Written by guest blogger Denise Deby, who writes on local and global social and environmental issues.
In Ottawa we usually don’t make a big deal of internationally-designated days, but this year’s UN World Habitat Day on October 3 seemed significant. The theme: Cities and Climate Change.
According to UN-HABITAT, the world’s cities are responsible for up to 70 per cent of harmful greenhouse gases. Transportation using fossil fuels and industrial activity are particularly significant sources of urban greenhouse gas emissions.
So cities are big contributors to climate change – but people in cities are also affected by the consequences of climate change, like flooding. And cities are, arguably, a big part of the solution.
The City of Ottawa has said municipalities can play a key role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In Ottawa, transportation and buildings’ energy use each account for 40 percent of greenhouse gases, with the remaining 20 percent from the waste sector. The City has had a climate change management plan to address these. But there’s a long road ahead of us.
One of the problems is that climate change here isn’t that obvious, so it’s easy not to think much about it. But the City says our hottest days are getting hotter and more frequent, and declining air quality is a big concern. In 2005 the City recorded 290 deaths and 750 hospital admissions attributable to air pollution, and projected increases in these numbers over the next 25 years. Climate change is affecting our health, changing our environment and costing us in many ways.
Individual action helps – people riding bikes instead of driving, choosing locally-grown food when possible, and turning down thermostats. We need more from all levels of government, though. And we need to be talking about it a lot more.
I think this is happening. Just last week, for example, we had the Ottawa Action to Protest the Tar Sands, a Museum of Nature screening of the film Carbon Nation, and – if you happened to attend the Kickass Talks for CARE on October 2 – Ottawa’s Richard Weber sharing evidence of climate change from the Arctic.
There’s another event coming up this week. It’s part of the System Change Not Climate Change initiative launched by the Council of Canadians’ Climate Justice for People and the Planet campaign to build awareness and inspire people to find alternatives to climate change. Members of Transition Ottawa are hosting a presentation and discussion about what system change means and how environmental and social justice are linked. The event is on Thursday, October 6 from 7:30-9:15 p.m. at 2 Monk St. (one block from 5th Avenue and Bank St.) in the Glebe; RSVP at http://transitionottawa.ning.com.
It seems daunting, even impossible, to do anything about climate change. But groups and movements like Transition Towns, System Change Not Climate Change, and Worldchanging and its successor are coming up with solutions that are feasible yet retain what’s best about our cities. Check them out when you have the chance.