In January, Ottawa City Council voted 19-3 to change the name of the City’s standing committee on Environment and Climate Protection to Environmental Protection, Water and Waste.
This change in wording may seem minor, but it signifies something important. The new title suggests a view of the “environment” as something separate from our regular day-to-day existence, something we can allocate some small space to in our backyards or parks and tend from time to time. It conveys the perspective that the environment is primarily a municipal service to be delivered, rather than the very context in which we live and breathe.
Dropping the “climate” part goes counter to the urgency of taking action to address climate change, as underlined yet again by the world’s scientists and experts in calling for “‘rapid and far-reaching’ transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities” to limit global warming and its consequences. It’s a disconnect from the reality of the weather extremes that we’re experiencing and that are projected to worsen if we do nothing or too little.
At the same meeting, Ottawa City Council did discuss incorporating a “climate impact lens” across all committees and departments, but not right away.
Some municipalities, including Vancouver, Halifax and other cities around the world, are declaring climate change an emergency requiring immediate action. Here in Ottawa, political leadership at all levels—municipal, provincial and federal—is sorely lacking. Some positive measures have been introduced, but leadership has often been coming from community members and groups, including young people, instead. Some examples:
- Inspired by Swedish 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, high school and university students in Europe, North America and elsewhere are organizing school strikes for climate action. Groups have been meeting on Parliament Hill and Confederation Park every month or weekly on Fridays to press for change.
- Powershift: Young and Rising is happening on Algonquin Anishinabe land (Ottawa) from February 14-18, 2019. Hundreds of people, particularly young people, are expected to gather at this climate justice conference, to share ways to prompt climate action and create an alternative vision of equitable, sustainable living, through art, organizing and other strategies.
- Ecology Ottawa has launched a campaign calling on Ottawa City Council to make climate action a priority in the 2019 budget and next Term of Council Priorities, and is asking people to sign a petition on their website.
- 350.org Ottawa will be hosting Elizabeth May on Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2019 to speak about the connections between the tornadoes that hit Ottawa last October and climate change.
- Several groups are taking part in Climate Action Week 2019 in Ottawa, February 14-23, 2019, hosting a series of activities focused on transitioning to sustainable energy sources.
We do have climate leaders, climate solutions and people who care. The shift is coming.