Climate isn’t just changing, it’s in an emergency

Ajax Ward 2 Regional Councillor, Sterling Lee at the Audley Recreational Centre. Photo credit: Dennis Price

It wasn’t a hot day on Sept. 16 of this year, it was mostly cloudy at a high of 19 degrees but things were about to get hot, specifically inside Ajax’s city hall where a council meeting would determine the town’s stance on climate change.

In that meeting, a motion to declare Ajax was in a ‘climate emergency’ was made by Ajax ward 2 regional councillor, Sterling Lee. The vote on the motion was a unanimous decision from Ajax’s mayor, Shaun Collier, and Ajax’s three ward regional councillors.

Sterling Lee says Ajax’s statement on the climate crisis was made mostly because of 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg’s powerful speech at the climate summit in September.

“I think the whole world is in a climate emergency,” says Lee. “I saw an opportunity to continue our environmental stewardship while at the same time capitalizing on the news of Greta coming to North America.”

Ajax has been pretty progressive in terms of the town’s climate policies says Lee. In 2005, they set climate targets for 2020 and met those targets in 2012, but Lee adds they never followed up on those targets afterwards.

When the ward 2 regional councillor was elected in 2018, one of the first things he asked was if the town followed up on the previous targets. The answer was no, Lee wanted to make sure Ajax was following up. The council is doing that right now.

“So right after we declared a climate emergency, we also declared a ban on single-use plastics at the town (meeting),” Lee says.

The banned plastic materials include cream and sugar containers, straws, styrofoam, glow in the dark bracelets, and much more.

Climate change has been making news lately with multiple municipalities in Canada and jurisdictions in countries around the world.

According to the Climate Emergency Declaration campaign, more than 1,100 jurisdictions in 23 countries have declared a climate emergency. In Canada, the first climate emergency declaration dates back to January of this year with Vancouver. Lee adds that news was another motivation to declare a climate emergency.

The climate emergency declarations are a sign that governments around the world are realizing climate change needs to be more of an issue than it currently is, while taking realistic steps to combat the climate crisis for the planet we call home.

“The weather is getting warmer, wetter, and wilder,” says Lucy Benham, water resources engineer at the Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA).

Benham says the Durham Community Energy Plan is committed to reduce 80 per cent of greenhouses by 2050.

To contribute, CLOCA is analyzing the impact climate change is having on the Durham Region including the direct impact of excess water in areas in the region through digitally mapping flood plains for the public.

A direct impact made by every day people can be as simple as taking the bus or driving an electric car.

Volunteer climate leader, Ginny Colling, says that keeping your car and using it to the end of its life cycle can be better for the environment than buying a new car.

“It can be because all those resources are going into manufacturing,” says Colling. “So the changeover should be when you’re buying a new vehicle, buy an EV (electric vehicle) and I would say go straight to an all-electric rather than a hybrid.”

Lee is also a big advocate of electric cars, he’s owned one for the last three years. At that time, Lee says he realized he had to change his lifestyle while driving.

“It’s 200 km a charge, so if I’m going to Toronto I have to map things out to make sure I can get there and back,” says Lee.

Not everyone has the funds to purchase an electric vehicle, but millions of bus riders each year take the Durham Region Transit (DRT).

Taking the bus is good for the environment, it plays an important part in confronting our environmental sustainability and challenges, according to the Federal Transit Administration. Regular bus trips help improve air quality by reducing individual trips but transit, even bus transit, still plays a part in the airborne smog human beings breathe every day.

At the end of the day, public transit buses still run on gas, so electric counterparts are an incredible investment, especially in a climate emergency.

The DRT is one transit organization not getting that electric bus push. The reason has to deal with funding, says Lee.

“Electric buses cost a lot of money, let alone retrofitting your entire fleet,” says Lee. “Large scale as a region, we need to ensure that we have a climate resilience plan and that we are following the plan.”

The unintentional part of that plan has younger people paying more attention to the ongoing climate issues, for some of them they are more involved in pushing their local and federal governments to put more effort into their climate crisis approach or the lack of one.

Climate change solutions like electric bus initiatives in major cities like Vancouver, Edmonton, Toronto, and Newmarket are a great way to take a step to a healthier planet.

The more cities that take the opportunity to bring electric buses into their communities, the better they are for it in the long run.

Electric buses are by no means a penny investment, it takes a lot of money to make a positive change in our environment. If no risk is considered to adopt these positive changes, then society risks our planet’s survival a little bit each year if nothing get’s done.

Electric buses are part of the way to address climate change but declaring a climate emergency is the first step to solving the current climate crisis.

Ajax is one of many municipalities in Canada to have declared a climate emergency. The list continues to grow. St. John’s City Council joined Ajax on Nov. 4 and Windsor City Council declared a climate crisis on Nov. 18.

In Canada, a total of 474 government organizations have declared a climate emergency.