In the Summerland Urban Growth Strategy, removing 87 hectares of ALR is spun as a way to improve our carbon footprint: building houses within walking-distance of downtown, the argument goes, will reduce emissions because people will need to drive to town less.
There are two major problems with this argument.
The first problem is that just building houses near downtown doesn’t guarantee there will be a decrease in vehicle emissions.
There are many reasons that Summerlanders currently living within a 25-minute walk choose their cars over their feet – winter weather, the need to transport heavy groceries, health issues, and time constraints are a few – and building houses near downtown will not eliminate these reasons.
If new developments attract young families without providing local jobs, people may even need to commute to neighbouring communities for work, perhaps buying groceries in these communities, thereby eliminating any potential benefits of walkability.
Council’s report doesn’t raise these issues. In fact, it doesn’t contain any data to support the claim that people living in the proposed growth zone will walk, such as data on current Summerlanders’ walking behaviour, or whether this will significantly effect emissions.
Thus while walkability and emissions-reduction is the primary argument for choosing to develop the ALR lands in question over other available areas, there is no data to support it.
The second problem is that building houses within walking distance of downtown stands to have less of an impact on our carbon footprint than protecting agricultural land.
By converting ALR into developments we reduce our capacity to grow and distribute food locally and regionally.
This makes our region (and province) more reliant on food shipped from places like California and Mexico and increases emissions: indeed, the David Suzuki Foundation reports that the average meal travels 1,200 kilometres from farm to plate.
Seen at this scale, eliminating ALR in Summerland stands to worsen our carbon footprint by increasing emissions elsewhere. If council is really serious about curbing climate change, it should be seeking to protect and even expand our agricultural land base.