Climate Change New Year Resolutions: A Hard Sell
City of Windsor Council and Essex County Council recently jumped aboard the global climate change juggernaut by declaring a climate change emergency.
This plugs our municipalities into the United Nations lofty goals shared by 500-odd municipalities in Canada. In less than 12 years, the UN declares, in order to keep the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius (since pre-industrial times) and maintain a climate compatible with human civilization, there must be a reduction in carbon emissions of about 45% from 2010 levels, reaching net zero by 2050.
Attendees at a November 29, 2019 symposium, sponsored by the Windsor-Essex Climate Change Collaborative, the Essex Region Conservation Authority and the University of Windsor, heard how we all need to change the way we live in order to achieve the targets and stave off more flooding, wildfires, famine, drought and overflowing refugee camps.
At home, climate change has already exacted its toll. We have experienced overland and extensive basement flooding, disgorged by heavy rain events, the emergence of invasive species, an increased number of high heat days (over 30 degrees Celsius), the rise in diseases and harmful algal blooms in our lakes and rivers.
City Council recently had to pony up $2 million to install a new floating dock system at Lakeview Marina to counter rising Detroit River water levels.
The city has ticketed $500 million on a sewer master plan, and is rolling out an East Riverside flood risk plan. These projects are Adaptation measures demanded by the current climate change reality. Now the emergency climate plan is identifying mitigation initiatives to slow down future consequences.
“Climate change is at the centre of everything,” says Anneke Smit, an Associate Professor of law at the university who teaches a hands-on class on municipal climate change.
“The global emergency requires a coordinated response in all budget deliberations and council decision-making,” alerts Smit, who believes we are heading for a global catastrophe with impacts equivalent to the Second World War if we don’t take drastic measures over the next decade.
The big push is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The main culprit is carbon dioxide, CO2, which releases contaminates into the atmosphere that traps the heat radiation from the sun nearest the earth.
So here’s the scary part. Some 36% of Windsor’s emissions come from motor vehicles — cars, trucks, big jeeps and SUVs that jam our streets and freeways. And yes we are still known as the “Motor City”.
“It’s a hard sell,” acknowledges Smit of the campaign to convince people to eschew convenience and lower or eliminate their car dependency. That’s tricky because would-be climate change advocates earn a good living in our assembly and automotive supplier plants.
Society also remains immersed in runaway consumerism; witness the mad “Black Friday” dash to the malls.
This is what grates on people who see the hypocrisy of emergency declarations by public servants and politicians who talk the talk but don’t walk the walk.
This also gives ammunition to the climate change deniers funded by Big Oil, Gas and Coal — those carbon-laced fossil fuels.
“Youth are at the centre of the movement,” says Smit, noting the emergence of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has travelled the world with her doomsayer climate change message.
The actions of Smit’s own daughter, 15 year old Sofie Waters, is putting her activist parents to shame, muses Anneke, whose husband is Chris Waters, Dean of the law faculty at the U. of W. Both parents ride their bikes to work and back.
Sofie refuses to use plastic water bottles and takes metal straws and utensils to school to eat lunch, and brings her own dishes for take home leftovers.
She declines rides home, opting to walk to a distant bus stop. At the grocery store she refuses plastic bags and foods with plastic packaging.
Smit suggests students should write letters to grocery store chains or use social media to condemn over-packaging.
“It’s the only thing they understand,” she warns. “It’s the power of leadership by example.”
Given this is January, I have gathered a laundry list of New Year Resolutions, thanks mainly to the Windsor-Essex Collaborative, for anyone who wants to employ personal action to reduce our carbon footprint.
Climate Change New Year Resolutions:
- Consume and use less of everything. Limit the number of cars to one per family. Purchase electric or hybrid vehicles. Obey anti-idling bylaws. Shut off your engines when caught in traffic. Boycott drive-thrus.
- Reduce your energy, plastic, water and other resource use.
- Drive and fly less when possible. Bike, walk, take a bus or a train.
- Conserve home energy. Adjust your thermostat for less use every season, and take advantage of home retrofit programs (call 311) to improve energy efficiency.
- Install solar panels on the roof of your home.
- Eat less meat, eat local, aim for zero household waste, get a backyard composter and rain barrel.
- Plant trees. Increasing forest cover is one of the most effective things you can do to combat climate change.
“Every tree counts,” beckons Karina Richters, the City of Windsor’s Supervisor, Environmental Sustainability and Climate Change.
Richters is the pied piper of the city’s Community Energy Plan, a 122 page document flushed out by consultants and a task force that took 18 months and $280,000 to complete.
When Council declared its emergency on November 18, 2019 Richters was directed to prepare reports within 90 days, recommending priority action items.
A big one, Richters told me, is the rollout of a “deep energy retrofit” program whereby the city will share the cost with homeowners of upgrading windows, doors, HVACs etc. with the goal of saving 50% in your home energy costs.
Windsor households create 35% more emissions than the Ontario average, largely because of the age of our housing stock. The energy plan data collectors told us that.
I believe in climate change, but I also believe that not nearly enough people, myself included, are going to voluntarily change all their self-indulgent habits, until it hits them directly in the pocketbook.