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RDCK climate meetings becoming more civil, less divisive

Supporters presented 900-signature petition to RDCK board in favour of climate plan
West Kootenay Climate Hub supporters attended the RDCK board meeting on Oct. 19 to present a petition in favour of the regional climate plan. L-R: Raymond Simoni, George Chandler, Judith Fearing, Tracey Fellowes, Suzanne Simoni, Judy O’Leary, Nicole Charlwood, Greg Amos, and Ron Robinson. Photo: Submitted

The tone of the Regional District of Central Kootenays’ series of public climate open houses has gradually changed from polarization to relaxed engagement, according to one of the organizers.

Open houses inviting questions and comment on the RDCK’s draft climate plan have been held in 20 communities since late August, co-led by Paris Marshall Smith, the RDCK’s sustainability planner.

“There’s been a shift in the type of conversation,” she says. “I’d say they’re becoming more nuanced.”

She says some members of the public in the earlier meetings insisted climate change does not exist, or if it does exist it is not caused by burning fossil fuels. They said that the plan constituted government overreach.

RDCK board chair Aimee Watson, speaking as the director for Area D, gave the Nelson Star a list of the most common questions she received in the earlier sessions in her area.

“Are we going to ban wood stoves? Are we going to force you to drive an electric vehicle? Are we going to force you to do renovations to your home for energy efficiency? Are we going to force you to grow a certain type of crop in your farm? Are we going to force farmers to use electric farm equipment?”

When she or RDCK staff answered “No” to these questions, the questioners would often dispute this reply.

Public sessions re-designed

Marshall Smith says the more recent round of meetings in August to October were re-designed to encourage more learning about the plan, and to foster more one-on-one and small group discussions with the people who wrote it.

As a result, Marshall Smith says people have mostly been discussing and engaging constructively. Many of the discussions have been about the regional district and how it works, and what it does and does not have the power to do.

“It’s been wonderful to have people come in and stay for the entire three hours and talk to us to understand how they can influence government, understand what government is, understand how we make decisions and where we have influence and where we don’t,” Marshall Smith said, adding that these one-on-one conversations often spontaneously turned into small group discussions.

The largest attendance at the open August to October houses was 200 people in Creston. The smallest was in Robson with about 15, and on average across the district the meetings were attended by 30-to-60 people.

Mitigating the effects of change

The RDCK climate plan is contained in two documents: the Climate action booklet and the Climate action workbook, both available on the RDCK website.

The draft plan predicts higher temperatures for the RDCK in the coming decades, along with less rain, less snow, more frost-free days, reduced snowpack, disappearing glaciers, and changes in the flow of streams and rivers. These predictions are based on data from the Pacific Climate Institute Consortium.

The draft climate plan outlines actions to be taken across a range of categories: land-use planning, transportation, energy, buildings, waste, water supply, agriculture, floods, geohazards, wildfire, leadership and operations.

The plan proposes dozens of ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate the effects of climate change, including clean energy production, electric transportation, upgraded building techniques, elimination of organics from landfills, geohazard assessments, and wildfire risk reduction.

The RDCK does not have complete jurisdiction over some of those areas, and collaboration with other levels of government would be necessary.

The draft climate plan aims to reduce carbon pollution in RDCK operations and in the public by 50 per cent by 2030 and by 100 per cent by 2050. These are in keeping with international targets set by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

900 signatures in favour

Marshall Smith says that in the open houses she heard a lot of concern from residents about these projected climate change effects.

“There was a strong, strong sense of values that are coming out. People wanting clean air and clean water, safety and confidence in the future for their children.”

This was reinforced on Oct. 19 when members of the West Kootenay Climate Hub attended the RDCK board meeting and presented a petition, which they say has 900 signatures, in favour of the climate plan.

“The petition represents many hours of volunteer time having conversations in our communities – at events and with our family, friends, and neighbours,” said Climate Hub’s Laura Sacks in a news release. “The vast majority of people we spoke to supported the plan once they learned more about it. We heard from a lot of people concerned about wildfires, smoke and heat.”

The news release states that the group started the petition “because we feel that this is a moderate and sensible plan that will start to move us forward in keeping our communities safe from climate impacts, while reducing our own climate pollution.”

During its presentation to the board, the Climate Hub cited some examples of positive climate solutions already happening in the community, such bike paths, energy efficient social housing, electric school buses, and solar panels on schools and businesses.

Marshall Smith says she and her staff will now collate the responses from the 20 open houses and incorporate them into the draft plan. Then there will be another round of public consultation before the plan is brought to the RDCK board for approval.


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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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