This week has been interesting for sustainability proponents in Castlegar. For me it started at the council meeting, with Jon Steinman of the Deconstructing Dinner giving an update presentation on the GE-Free Kootenays initiative. At the same time as council meeting, (unfortunately!), Janet Millington was giving a presentation on Transition Towns. This is part of her visit here over the month of May as she teaches a permaculture course with additional sessions on outdoor learning and other sustainability topics. I’ll post more about the upcoming evening talks this week.

Wednesday night was the public meeting to discuss chickens in Castlegar. With around 7 people opposed and 50 in favor of allowing chickens in residential areas, you would think that the argument was clear.

It wasn’t.

Village of Totnes, located in the county of De...
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Between former Mayor Mike Conners and fossil fuel dependent businessman Neil Kalawsky, President and General Manager of Kalawsky Pontiac, Buick GMC (will they drop Pontiac from their name seeing the brand is discontinued?) among several residents who spoke out against hens – there was enough body language from council to show some level of sympathy for those who believe that chickens may be a crazy idea… could they attract skunks, raccoons and other pests? Could a couple of chickens emit a “stench”? Are they noisy?, Someone stated that they were there to represent the “silent majority” of people who don’t really care, unless it is happening next door and then they’d be furious. This last point is the most contentious of them all, in my mind, the issue has been in the media in Castlegar on and off for the past year. There have been numerous letters in the media over the past month and notices of the public meeting. I’ve seen enough public meetings to know that it is more likely to get the people coming out who are against rather than for whatever is being proposed – it’s the nature of western democracy, and it’s OK. If people can’t project the idea of their neighbor owning a couple of chickens next door and working out whether that pleases them, displeases them or they feel neutral about the whole thing, whatever their thoughts, everyone has the right to have their comments heard. If you choose not to speak or write, similar to voting, you are leaving the decision and discussion up to others.

It was even inferred by some speakers that if you want chickens, move somewhere else, outside the City limits, cause “this is a city”, as though chickens make the difference between an outsider taking Castlegar seriously or not.


Much was said about progress, or the absence of it in Castlegar. Allowing chickens, it is feared, will return Castlegar to some time pre-1993 when the animal control bylaw was introduced. Apparently the price of progress is reduced control over our food supply and reliance on multi-national corporations to provide even the most basic product from somewhere in the world where they can convince them that they should be involved in this global economy swindle.

This apparent conflict between the perception of progress entailing backyards containing only manicured lawns, vs that image of diverse, organic food supply being provided within the city limits suggests an old vs new mentality. Somewhere in the past couple of years there has been a paradigm shift of immense proportions, where reputable scholars, scientists, health officials, transportation experts, urban planners, energy specialists and professionals from almost every industry you can think of have come to the common realisation that the system that we’ve built our entire society on is critically flawed – and frankly it is time to innovate or die.

It’s About More Than Just Chickens

Now, I’m not the only one saying this stuff, in fact there is an amazing movie that has been released in the UK called the Age of Stupid that covers quite well the mess we’ve created.

The blame for lack of progress on climate change, peak oil and the economy, has to, in the majority of situations be placed fair and square on the shoulders of one generation, particularly those in the generation who’ve resisted change, and promoted “efficiency” and “cutting costs” in industry while extracting natural resources at a rate that makes great white sharks feeding on baby seals a comedy. The one generation that has had it all – Baby Boomers. Within this generation is a sense of entitlement to everything – the holiday home, the big truck, the annual European holiday or at least a camper trip to Califonia, and all of the luxury items necessary to outfit a home as a private castle. This generation has witnessed and lived through the  height of economic growth and oil extraction, resulting in new forms of work that have nothing to do with the production of necessary goods, but are based on wants and corporate advertising and everything required to keep our level of consumption ticking along. They only knew of progress and the right to achieve and succeed – these were almost national policies in most Western countries. The baton was passed to them from previous generations, and they dropped it.

Very little of this model of social and economic “progress” can continue indefinitely. Many people identify with the idea that we are somehow building a utopia where there will be every luxury and machines to do all of the menial tasks, and we will be able to occupy ourselves with meaningful pursuits such as medicine, art and philosophy. The reality is that most of North America would be watching the latest hockey game sucking back whatever brand of beer is being promoted in the numerous commercial breaks. But in all seriousness, it is likely that there is a limit to all of this growth. Fifty years ago, a group of thinkers called the Club of Rome wrote a book called, “The Limits of Growth”, which was dismissed as fear-mongering sensationalism by many in that age. The theories of this book are now being examined as models to represent what is being seen in terms of oil depletion, waste, carbon dioxide, climate change, population explosion, and the economic situation. The average economist dealing with the stock market, (and a tidy personal portfolio), has no interest in believing that there is a tipping point on the horizon.

Probability of Failure

Some would like to think this is a Black Swan event, that it is such an outlier that the remote chance of it happening is not worth concerning ourselves with. What I’m considering today, is that all of the evidence is pointing, and has pointed at this eventuality for many decades, Hubbards Peak is not a new model for oil depletion. What was the Black Swan in this situation is how we as humans responded to the suggestions that the credit and oil bonanza of the past 50 years was an anomoly and that the normal state of energy, finance and population was something like what we read about in history books about the past couple of thousand years.

The Future

This is not to say that we are going to “go backwards” as we review some of the changes we made in society and decide that they were not in the best interests of the community to continue. Some examples of this:

  • Yard Waste is now compostable material, as it used to be.
  • We recycle containers again, as we used to with milk and beer bottles.
  • We are on a path of using less energy, as we used to before the creation of energy hungry appliances
  • Gardening for food production is once again seen to be valuable, just as it was during World War Two
  • America is once again investing in rail after disinvestment for almost a century

These are just some of the more mainstream examples of how we are returning to previous models of business, society, or economy in an effort to preserve what we have on this planet, and represent the absolute tip of the iceberb when examined in light of climate change, peak oil and the economy.

More on this tomorrow. Subscribe to UrbanWorkbench here to stay up to date.

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

5 replies on “A Question of Progress – Sustainability in Castlegar”

  1. Yes now we are all on a different path of changing our behaviours, now we are more careful about environment, we are more careful about where and how we are spending our money. Economic crisis sort of came with the green movement and energy crisis. I think these two go hand in hand where we need to invest and spend our money in more green companies and environmental products.For example I heard about this bank they are establishing based on investing in green products and being a green bank. check their site for more info. and you can buy a share to invest in green stocks.

  2. I have just read the report in the Castlegar News about the Chicken Bylaw issue meeting of May 6.

    Reading it I was struck by the rather infantile headline of “Residents peck at chicken debate” and in the body of the report that we were “clucking”.

    Apart from that, I feel the report was heavily weighted on the side of the naysayers.
    Of the approximately 33 column inches (excluding the headline), 15 inches were devoted to the remarks of seven people, and seven inches to the comments of 50 people.

  3. @Janice – My wife Robyn made (by candlelight during the blackout we had last night) the same comment about the press given to the naysayers. It is begging a letter to the editor…

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