – Here in Orillia and area, the agricultural component of our communities often shapes, and is reflected in, our arts and culture. The respect that farmers and rural folks have for the health and beauty of our environment is engrained in many of us and often reinforced by our arts and music. More and more, we are understanding that the nurturing of
that environment is necessary to life itself. Our art points out the gentle steps that we must place on the earth if a sustainable world is the goal.
With Climate Change and Disruption upon us, we must step up to the plate as protectors of this beautiful home we have. If we do, our songs will be joyous in this work and we will be recognized.
A large portion of the City of Orillia is built on flood plain.
That fact should not be lost on the thousands of home-owners here as communities stretching from Bracebridge and Gravenhurst to St. John, New Brunswick, are submerged in the second or third 100-year flood in the last seven years.
Our time is coming. And it’s going to hurt.
One of the immediate effects of climate change has been a jump in the number of “weather bombs” which stall over a given area and deliver a month’s worth of rainfall in 48 hours. One of the immediate and growing results of poor watershed planning and unrestrained development is that all the streams, wetlands, rivulets, ponds, and trees which slow down the movement of water and absorb excess runoff are systematically being destroyed.
Combine the two and you’ve got record flooding. You’ve also got alarm bells going off in the global insurance industry. That sector of the economy is perhaps the first to really understand the looming threat posed by the “business-as-usual” approach in the face of a climate emergency. It has now recognized that the economy and the environment aren’t two separate things; they are intricately linked.
Across the country and around the world, frustration is mounting at the inability of leaders to respond appropriately to the multiple ecological crises we’ve created.
In Orillia, we have an opportunity with The Mayor’s Task Force: Sustainable Orillia to do something for ourselves. Mayor Steve Clarke and council have opened the door to another possible future for the community with this initiative.
Driven entirely by citizens, it features nine angles of attack, or sectors, that have been identified to help shift this community away from business as usual toward visionary leadership that could transform our city and provide a model for others to emulate. The committee members of the Land/Water/Habitat sector will be looking for projects to move the city toward a more respectful relationship with the natural landscape with which we are so blessed. We will try to move the community toward better groundwater management, toward policies that treat natural habitat not as a resource to be monetized and spent, but as something we depend on for our very existence. We’ll also try to inspire grass roots community action with the potential to grow into thoughtful, responsive public policy.
In the end, what we’re talking about here is our home.
Few of us have been made to live in this area. We chose Orillia because it is still beautiful. The air is clear. We live among lakes which are not yet dead, forests not yet cut, and a precious-few wetlands that still have our backs when it rains hard.
But it’s going fast.
The Mayor’s Task Force has the potential to marshal local responses to global problems. If you give a damn about this stuff, you need to be at the launch of Sustainable Orillia, May 24 and 25. Those who throw their shoulders into this initiative will be fighting for more than some ephemeral concept or political dogma. They’ll be fighting for their home.
This effort doesn’t belong to the mayor of Orillia. It belongs to you. It will succeed or fail depending on the response it receives from you. And if it does fail, it may not come again in the few years we have left to mount the massive shift required to stave off the point of no return.
(register at www.mysuccess.lakeheadu.ca/cell)