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What does ‘climate emergency’ mean? And, were the Vikings smoking weed?

Jul 26, 2019 | Commentary, News

By George Le Masurier

When our local governments declare a “climate emergency” what does that really mean? Is it simply a statement to recognize that climate change is real? Is it merely a trendy thing to do, something to show how aware the elected officials want to appear?

Or, does the act of declaring a climate emergency carry with it a moral obligation to consider the best environmental outcome of every council decision and all staff activity? If a local government isn’t doing absolutely everything it can to stop fouling our planet, then are they  just giving lip service to populism?

If a local government doesn’t walk the talk, they perpetuate the idea that we can all carry on doing what we’ve always done, business as usual, and everything will be all right. Because, hey, we declared a “climate emergency.”

Case in point. The Town of Comox has declared a climate emergency. But are those just words to appeal to the masses, or is the town now applying the best environmental practices to everything it does?

The town is currently tearing up Noel Avenue between Pritchard and Torrence roads. They are doing road reconstruction, concrete curbs and sidewalks, a Brooklyn Creek culvert replacement, asphalt paving and line painting.

But did the town, which recognizes there is a climate emergency, even consider the environmental best practices of adding rain gardens and other forms of stormwater infiltration that would help prevent the pollution of Brooklyn Creek and ultimately Comox harbour?

No. The response from the town to Decafnation was, “There was (sic) no storm main infrastructure upgrades required.”

Doesn’t a climate emergency “require” the town to do whatever it can to make our environment cleaner? When a road is being reconstructed, that’s a perfect opportunity to apply an environmental best practice, in this case creating ways to let rainwater soak into the ground and let nature do the cleansing.

With new concrete curbs and gutters, it will be decades before the town feels financially justified to tear it up again to add infiltration galleries. Now is the time to do it, both from a financial and environmental perspective.

Where are our elected representatives like Alex Bissinger, who brought the climate emergency motion to Comox Council? And why aren’t they holding the public works staff accountable for failing to seize this opportunity?

Of course, adding rain gardens to better handle stormwater won’t solve the “climate emergency” by itself. But it’s walking the talk. Not doing these small things does the opposite.

— Comox could learn a thing or two from the City of Courtenay’s upper Fifth Street project that included rain gardens and narrowing of the impervious asphalt surface. Courtenay is currently developing a new integrated stormwater management plan that we hope will require all new road reconstruction in Courtenay to follow the Fifth Street plan.

— Speaking of not walking the talk, the City of Prince George is set to approve and accept a Calgary company’s proposal to build a $5.56 billion petrochemical plant there. It will produce polyethene plastic to Asia. The city’s mayor says the project promises great economic potential for the city and the province.

No climate emergency there, apparently.

— On the other hand, Norway has refused to allow drilling for billions of barrels of oil near the Lofoten islands in the Arctic. Again, showing how shallow our awareness of a “climate emergency” really is, this has left other Norwegian politicians and the oil industry “surprised and disappointed.”

— No surprise or disappointment in Alberta, however, where federal and provincial regulators — and we use that word loosely — have green-lighted the largest ever tar sands open-pit mine.

— And finally this week, it has been discovered that the ancient Viking explorers may have been smoking pot when they discovered Newfoundland. That explains a lot.



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