BC tomorrow: Teacher Dave Ramsay and systems ecologist Barry Wilson hold an animated discussion about sustainable planning.

BC tomorrow: Teacher Dave Ramsay and systems ecologist Barry Wilson hold an animated discussion about sustainable planning.

Planning for healthy planet

People will always need to use the planet’s resources. But with the world population heading to the two billion mark…

People will always need to use the planet’s resources.

But with the world population heading to the two billion mark, there is a need for doing so wisely.

To help future planners and legislators accomplish this, School District #83 teacher David Ramsay and local systems ecologist Barry Wilson have developed BC Tomorrow, a non-profit society created to help students and teachers better understand sustainable planning.

Feeding on each other’s enthusiasm, Ramsay and Wilson have been working to develop an online simulator that uses cutting-edge geographical information systems (GIS) technology and satellite imagery that will allow users to explore options for balancing human activity such as settlement and development, use of natural resources and tourism with a view to the needs of humans, animals and the environment.

“Systems ecology looks at the interaction of people with ecosystems and landscapes,” explains Wilson, who got in touch with Ramsay following an Observer story about the environmental science course he designed based on the Shuswap watershed.

The pair acknowledge that people, prosperity and social well-being are important factors to consider.

“We can’t ignore the fact we have to work, but we can’t deny the planet either,” says Ramsay.

Adds Wilson, “There are lots of issues today where we’re making trade-offs – liquid natural gas and the Alberta Tar Sands.

“What we’re trying to do is help students learn about the connections between land use and ecological integrity.”

Ramsay cites development on the Salmon River floodplain in 2009 as an example of a project that caused relationship damage and cost both time and money.

“If they had done a planning model at the beginning and adopted an approach with all the variables needed, it might have reduced the conflict,” says Ramsay. “In theory, they would have had all the stakeholders working together.”

Wilson notes that development usually brings both benefits and liabilities, but sorting out all the factors in complex projects can be difficult.

Based on an Alberta program already in use in that province, the online simulator will enable students to engage in interactive exploration of land use in local watersheds, develop critical-thinking skills and improve their understanding of system dynamics.

“They’ll start to learn about the important connections and hopefully this will help them when they have to find sustainable solutions in the future,” says Ramsay with enthusiasm. “Students will be able to watch online videos about the benefits and impacts of human land use, learn about the integration of economies and ecosystems, develop their own watershed plans, design local experiments, create projects and share their findings with classrooms across B.C.”

Ramsay says teachers will also benefit from online resources including lesson plans and videos.

“It’s a celebration of learning, and kids are so tech-savvy now, they’ll glom onto it because it’s so easy for them… then they’ll go home and share it with their parents.”

Wilson points out BC Tomorrow is not a lobby for one side or the other in any development, but an acknowledgement that while we need a place to live, we can choose how to develop it.

Ramsay and Wilson pitched their proposal to a group of local community reps a year ago and say the feedback was positive.

“It could be seen as a green thing, but others were happy seeing it as a balanced approach,” Wilson said. “We did our homework with a cross-section of leaders – politicians, scientists, business owners and educators.”

The men received non-profit status for the group a month ago and have reserved their web address. The program will be rolled out at School District #83 first, plans are to extend it online across the province – free of charge.

“It will give the kids the opportunity to test their own theories and provides the tools to promote conversation and learning,” says Wilson. “So instead of people coming to the table with a position and try to win other people over, they can come to learn about what is possible, collaborate and share to find a common solution that works for everyone, based on the best knowledge available.”

Follow the society’s progress or get involved via the group’s website at www.bctomorrow.com.