THIS ISSUE OF ALTERNATIVES demonstrates what sets it apart from other environmental magazines. The theme is Testing for Sustainability. In it, one might think we would discuss questions relating to what sustainable development is and whether we can use fossil fuels sustainably. These are the topics that come to mind when one thinks about sustainability. Instead, we have focused on the concrete task of testing for sustainability.

The soul of this issue lies in the descriptions of environmental reviews of the Whites Point Quarry in Nova Scotia and the Kemess North Project in British Columbia. These assessments applied a discrete sustainability test. In both cases, the projects came up short and were rejected outright. No room was given for the proponents to change plans and reapply.

There are hundreds of examples of local groups that have presented testimony claiming that a given industrial project may not be in their community’s best interests, only to have a review panel largely ignore their pleas. Personally, I remember a representative from Dick Construction standing up at a meeting in my own community. He told residents that they shouldn’t spend too much effort opposing his company’s proposed quarry because all local groups could hope to receive were small (aka inconsequential) variations to the proposed plan. While his condescending tone got my dander up, he was quite right. Most panels are unlikely to give two hoots about the impact of 1000 dump trucks a day barrelling down country roads when the Greater Toronto Area needs aggregate to buid more highways.

Exceptions, such as those described by Alberto Fonseca in “Application DENIED,” suggest change may be in the air. Fonseca writes, “… the long-standing tradition has been to focus only on how to mitigate significant adverse effects.” In the case of the Kemess mine, however, the panel concluded, “… from a public interest perspective, the benefits of project development do not outweigh the costs.” This panel adopted a sustainability-based evaluation framework that focused on five sustainability considerations. It was a true “sustainability test.”

On the other side of the country, in Nova Scotia, the proposed Whites Point Quarry was similarly dismissed, a decision that was in keeping with that province’s new Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act. Introduced in 2007, this progressive legislation, as author John Brazner explains, breaks new ground by fully integrating environmental sustainability with economic prosperity.

Even Robert Gibson, Alternatives’ resident skeptic, is buoyed by what he sees. In “Testing for Tomorrow” he writes, “… we are gradually learning to look ahead and to build a future that bridges the dangerous old divides.…”

All the discussion about sustainability is complemented by Chris McLaughlin’s article, “Thinking Like an Ecosystem.” In an essay described by ecologist C.S. “Buzz” Holling as “well written, engaging and accurate,” McLaughlin quotes US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s reference to “unknown unknowns” to make his case about the need to include resiliency in environmental management.

And if that isn’t enough, Stephen Bocking deals with nanotechnology in his Political Science column. If you think genetically modified organisms are worrisome, then you ought to take a close look at what we don’t know about nanotechnology. We invite you to encourage all environmental assessment panels to make a sustainability test standard practice.

Nicola Ross is the former Editor of Alternatives Journal, and is a member of the editorial board.

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