by John Platenius, Tofino
"We shall have no better conditions in the future if we are satisfied with all those which we have at present."
Thomas Edison was clearly a smart fellow, but I'd like to take exception with this particular quote. I think a better start to this would be "We shall have much worse conditions in the future if we are satisfied with all those which we have at present." After all, when you dig down below our middle class luxuries, what really looms ahead is massive credit card debt, dwindling cheap oil and volatile global temperatures. This is what we have to look forward to if we maintain our present path.
I'm pretty much as guilty as the next person for being complacent about our current path, but every once in a while I talk to folks who are interested in solving local problems and talking about what could make Clayoquot Sound a better place to live for the next 500 years or so. Last month I took the opportunity to chat with a group of folks about the Clayoquot Sound unesco Biosphere Reserve, and was pleasantly surprised.
For the last three months, a small group of local citizens and visitors to Tofino have gathered together to share ideas and opinions about the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve. There have been many different ideas and opinions expressed during these informal conversations, but the central focus of the dialogues is simple: What does it mean to live in a Biosphere Reserve?
During one of the conversations it became clear that the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve doesn't have a core group of people who work collectively in the best interests of the Biosphere Reserve. It was at that moment that the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve Stewards were born.
"The Stewards" is a hard group of individuals to define, but I think it's easiest to sum up by declaring what it is not. First and foremost, The Stewards are not an organization. The Stewards do not have meetings. No bylaws, no mission, no mandate. No fundraising, no donations.
The only rule that has been established at these non-meetings is that whiners are not tolerated. All of the people who have been attending these discussions know that whining doesn't get things done. Along this theme, the closest thing to a motto or slogan the non-organization has is: "Ask not what your Biosphere Reserve can do for you, but what you can do for your Biosphere Reserve." So volunteerism and a positive outlook is a big part of it.
The central theme of Biosphere Reserves is supposed to be people finding "solutions to reconcile the conservation of biodiversity with its sustainable use." There are almost 500 Biosphere Reserves in the world, all of which were intended to be "living laboratories" for research and education about how we can integrate the sustainable management of land, water and biodiversity.
Now there I've gone and done it--I'm using those buzz words again: Sustainable Management. Conservation of Biodiversity. Like most folks who take any interest in regional or global dilemmas, I've grown complacent to these ubiquitous terms. We read them, yawn, and then leave the problems to the politicians and ngos to sort out. This is where the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve Stewards differ.
The Stewards are a group of citizens living in the Biosphere Reserve who get together every month to have informal conversations about living in a Biosphere Reserve. The discussions revolve around questions like: What does it mean to live in a Biosphere Reserve? Why should we care? What should we do? What shouldn't we do?
While the talk is serious, the atmosphere is calm and inviting. It is not uncommon for someone to show up with a bottle of wine. This jovial mood doesn't hide the fact that these people are all here to get things done. The Stewards are individuals who understand that something gets done when people make it happen.
Now that the Biosphere Reserve is here, there are many things that individuals, businesses and ngos need to work on in order to live up to the United Nations declaration. How about water collection and an emphasis on native plant landscaping, like the plans at Pacific Sands Resort? Or a collective agreement among Biosphere Reserve communities to reduce plastic consumption and waste? I'd like to see a catalog of species living in the Biosphere Reserve and their conservation status. One of the focuses of our Biosphere Reserve is supposed to be the marine component of the ecoregion, but most of us have forgotten about its central ecological role. Of course the list goes on.
Of course we could have committee meetings and board meetings and read from agendas to reach consensus on what needs to be done. Then we could break out into small groups and create an action plan with a timeline and specific measurable goals and results. Or we could call up a few friends and neighbours, get together over a pot of tea or a bottle of wine and chat about what needs to be done and then do it.
Simply put, the Clayoquot Sound Biosphere Reserve Stewards want to optimize the benefits that the Biosphere Reserve designation can provide for everyone living and visiting the Biosphere Reserve. They just don't want to have to attend another meeting and read from an agenda to get things done. A wonderful old saying comes to mind: "Any simple problem can be made unsolvable if enough meetings are held to discuss it."
If you're interested in chatting about what it means to live in a Biosphere Reserve, and have an idea and want some help putting it into action, or just want to see how a non-meeting functions, The Stewards usually get together every third Wednesday of the month around 7:30pm at the Clayoquot Field Station in the Tofino Botanical Gardens.
John Platenius is the Director of Programs and Development at the Tofino Botanical Gardens Foundation.