YES! for Transit • YES! for Eco-Justice

MVA member Dr. Nigel Haggan, of the Eco-Justice Unit of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster wrote this op-ed for the parish newsletter.

The context is erosion of public transit in the Lower Mainland. The issue is the forthcoming vote on the Mayor’s transit funding plan, and I’ll get to that after a brief reroute through Eco-justice.

Justice is a right to physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual safety and well-being. Eco-justice recognizes that the well-being of people, plants, animals, lands and waters are deeply connected. The core message of all major religions is love and justice for the sick, poor, hungry, imprisoned and otherwise oppressed. If we follow Sallie McFague and Leonardo Boff in considering nature as the “new poor,” all scripture relating to the poor must now be interpreted to include humans and non-humans together.

This is the heart, soul, mind and strength of the World Council of Churches’ Statement on Ecological Debt, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Increasingly, world religious leaders are reaffirming something that Aboriginal people never forgot. That is that covenant or the Golden Rule extends to all creation. Sallie McFague’s “new poor” shocks us out of our “false anthropology” of entitlement to all we can afford. Covenant forbids us to condescend, either to humans as “poor” or to non-humans through the epithet of “conservation.” Biology teaches us that we owe a debt to the most ancient life forms that persist in our DNA. Ecology teaches us that we live in a company of relationships
— of beings, connections, spaces, lifegiving flows of air and water, music, voices and resonances. Eco-justice requires that we cherish and protect our human and nonhuman relatives. BC has a large “ecological debt” in the shape of depleted forests, fish and wildlife. BC has an enormous debt to Aboriginal people, acknowledged, but subverted by a glacially slow treaty process.

Eco-justice would endow Aboriginal people with the resources and responsibility of restoration. Eco-justice would create vibrant and diverse local economies that reflect love as well as need.

Applied to public transit, eco-justice requires a broad and long view of “costs and benefits”:

• Transit — the ability to move — is a human right. No one questions the right of those that can afford cars to travel for work or play.
• Transit is a public service, a convenience to the affluent, but a necessity for the disadvantaged. There is no need for a public service to make a profit, as witnessed by public outrage at attempts to privatize Medicare.
• More private cars accelerate global climate change and reduce air quality. Air pollution kills 21,000 Canadians every year, 9 times the number killed in car accidents — rich and poor get equal treatment.
• Traffic congestion costs work time and contributes to chronic and acute stress
— road rage, inattention and accidents.
• More cars increase wear and tear on roads and bridges and increase enforcement costs.
• Traffic noise and volume reduce use and enjoyment of public spaces.

Short-Term Action: Vote Yes!

Help people register to vote! At home, in your neighbourhood, schools, church, gym, coffee shops, workplace and organizations. Show our provincial government that we care about affordable accessible, safe transit for all, but especially for the most marginalized. That we care about justice for the environment. That we care about justice for those least able to pay to get to work, play and visit with their loved ones. To have a chance to enjoy Super Natural BC.

Long-Term Action

We want government to live up to the longterm commitment implicit in the carbon tax. We want government to honour their commitment to match the long-awaited Compass system to London’s Oyster card that is free for children, students, seniors and the disabled and subsidized for job seekers and apprentices. With no requirement to “tap out” on buses.

I am confident that a full analysis of social, economic, environmental and spiritual (amenity) benefits would justify substantial increases in service and a substantial fare reduction. Short-term research funds could be sought from Eco-Justice Canada, David Suzuki Foundation and many other conservation organizations. In the long-term, a full social-environmental economic spiritual accounting would be an excellent Masters or PhD project.

No world-class transit.
No world-class city.
No rider left behind!

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