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Fight climate change with deeds not words

Halifax has talked about global warming for too long—it’s time to do something

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Six years ago, Spanish sculptor Isaac Cordal unveiled an iconic work of art in Berlin. As a picture of the sculpture spread quickly across the Internet, it was dubbed “Politicians Debating Global Warming.” It was a perfect description for the tiny clay figures that were partially submerged in a puddle on a street in Berlin.

It was part of a series of sculptures called Follow the Leaders. I appreciate the irony of that title: by following our leaders, and continuing to do so, we have created a problem and failed to solve it.

In describing his work, Cordal says it “refers to this collective inertia that leads us to think that our small actions cannot change anything. But I believe that every small act can contribute to a big change. Many small changes can bring back social attitudes that manipulate the global inertia and turn it into something more positive.”

Like most cities, Halifax isn’t doing enough to combat climate change. In February, a group called iMatter Youth presented a report card to the Council’s environment and sustainability committee that assessed how Halifax is doing.

James Hansen. Anything beyond that, and Hansen and other scientists say we’ll see devastating results.

Lily Barraclough, a University of King’s College student who helped prepare the report card, says Halifax got a C+.

“We do have a really good waste management program, but our climate action plan doesn’t get anywhere near net zero carbon emissions, and it only gets to 80 per cent reduction by 2050,” she says. “We have to be carbon zero by 2040, so even our goals are not anywhere near what they need to be.”

In early March, Ron Zima of Idle-Free For Our Kids was going to make a presentation to the environment and sustainability committee about how the city could make a big impact on carbon emissions and save money.

However, it was the only item on the agenda and the meeting was cancelled because of the “light agenda.” The matter was deferred to this month’s meeting.

Entrepreneur Lil MacPherson, whose environmental policies attracted much support in her failed bid to unseat Mayor Mike Savage, says she was “bewildered and extremely disappointed” by the decision to delay discussion. “If there was only one item on your agenda wouldn’t that be enough?” she wrote to Council.

MacPherson says she could fill the agenda of the committee for a whole year and thinks this issue is meaty enough to deserve its own meeting.

Defeatists will say “what can Halifax do to help such a global problem?” But that misses the point of several small actions collectively making a larger impact, so let’s try a different argument.

“This is about fiscal responsibility, too,” MacPherson said. “There’s a leak in the gas tank.” Zima’s report estimates that $500,000 of fuel is wasted every year while vehicles in the city’s fleet idle unnecessarily. This puts 1,500 tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, too, which presents a health and environmental hazard.

Zima has been pushing the city to adapt an idle-free plan for its fleet and lead by example because it would have more impact than creating an idle-free bylaw (see “Share the air and save money” in Halifax Magazine, June 2016).

Barraclough said many climate change organizations have switched their efforts to the municipal level because federal and provincial leaders are like those little clay figures in the Berlin puddle created by Cordal. “By focussing on local action, you can really get stuff done and moving in cities,” Barraclough said. “It starts a big chain reaction.”

Many major urban centres have adopted climate-change plans and if more do it, it will push the provincial and federal governments to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change in the next few generations.

As Zima puts it: the “Armdale Roundabout will be under water in two generations and we’re doing very little on climate.” The time is now. Earth Day is April 22. Instead of more talk, let’s act.

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