Community Newspaper Columns

Ottawa must step up action on climate protection

October 2015

Following a summer of drought, forest fires and watering bans in Western Canada, while the East experienced mild, wet weather interspersed with severe heat waves, it seems appropriate to explore the increasingly critical challenge of climate change and how that touches on the work of City Council.

The provincial Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Glen Murray, delivered a barnburner of a speech at the annual meeting of the Association of Ontario Municipalities (watch it at bit.ly/AMO-Murray). It was a remarkably cogent and compelling argument for why a city like Ottawa must assume its responsibilities for adapting to an increasingly unpredictable climate, for seriously curtailing the greenhouse gas emissions of its own operations, and for serving as the convening agent for similar action by institutions and individuals citywide.

It can be politically dangerous for an elected official to acknowledge the unpleasant facts of climate change: The impacts are here, they are real, and they will get far worse whatever we do. However, we can somewhat limit the worst effects if we take quick and significant action, with nobody exempted. We are all in it deeply, and we must all play our role. To do less will not only impose massive costs on our economy, it will unfairly leave our children and future generations with a severely impoverished world that will become more violent and harder to govern.

That is the stark truth, and many don't want to hear it. Yet I feel compelled to join Glen Murray and hundreds of other engaged politicians in speaking truth to power, and to the public, whose support is critical to addressing this challenge. As author Naomi Klein argues in This Changes Everything, it is only by acknowledging a truth, and by learning to live with its dramatic implications for our lives, that we can find the courage to act as we must.

Once we have absorbed the reality that much about the way we live, work, eat, travel, play and consume must change, we will be in a position to figure out what to change, and how. It is at this point that a depressing and politically unsellable message can evolve into one that is more hopeful and compelling.

Why do we assume a low-carbon economy and society will be worse than how we live now? Does anybody actually enjoy traffic congestion, infrequent transit service, smog, food waste, and high energy costs from inferior building practices? Do we really want to sacrifice more greenspace, prime farmland and wetlands to widen highways or to further expand the city boundary?

And yet many dismiss the idea of a greener, sustainable, low-carbon future as somehow unattainable, or at least only attainable at the expense of jobs and economic growth. This is a false dichotomy. High-carbon industry, transportation, buildings and food systems not only have no future, they threaten our future, including the economy. It is the low-carbon economy and lifestyle that will trigger innovation, efficiency, productivity and social and ecological benefits.

That's why I support the provincial government's commitment to putting a real cost on greenhouse gas emissions with its proposed cap and trade system. The historical "right" to emit harmful carbon pollution at no cost to the corporations or individuals producing it has resulted in all of us treating the atmosphere like a free landfill. Only by placing a price on carbon emissions will we be motivated to modify our behaviour in a significant way. Revenue raised through a well-designed carbon-pricing system can then be explicitly and transparently allocated to funding initiatives that will reduce emissions.

At the municipal level, there is much the City of Ottawa can and must do to reduce our emissions. Having some additional funds available for such investments will allow us to do more. The transition to a low-carbon, renewable, energy-powered future is a top priority for me as councillor and as chair of the Environment Committee. That's why I urged my colleagues on Council to support the development of a Renewable Energy Strategy for Ottawa, and I'm pleased to report that work is already underway.

Finally, the federal election offers an important opportunity to question candidates and parties on carbon pricing and action plans.

Bronson/Colonel By crossing
By now, work on the new pedestrian and cyclist crossing on Bronson Ave. south of Colonel By Dr. should be underway. The improvements include traffic signals, new sidewalks, bicycle lanes, multi-use pathways, streetlights, and modifications to the ramps connecting Bronson to Colonel By and Bronson Pl. Most of the work should be completed before winter, with final paving and landscaping next year.

To avoid lane restrictions on Bronson during the day, the contractor will work between 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., with periodic lane and ramp closures. While efforts are being made to minimize noise and reduce disruptions to local residents, the contractor has applied for a noise by-law exemption.