March 06, 2015

Many Paths to Solving Climate Change

With US President Barack Obama’s recent veto of the Keystone XL project and the Harper government’s continued rejection of environmental action, it became necessary for Canada’s provinces and municipalities to step in. The City of Toronto is one such municipality, which held its inaugural meeting of the Subcommittee on Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation on Monday, March 2 at City Hall’s council chamber. Hundreds of residents attended the meeting, which was chaired by Councillor Gord Perks. The subcommittee’s mandate lasts until December 31, 2016 and is tasked with identifying actions needed to achieve an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The focus of this meeting was to establish the action plan’s terms and references as per this agenda item and associated presentation.

Among the over 60 residents who registered to speak and almost 100 written submissions, a diversity of ideas solving climate change was revealed. Some of the topics discussed include costs of disasters, agriculture, oil transport, public transit, cycling, flood mitigation, energy retrofits, botanical gardens, renewable energy, and Porter Plans. Since even that list only scratches the surfaces, I will go though a few of the more significant remarks in greater detail.

1. Climate change is costly! Heather Marshall of the Toronto Environmental Alliance mentioned the costs of the July 2013 flood and the December 2013 ice storm cost the City of Toronto $1.3 billion. The perspective she gave was it was the equivalent of a one-time tax hike of 51%! Sounds like Mayor John Tory should think twice about his taxation promises, especially since natural disasters will become more frequent as climate change intensifies.
Cycling bridge by the Don River during the July 2013 flood
2. Don’t overlook stormwater management! OK! Sewer pipes don’t rank high on most people’s minds, but RainGrid Inc’s Kevin Mercer made a strong case for his solution of a connected network of rain barrels. Water from roofs get collected by these rain barrels and embedded sensors will allow these barrels to be automatically emptied before a storm in order to reduce runoff and flooding. Recently, Copenhagenize published an article which also discussed stormwater management. (link) Their method involves putting in concrete rainwater trenches underneath existing cycle tracks, which also have the benefit of reducing pothole maintenance.
3. Stop reviewing and start acting! That was cycling advocate Hamish Wilson’s main message and it’s not just for bike lanes on Bloor; something debated for over twenty five years! The idea also applies to reducing carbon emissions and automobile collisions involving cyclists; the latter of which he used a map indicating such collisions to justify a pilot project on Bloor as soon as possible.
4. We can do better than an 80% reduction by 2050! According to the People’s Climate Movement’s Emmay Mah, there are cities (and even entire countries) which are pledging to become 100% clean, including abandoning fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. She presented an Avaaz petition urging Toronto to follow suit, which obtained over 14 000 signatures since February 3. Another organization, Green Majority, is also promoting this idea citing a one trillion tonne limit for greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global warming under 2’C. A video explaining this idea can be found here.
5. Even serious matters can be made humorous! While climate change is serious, a good taste of humour can be effective in getting attention. Rod Muir of the Sierra Club of Canada delivered a humorous presentation about waste separation via green bins and how sometimes, it’s the simple solutions that are most effective. Gord Perks also used some humorous one-liners in between deputations in order to keep participants engaged.

While it is great that cities such as Toronto are taking initiative, it is not a substitute for leadership at the federal level, given Ottawa is responsible for negotiating international treaties and can establish best practice guidelines for all provinces and cities to follow. During this year’s federal election, ask the candidates where they stand on environmental issues and hold them accountable in order to fulfill the goal of a greener, healthier society!

Live green!
Rob Z (e-mail)


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