Citizens urge government climate action at Nelson town hall meeting

Nelson residents responded to environment minister Catherine McKenna's recent call for climate change ideas.

When about two dozen people spoke at MP Wayne Stetski’s climate change town hall of Wednesday, they were not just talking to the 240-person audience. Their words will also be sent on video to federal environment minister Catherine McKenna, in response to the government’s call for input on future climate change legislation.

McKenna recently invited community groups to hold town hall meetings to collect citizen input on Canada’s approach to climate change. Stetski took up the challenge in collaboration with the West Kootenay Ecosociety, the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Interfaith Climate Action Collaborative.

From left: Pastor Katrina Vigen of the Ascension Lutheran Church, Montana Burgess of the EcoSociety, and Laura Sacks of the Citizen’s Climate Lobby. All photos by Bill Metcalfe.

The speeches were limited to two minutes, and this restriction was enforced with rigour and humour by moderator Montana Burgess of the Ecosociety.

The short speeches cut across a range of personal, political and economic issues, and an emotional spectrum from despair and anger to hope and determination . The following examples have been edited for brevity.

• We need a federal carbon tax on top of the provincial one. We have a carbon bomb in the tar sands. It is our responsibility as Canadians to keep that in the ground, and part of that means not building bitumen pipelines at all. I drive a car. I came here in a car. We are not going to leave fossil fuel behind immediately. We have to transition.

• I am here representing the LVR student council. We want the government to implement the LEAP Manifesto. That means moving the economy to 100 per cent clean energy by 2050, moving our energy sector to clean energy by 2035, a progressive carbon tax, immediate strong investment in clean energy and infrastructure, divestment from all carbon intensive industries, an end to all fossil fuel subsidies, and training and resources for workers in carbon intensive jobs so they can fully participate in the new economy.

Left: Linn Murry of the LVR Student Council.

• Agriculture accounts for 20 per cent of global carbon emissions. This can change. In Canada this could happen through a tax system that would incentivize sustainable agricultural practices such as cover crops, no till farming and soil building. Carbon sequestration into the soil is one of the most sustainable ways of keeping carbon stores.The money for these could be easily diverted from fossil fuel subsidies. The problem is not that we have too much carbon. The problem is that we have too much atmospheric carbon that needs to go back into the earth.

• Where I am in school, grade 11, about to go to college or university, many people in school right now would be willing to go into (occupations) that will help, if the government is there to support us.

• Another way to reduce car use is to build a robust electric car charging network in the Kootenays.

• Military activity is the worst single contributor to the worldwide environmental crisis. It releases unimaginable amounts of greenhouse gases from more fuel- guzzling fighter jets, tanks and naval vessels all endorsed by NATO, and Canada is very much a part of this. The solution: transform military and foreign policies.

• Even if the government does everything we wish for, if we signed a free trade agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership, we’re toast. We really have to stop that free trade agreement from happening. It takes away our sovereignty as a nation to decide for ourselves. Some kangaroo court will sue us if we decide to (bring in climate change legislation).

• We need hard targets and clear timelines. We need clear carbon pricing. Start at $30 a ton and go to 150. We need to set up transition teams. We can not wait, we are running out of time. I met with seven of my neighbours the other day. We had invested 156 thousand in home energy production, solar and water power production. Next month we have to go before the BC Utilities Commission to argue that Fortis not cut what they are paying us by half. We are going backwards not forwards. We can not wait for government. We want all the MPs in the government to join us in making that transition.

• I am a solar installer. There are no grants out there. Don’t expect government support for installing a solar system. The utilities don’t make it easy for you to tie into the grid. They don’t really want to do it. We are ten years behind Ontario on this.

• I am speaking to the converted here. Most of my friends are not converted. They don’t understand climate change and they don’t like hearing about it because it makes them feel guilty and depressed.

To open the event, Stetski outlined the current state of world temperatures.

“Scientists predict that 2016 will end up as the hottest year on record for the third straight year. Ten years ago we had to look back 50 years to see the changing trend in climate. It is now monthly.”

He said this is already resulting in “more extreme weather events, longer more extensive heat waves, fewer cold spells, earlier melt and spring run off, increased precipitation in some parts of Canada, and threatened food sources in the Arctic.”

He said oil and transportation account for 49 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gases. Without major changes, he said, Canada will not meet its carbon emission targets.

“There is a lot of talk and very little action. There was a meeting of science ministers from the across the country in November, a climate change conference at the end of November, environment ministers met in January, and first ministers met in March. Then the budget was put forward and it was difficult to find specific money allocations to deal with climate change. When the first ministers met again they agreed to meet again in September. So lots of talk, lots of agreement to meet.”

Nelson city councillor Anna Purcell spoke about how expensive climate change is.

“Last summer’s wind storm cost you and I almost a million,” Purcell said.That’s one storm that lasted 20 minutes. The flash flood in 2013 cost the city $340,000 from 15 minutes of hard rain. If they are going to become a yearly event it will affect the bottom line and change how we build things.”

She said a conversion to using treated lake water for Nelson’s water supply could cost $20-million.

Purcell introduced Scott Jeffrey of the Nelson fire department who spoke about forest fire mitigation initiatives at the city, and Carmen Proctor who spoke about the city’s Ecosave program and the solar garden.

 

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