Is declaring a “climate change emergency” an overstatement? Rhetorical? Virtue signalling? Even a little hysterical? Of course it is.
But there is some urgency to the situation, just not the urgency everyone assumes, and that is why I voted for this declaration. Hear me out.
Climate change is complicated and it requires thoughtful discussion. In today’s social media dominated, instant-solution, virtue-signaling world, there is not a lot of room for complicated debates. If you believe climate change requires action, you are tagged as unrealistic, and if you don’t believe there is an imminent world-ending crisis then you’re a climate change denier.
The answer is somewhere in between. We know that hydrocarbon combustion results in emissions that collect in our upper atmosphere and create a greenhouse effect. That's established science. We know as well that this contributes to increased global temperatures, and we know that increasing temperatures are causing our climate to change.
There is much we don’t know, but we DO know that what Edmonton contributes to global emissions is so small that it almost cannot be measured. Indeed, without significant action in places like China and the developing world, not much if anything will change globally.
Rather than bother with endless climate debates, I would rather focus on economics and how climate change policies affect the lives of Edmontonians. Energy costs money. Reduced energy consumption means less money spent by you in your home and by the City spending your tax dollars. I want to spend as few tax dollars as we can. If there is a move for Edmonton as a corporation to consume less non-renewable energy AND spend less money, I am for it.
Energy Innovation & Development
Here’s an example. Swimming pools require heat, and ice arenas give off heat. Both systems require energy. It makes sense to transfer the heat from the ice arena to the swimming pool, save energy, and in the process save money. This is the most basic form of district heating strategies. Using this approach to transfer waste heat from some buildings (office towers, schools) to buildings that need heat (apartment buildings, townhouses) would save energy. Saving energy saves money. This will have a climate change benefit, but more importantly it’s a cost saving solution.
At Blatchford, Edmonton is sitting on a massive piece of land and we have chosen to use a district heating approach. Development of that land would make the City money. I want to see the City’s investment in Blatchford recovered. This development is offered by Administration as one part of Edmonton’s energy transition strategy. If declaring a climate emergency results in some urgency in developing this land, and saves us some money, I am all for it. Because so far, I have not seen a sense of urgency on Blatchford.
Transportation and Emissions
Our West LRT is offered up as another climate change action, that will reduce the number of cars on our roads. I'm not convinced.
Does it make sense to put billions of dollars into the West LRT, a slow-speed tram that will actually create more congestion - and therefore more vehicle emissions - than it eliminates? Or should we build a more robust mass-transit system that serves the whole city, by investing in electric buses and roadway improvements to serve those buses?
City Council has endorsed an energy transition strategy focused on reducing emissions as fast as possible, and in my view that means it’s time to re-open past decisions, like the West LRT and look at it through the lens of short-term total emissions, not hopeful long term estimates.
And while we are at it, let’s put in measuring devices that tells us what our emissions are now, and compare that to emissions after the West LRT is completed. Let's do that for all the City's transportation and mobility projects. Let’s not guess or model but actually measure our effect on the environment. And if the measurements kill a few sacred cows, well, it's an emergency, isn't it?
One thing that is certain is that cars, trucks, buses and planes are not going anywhere anytime soon. Rather than pretending they can be replaced overnight, let’s work to make them more efficient and lessen their environmental impact. Let’s ensure our road systems, including signal lights, crosswalks, bike lanes and speed zones work together to minimize congestion, minimize idling and thus minimize emissions.
Because cars are not going away, and if we are facing an emergency, then minimizing congestion in the short term and the long term must be considered in every road discussion we have.
A New Lens
Here are some hard truths. We cannot change our society overnight. Vehicles are not going away. Winter is not going away. Hydrocarbons will continue to be consumed, and any transition away from hydrocarbons will take time, lots of it.
We have limited tax dollars, and they are about to get more limited. Edmontonians have made it crystal clear that they cannot absorb any more tax increases.
The crisis has been declared. I supported this motion because I wanted it on record that in the collective view of this Council, consideration of short term emissions reductions trumps all other issues. I urge City Administration and my Council colleagues to consider this new lens of data based decision making. This should apply to all decisions including projects that haven’t begun. Anything less would be irresponsible - after all it's an emergency.
Let's take that urgency and make these decisions with open eyes and attention to the facts, not hopes and wishes. Doing so, will mean that lots of things Edmontonians want will happen, and some of the things Council has been cheer-leading won't happen.
Let’s use this to get Edmonton back to pragmatic governance choices that keep us moving, keep us productive, and serve everyone equally. And while we are at it, let’s find ways to stimulate the economy, burn less hydrocarbons and save some money.