Climate change is arguably the single most pressing, most important, most challenging issue to affect governments at this time. Our world is suffering and weather is getting extreme in many parts. It’s affecting crops, wildlife, safety, water… everything.
But what are Canadian municipalities doing to combat it, to reign in their use of fossil fuels, reduce their carbon footprint, reduce emissions, pollution, and embrace alternate energy systems?
Not much, according to a study done by the Ontario Coalition for Sustainable Infrastructure. OCSI’s 2014 report, “When the Bough Breaks” has some discouraging statistics. According to their survey, only 38% of Ontario municipalities are “incorporating climate change into their asset management planning.” Climate change was a priority in only 13% of municipalities.
Scarier is that, when given a list of relevant activities to choose from, 22% of respondents admitted their municipality was doing nothing to address climate change impacts. Nothing. A fifth of our municipalities aren’t even preparing themselves for catastrophic or severe weather.
In 2008, Collingwood’s now-forgotten Sustainable Community Plan report had this to say:
Over the next forty years, the Town of Collingwood is expected to experience local forces of change such as unprecedented population growth and changing demographic and global forces of change such as rising commodity prices and climate change… Over the next 40 years, climate change may impact the topography, water supply, water levels and climate in Collingwood, and around the world.
The plan went on to address ways Collingwood might act to create a more sustainable, environmentally-friendly community that helped reduce the human impact on climate change. Some, but far from all, of these ideas were incorporated in later town initiatives.
Since then, there have been many initiatives to deal with climate effects implemented by municipalities worldwide (especially to mitigate the threat to municipal infrastructure), and there are whole new trends in areas like stormwater management that have developed and are being shared.
But what has Collingwood done since that report? Not much, if anything.
An anti-idling bylaw was passed in 2009 and amended in 2010 (however, to the best of my knowledge, it has never been enforced nor have any vehicles been ticketed for violating it).
The public seems much more aware of the issue than the town does.
In November, 2013, Collingwood residents joined Canadians across our nation to gather and show their support for action on climate change to the then-Harper government. There have been public events about climate change, including showings of the film series, Be the Change. But in the local media there has been little coverage, aside from some snarky ideological dismissals of even the notion of such change. The local media has not been in the forefront of any local advocacy efforts, let alone information.
In 2014, the town’s latest effort, the committee-based woo-hoo list (aka CBSP) had this to say about climate change:
Yes, that’s right: nothing. The phrase cannot be found anywhere in the document. It was so important to the committee that it couldn’t even mention it once. It mentions preserving the “natural heritage” without defining what that is, how to do it or why it’s important (which pretty much sums up the whole document).
But wait: Collingwood has an asset management plan, prepared by the CAO. Now if there’s any place where climate change should be considered, it’s in how we manage and protect our infrastructure and other assets from the effects of severe weather. Here’s what the AMP says about climate change:
Nothing. Again. Here’s what was in the CAO’s report about climate change in the Capital Asset Management Plan, presented to council earlier this year:
Are you noticing a trend here? How about in the CAO’s Capital Project Prioritization Strategy? Again, nothing. It’s almost like the CAO didn’t know climate change was a priority for infrastructure management. Or perhaps didn’t care. Either way, none of his reports mentioned it.
Collingwood has, in the past, raised the issue both in public activities and through political engagement. Former utility board members attended a climate-change workshop in 2013 (back before the former, experienced and professional utility board was dismissed, and re-populated with inexperienced politicians and staff). The mayor attended seminars on climate change, too, last term.
There’s nothing about any town efforts to go green in this term’s newsletters (admittedly, there is no news of any sort in them; they’re more akin to a grocery store flyer than a newspaper- I’ll critique the latest newsletter in a subsequent post).
Does this mean nothing is being done? No, but it does suggest climate change has fallen far below the current council’s radar. It’s so unimportant to council that it isn’t even mentioned in what council consider’s its crowning achievement: the CBSP. Nor is it in any staff documents this term, even those where it would be most appropriate, such as asset management.
Governments at all levels above ours have, at the very least, published information about how municipalities can deal with climate change, how we can be prepared, and what we can expect. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, for example, warns:
In Ontario, climate change impacts that are felt at local and regional scales include:
- more variable and extreme local weather events such as heavy rains and prolonged droughts;
- stressed and vulnerable ecosystems, wildlife and their habitats;
- additional private and public costs associated with industries such as tourism and agriculture;
- public health risks from an increase in hotter weather, more flooding, and insect-borne diseases;
- increased damage to public infrastructure such as sidewalks, roads and bridges.
All of which will affect us here. So it is distressing that Collingwood – once a forward-thinking community – seems so far behind the ball these days when such an important, pressing issue is at hand.