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UN plea for climate change action resonates in Nelson

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
August 15th, 2021

If the code red designation has been issued for humanity by the United Nations in regards to climate change, it’s “incandescent” for Nelsonites, says one city councillor.

Rik Logtenberg said an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released on Monday, Aug. 9, that warned climate change was “widespread, rapid, and intensifying, and some trends are now irreversible” should galvanize people in Nelson to greater heights.

“We are severely threatened by climate impacts; we are per capita among the most responsible in the world for the CO2 currently in the atmosphere and we have, arguably, the greatest capacity to lead,” he said.

“The city has set an emissions reduction target that meet the targets set by the IPCC. In fact, we set our targets directly based on their recommendations.”

Weather and climate extremes are occurring at an unprecedented rate, the report stated, with some “irreversible” shifts happening now. UN secretary-general António Guterres characterized the report as a “code red for humanity.”

The UN report (https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/08/1097362) was the last warning shot fired on climate change, noted city councillor Jesse Woodward.

“This latest UN climate change crisis report is literally the last and final meaningful warning that we are going to get before it is too late to make real concrete and effective policy and behavioural changes around the world,” he said.

“If humanity does not make immediate and dramatic cuts to fossil fuel production and use we will be locking in an increase in global temperatures that will essentially begin to erode, disassemble and destroy our global human civilization and economic reality.”

He pointed to recent events such as wildfire, extreme heat, massive flooding, endless droughts, crop failures and infrastructure damage here and around the planet as increasing exponentially with each passing year.

Those multiple crisis points — and damage to human-made infrastructure systems — will eventually become too much for all levels of government, he added.

“This moment in human history is truly a ‘code red’ and we will either step up to the challenge and make the necessary changes or we will give up and let humanity slide into global climate change chaos and disaster,” Woodward said. “That is the hard truth of the situation, as painful and heartbreaking as it is.”

The report stated that aggressive reductions in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases could help slow and improve the situation, stabilizing global temperatures in up to 30 years.

But the city is limited to what it can do with such a global issue as the climate change crisis, Woodward pointed out.

“On the other hand, Nelson has been, over the last decade, a leader and model of what small municipalities can do in terms of real world climate change actions,” he explained. “The city has just completed an extensive and detailed road map to a zero carbon future with the ‘Nelson Next’ climate action plan document.”

Other programs such as EcoSave — for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) production at the household level — as well as the bike loan program to get people out of their cars and onto bikes were recently put into effect.

Woodward pointed to the phase one completion of the active transportation network and a corporate GHG reduction plan to move the City of Nelson operations toward net zero carbon as pieces of the carbon dioxide reduction puzzle.

“At the end of the day Nelson is way ahead of most other municipalities because it runs off of locally produced hydroelectricity which makes our town already very sustainable, but we can always do better and be an example of what small towns can do to help in the struggle against global climate heating,” he said.

Although he admitted the city doesn’t know how to entirely achieve its emission reductions targets, Logtenberg felt it was like a rock climber ascending a new route: you take it one pitch (or even one move) at a time.

“(E)very step up brings a new perspective, new opportunities and ideas that you didn’t have before. I believe that each step will help us figure out how to take the next one,” he said.

The first step in the city’s active transportation plan — creating Third Street and High Street bike route — is forming a continuous bike route through downtown.

“Having said all that, each of us need to do so much more. Every homeowner should be calling EcoSave to sign up for an energy audit, biking and walking more, and ‘FireSmarting their home,” he said.

“These personal actions will hopefully inspire them to also get more political and push their elected leaders to drastically raise the carbon price, eliminate subsidies and reform the forestry sector.” 

Woodward agreed. He felt every municipality should treat the global climate change crisis as it treated the COVID-19 crisis, with urgency and sacrifice. The UN report should underscore that sentiment.

“The global environmental chaos and disasters of 2021 have shown that no one is safe and all human populations and cities are under immediate threat from the climate crisis and its effects,” he said.

The city and its citizens need to do more to cut the carbon, said Logtenberg, but the regional district needs to step up as well. He felt the relationship with the City of Nelson and the Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) needed to be stronger.

“I think it’s really important that the city and the RDCK figure out how to work together,” he said, noting that a weak relationship “threatens the security of the whole region.” 

The net of responsibility needs to be cast further than municipal government, said Woodward.

“I think the City of Nelson is doing what it can with its limited budget it has to work with,” he said. “At the end of the day it will not be only be up to just the city to undertake effective climate actions but it will also be up to the citizens who will need to be part and parcel of any climate adaptation and mitigation solutions.

“Everyone will have to be involved or it just won’t be enough to make a real difference.”

Woodward said the only effective action for climate change action was: don’t burn fossil fuels.

“Whatever we do, whatever we buy, has a carbon footprint so reducing this footprint to a minimum is the key to slowing the climate change crisis down,” he said.

This means buy local, support local, drive as little as possible, don’t fly on planes, reduce your consumption habits, plant a garden, be happy were you are and stop moving around so much, said Woodward.

“Almost every action in our modern world creates more greenhouse gases so we have to stop these process by doing less, buying less, eating less, have less impact on the natural world in general,” he explained.

“Think of it like this … we fundamentally need nature to provide us with all our resources for the continuation of human civilization experiment, nature, on the other hand, does not need us and will rid herself of us if we keep escalating the damaging to the global environment.

“The choice is now up to us. We either immediately learn to work within the bounds of nature or end up just another extinct species in a long line of extinct species that have come before us. This is what we are up against. We are the problem and we are the solution.”

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