Sunbury Neighbourhood Association

Vancouver Courier - Aug 27, 2008

We must protest Highway to Hell
Tom Sandborn
Vancouver Courier

Lost this summer in the clatter from cheesy new action movies and the glitter of Olympics coverage (to the extent that these two big-ticket distractions can be distinguished from each other) was the dire news that the provincial government had signed off on the environmental certification for the two key elements in its lunatic Gateway project. The consequences for the lungs of Lower Mainland residents and for the prospects for any meaningful success in the government's much vaunted campaign against global warming will be serious. Somewhere between Iron Man and Canada's gold medals in Beijing, we may have missed one of the most important and discouraging stories of the year.

Barry Penner, who goes by the implausible title of Minister of the Environment in the Campbell government, approved the Port Mann/Highway One portion of the $1.6 billion project in June and the South Fraser Perimeter Road section in July. The latter project will connect the Port Mann with the triply expanded Delta Port at Roberts Bank and fill the monstrous new roadway with pollution-spewing, air-fouling trucks loaded with junk commodities for Wal-Mart and other importers of the unnecessary, while posing a possible danger to the precious wetlands at Burns Bog.

The decisions will dramatically increase the province's contribution to the CO2 emissions that we know drive global warming and catastrophic climate change. When climate change disasters, rising sea levels and super storms begin to affect B.C., they will have been admitted, at least in part, through Gateway.

Although the federal green light has not yet been given these projects, it's hard to imagine the Harper government taking a stronger stand on this matter than Victoria. To their credit, both Vancouver city council and Metro Vancouver (the bureaucracy formerly known as the GVRD) have stoutly opposed this demented scheme. Now it's up to the citizens of Vancouver to raise hell with the Conservative government and call on it to refuse the project its federal certification.

In the light of growing recognition that we face an urgent global warming/climate change crisis, and with Gordon Campbell and every other political opportunist on the planet feeling the need to express hypocritical interest in green alternatives, B.C.'s insistence on constructing its own Highway to Hell is both puzzling and infuriating.

Gateway will do nothing to reduce highway congestion. Adding more freeway concrete to fight congestion, it has often been aptly observed, makes as much sense as buying a super-sized belt to fight obesity. The new bridge and highway system will drastically increase carbon emissions, making any prospects for hitting the province's declared goal of reducing emissions by 33 per cent by 2020 just another puff of political hot air. In the meantime, it endangers over 1,000 hectares of prime farmland.

Gateway will further promote car-dependent suburban sprawl. It provides 1950s-style infrastructure for a vision of human settlement that was ill advised when it emerged in the last century and is suicidal now that we recognize the prospects of climate change and peak oil. Gateway is predicated on the terminally stupid notion that our pattern of car-dependent urban planning and petroleum-intensive globalized world trade can continue indefinitely. It cannot, and the sooner we wake up to the need for a radical retooling of our economy and our environmental stewardship that goes beyond green-tinged photo ops and empty rhetoric, the better.

Penner has done the province and Vancouver a disservice by approving the Gateway environmental certifications, despite the many environmental offset agreements he insisted on adding. The true environmental offset would have been to junk Gateway as a bad idea and invest the public funds thus freed up on mass transit, rail freight and alternative energy solutions. The crisis we face today cannot be resolved with more concrete and diesel, no matter how elegantly these toxic technologies are packaged and spun.

Allen Garr returns Sept. 3.


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