Magazine Feature / People

Sustainability advocate heads for even greener pastures

For James van Hemert, former director of the Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute, the grass isn’t just greener in British Columbia. The cheese is creamier, the bees are busier, the chickens are pluckier and the organic farm he plans to start will be more bountiful.

After five years at DU preaching and teaching about carbon footprints, climate change and the end of the “fossil fuel party,” Mr. Sustainability has decided to walk the talk.

“We would like to be in a place where we can live sustainably without an excessive reliance on fossil fuels,” he said before his Jan. 8 departure. “We won’t be back to the horse and buggy days. But we want the lifestyle that most of us are going to have to adopt. We’re taking a proactive approach.”

Essentially, van Hemert is putting aside his five-year effort to save America through zoning and donning overalls instead. He plans to set up a two- to 10-acre organic farm in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island, where he hopes to tend chickens, raise his own food, keep bees, make cheese and live a low-impact, post-carbon lifestyle. That, plus serve as planning director for the city of Duncan, a rustic burg of 5,000 inhabitants that boasts 80 totem poles and a 205-foot-long, 61,000-pound hockey stick that was crafted in 1986 for the Vancouver World’s Fair.

To prepare for the post-carbon lifestyle, van Hemert gardened extensively at his modest Harvard Gulch property and quietly raised chickens he procured He shunned a car, walked and biked extensively, read up on cheese-making and calculated how many chickens and eggs he’ll have to produce in Vancouver to qualify for the significant property tax cut available to organic farmers.

“We produced more food this year in our garden than ever before,” he says. “We ate it and canned it and fed it to the chickens. Some we gave away.”

Van Hemert insists he’s not a survivalist nut. Rather, he sees himself as an informed, thoughtful, concerned professional planner and sustainability advocate who loves Colorado and the University of Denver but agonizes over the glacial pace of change. The city of Denver’s attempts to become “green” have been “tepid” at best, he says. Most people live in a kind of “hallucinatory state” in which they cling to the belief that all will be well if they “get a hybrid car, put on a few solar panels and have a bike-sharing program. It’s delusion.”

Global climate and the energy picture are changing too swiftly, he says. We have to change our cities and our lives to reflect that looming reality.

“If a good percentage of the population can live without a car, that’s truly the mark of a high-quality, international, sustainable city,” he says.

Replacing van Hemert at the institute is Katherine Iverson (JD ’06), who will serve as interim executive director. Iverson is an architect and real estate attorney who specializes in urban redevelopment, adaptive reuse and historic preservation.

The Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute has been affiliated with the Sturm College of Law since 1992. According to its Web site, the institute is as an “interdisciplinary, non-partisan forum for land use and environmental issues in the Rocky Mountain West.” For further information, go to


Comments are closed.