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POLIS Project on Ecological Governance

POLIS Dispatch – Winter 2011

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From the Co-Directors' Desks...

K. Bannister, G. Smith & O.M. Brandes
Co-Directors

Welcome to POLIS reinvented! We are bursting with excitement that the POLIS Project has joined University of Victoria’s Centre for Global Studies (CFGS) and relocated to the Sedgewick Building (C Wing). Our merger was the result of extensive consideration about how to walk our talk—to create a more self-sustaining organizational structure for POLIS while ensuring our applied scholarly research and educational initiatives would continue to flourish and be able to grow within and beyond UVic, in ways that serve both the academic community and society.

After only a couple of months we can already see tremendous synergies with the other projects and initiatives at CFGS, and indeed across the UVic campus, which will take our collective work on ecological governance and our focus on specific areas, such as watershed governance and biocultural diversity, to new levels in the near future.

We are privileged to join CFGS at a time when the Centre is undergoing a renewal of its 20-year-old mandate, and to assist with the search for a new Director to lead the Centre after current CFGS Director Gordon Smith retires next year. We fully endorse and support a strong ecological governance focus that will strategically position CFGS and UVic as the “solution centre” of social, political, economic, and environmental thought for the next two decades and beyond.

This Winter 2011 Dispatch offers a glimpse into our recent past and upcoming activities and accomplishments, and serves as a teaser for our full newsletter coming your way in early 2012. Thank you for your past and ongoing interest and support of the POLIS Project. We wish you and your loved ones a healthy, happy, and peaceful holiday season.

–– Kelly Bannister and Oliver M. Brandes, POLIS Co-Directors

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Transforming Environmentalism

M. M'Gonigle on 'Exit Environmentalism'
Michael M'Gonigle

Few of us can claim to have left a legacy. Someone who definitely can make that claim is Dr. Michael M’Gonigle. From his early days in the environmental movement as co-founder of Greenpeace in the 1970s, as an activist in forest and wilderness politics in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and more recently as the founder of POLIS, and through his work on “green university” campaigns and Green Legal Theory (GLT), Michael has been creating legacies for over 40 years.

While the word “legacy” can imply an ending or a hand-over, that is not the case for Michael. As his legacies, both theoretical and practical, continue to root and grow at UVic and beyond, he remains actively involved —through teaching, collaborative research, community partnerships, practical action and thought leadership. Included here is a brief introduction and precursor to the feature article and interview with Michael planned for the next POLIS newsletter in the new year.

Throughout his career, Michael has put forward new models of governance, led campaigns, and developed theoretical frameworks toward transforming governance. In his work on forest politics, Michael and his colleagues developed the “community ecosystem trust” as an alternative model of forest governance for B.C. Through the radical “green university movement,” Michael works with students on campaigns to create universities as models or testing grounds for cutting-edge “green” theory and practices. More recently, his work on Green Legal Theory offers critiques of the mainstream environmental movement and asks deeper structural questions as to why and how environmental problems arise.

According to Michael, this new field of law and practice, “recognizes the limits of relying on state-centred, socially constraining regulations to protect the environment, and seeks to understand how to create self-sustaining social, economic, and political institutions that are ecologically based and that transform society fundamentally.” Michael teaches a graduate seminar on GLT at UVic, and makes presentations on the topic on and off campus, such as his lecture "Exit Environmentalism: Reflections on the past and future of a (failing) social movement.” His forthcoming book Earth Rules: Towards a Green Legal Theory will be published in the coming year.

The POLIS Project, including the flagship Water Sustainability Project, represents part of Michael’s legacy. It continues to transform from its beginnings as a diverse group of researchers and projects under the auspices of the Eco-Research Chair of Environmental Law and Policy, which was the model from 1995 to 2000. In 2001, the group became the POLIS Project on Ecological Governance and since then POLIS has helped launch a number of independent research and advocacy organizations dedicated to ecological governance in specific applications, including SmartGrowth BC, Dogwood Initiative (formerly Forest Futures), the UVic Sustainability Project, and Common Energy.

POLIS has also helped establish the new Office of Community Based Research at UVic; a number of research and educative activities undertaken by the Clayoquot Alliance for Research, Education and Training; human research ethics policy development at institutional, national, and international levels; and many other initiatives.

Today, in its new partnership with other research entities at the Centre for Global Studies, the POLIS team looks forward to further transformation and new synergies ahead.

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Water Sustainability Project – Highlights

With a focus on watershed governance, POLIS’ Water Sustainability Project (WSP) continues to push boundaries on many levels with its research-based publications and tools aimed at creating a more holistic and sustainable approach to water management and governance in Canada and worldwide. With the recent merge with the Centre for Global Studies and new multi-year financial support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the Vancouver Foundation, and the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, the WSP team looks forward to further sharing its cutting-edge work on water law and policy reform and governance research. Some recent highlights of the WSP team’s work are included here, and more is available on the WSP website.

In October 2011, the WSP team in partnership with the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre published the latest instalment in its water sustainability handbook series: Peeling Back the Pavement: A Blueprint for Reinventing Rainwater Management in Canada’s Communities by Susanne Porter-Bopp, Oliver M. Brandes and Calvin Sandborn. The handbook for policy makers, community leaders, and water managers outlines problems with conventional stormwater management and proposes sustainable solutions. The handbook addresses the fragmented responsibility for fresh water across and within jurisdictions, and provides an action plan for local and senior levels of government to move toward a system based on rainwater management. You can download a copy of Peeling Back the Pavement from the WSP website.

The WSP team is launching a new stream of research-based work on the Water-Energy nexus—addressing water sustainability as it relates to energy production and distribution. Working with Ben Parfitt, a resource policy analyst with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the WSP team will examine current threats to water sustainability posed by practices such as shale gas extraction, or hydrofracking, and put forward sustainable alternatives for water governance and practices. The Water-Energy nexus will be the subject of a webinar featuring a presentation by Ben Parfitt in May 2012 as part of the POLIS Creating a Blue Dialogue webinar series (see Coming Soon in this newsletter).

A number of recent appointments and awards have officially recognized the work of the WSP team: Oliver M. Brandes was appointed as an affiliate member of the Brock Environmental Sustainability Research Unit (BESRU) at Brock University; Oliver was also appointed to advise the Council of the Federation’s Water Stewardship Council on its Water Charter; he was also recently appointed to the editorial board of the Canadian Water Resources Journal. In September 2011, the WSP’s Innovation & Technology Director, Carol Maas, was appointed to the board of the new Water Technologies Acceleration Project (WaterTAP) in Ontario. And the WSP team was recognized by the Greater Victoria Water Watch Coalition with a 2011 World Water Day Award for its work to inform B.C.’s Water Act modernization process and for work on the Public Trust Doctrine.

We are beginning to see a measureable shift to watershed-scale governance and the WSP team continues to engage in water policy and law reform initiatives across the country, including the Northwest Territories’ Water Stewardship Strategy and the new Water Opportunities Act in Ontario. The WSP team also continues its work on the Public Trust Doctrine as an applied legal reform concept in contemporary Canadian water law, including as part of B.C.' efforts to modernize its Water Act.

For more updates on the POLIS Water Sustainability Project and details about these highlights, check out the WSP website.

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