Should Nelson go 100 per cent renewable by 2050?
And what exactly would that look like? Does that mean all municipal buildings would have to replace their heating and cooling systems? Does that mean more buses, less cars? What about hydro? Is that considered clean? And how would we accomplish this transition?
Some of these questions have answers right now, and some don’t. But the West Kootenay Ecosociety believes 2050 is an attainable goal, and they’re gathering petitioners to urge the City of Nelson to hire someone to help them make this transition over the next 33 years.
“Some say this isn’t soon enough, and some say it’s too ambitious. Having that feedback on either side means we’re hitting right in the middle of where we should be,” the Ecosociety’s Erin Thompson told the Star.
So she’s going around town, talking to both businesses and residents, to convince them to get involved. And before they even approach the city — that would happen sometime next year, at a council meeting — they want to get the business community on-side.
“I’ve been going around to businesses with a sponsorship package, and we want them to formally sign on as part of the initiative. The back-bone of Nelson really is the small businesses, so if this is going to be a sustainable goal for all of us, we’re going to have to think about economic sustainability as well.”
So what’s the ask? What does this pledge mean at the Nelson level? Executive director Montana Burgess said the sky’s the limit, possibility-wise, but the most practical first step is hiring someone to complete further research on renewable energy options and engage in the transition.
“We define renewable energy as anything from the sun, wind or water. We’re okay with dams, but just no mega-dams. If someone has a dam on a creek in their backyard, that’s something we would support. But no new mega-dams like Site C, we’re not in support of those,” said Burgess.
So far they’re halfway to their goal of accumulating 3,065 signatures, with just over 1,500 Nelson residents having affixed their name.
“We’ve also been collecting signatures from people in the whole Kootenay area and beyond, and we’ve been tracking that data, so the Nelson signatures are going to go to the Nelson city council, but all those other signatures will be eventually be put to use in each of those municipalities.”
Burgess was effusive about some of the support they’ve received so far. The first group to sign on was the West Kootenay Labour Council. St. Saviour’s Pro Cathedral, Nelson United and Shambhala Meditation Centre have all signed on too.
“It really does seem to be a cross-section of the population here,” said Thompson.
“I think it’s amazing we’ve been able to reach all these people. Normally it’s hard to get young people involved, and so far I’ve been so amazed to see so many young people who aren’t only willing to sign on but they form the core of who our volunteers are.”
Burgess said a “key strategy we’re using in our work is around connecting different people from different sectors around shared values. I think the transition to 100 per cent renewables has something for most people. We’re talking about ‘what does a just transition look like?’ ‘How do we create jobs for our community?’”
She said there are highly skilled professionals formerly from the Alberta tar sands now living in the Kootenays, and they’re an under-utilized community resource.
“You can fit pipes. It doesn’t just have to be oil in pipes. It could be all sorts of things.”
She thinks they could be pouring their talents into green jobs, retro-fitting buildings and constructing renewable infrastructure. Other cities that have signed this pledge, such as Vancouver, have already seen an influx of entrepreneurs, Burgess said.
And all of this is really just step one, said Thompson.
“Nelson is our first municipality we’re supporting to transition, but I think this is part of a broader movement and we recognize we have power as a community. I’m not going to be able to convince [Prime Minister Justin] Trudeau alone, but if we could create a framework that could be used in other rural communities across the country, that’s what’s going to change federal politics.”
Currently different cities have different climate targets, but Burgess and Thompson would like to see them all get on the same team.
“Then we can figure out how to make this happen. We can draw on the skills and ideas of local folks. Step one is get the (goal) adopted, step two is work with the community to implement it and resource staff at the city to develop plans to take it forward like they’ve done in Vancouver, Oxford County in Ontario and Victoria.”
They aim to pitch this to the city in time for their 2018 budget meeting, but first they want to talk to the community and get everyone aboard.
“We want to do what our community thinks is the right fit,” said Burgess.