What it will mean to current municipal operations, future policy changes and large and small scale decisions at Shire Hall will remain to be seen but the County of Prince Edward has joined in with hundreds of other municipalities across Canada and declared a climate emergency.
After a lengthy debate, three recorded votes involving an amendment, an attempted deferral and finally the motion, Prince Edward County Council approved a motion that reinstated language originally included in a motion tabled by Picton Councillor Kate McNaughton at the May 16 Committee of the whole (COTW) meeting.
At that meeting, the term climate emergency was altered to climate urgency, a committee amendment that didn’t sit will with the councillor or a number of deputants speaking in support of more veracious verbiage Tuesday evening.
The motion that passed at Tuesday’s council meeting said whereas Prince Edward County is experiencing the early effects of climate change including increasing weather volatility: wind storms; increasingly frequent polar vortices and ice storms; hotter, longer droughts; unpredictable thaws and extraordinary flooding events that to support other communities that have elected to ‘name and frame’ this global crisis by officially declaring a climate emergency and that council request the Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC) be re-established as a Council priority.
In supporting a return to the spirit of the motion as she intended and that matched up more synchronous with other municipal governments, McNaughton said she understood the terms climate change and climate emergency have been pointed to as potential triggers for those who don’t embrace the concept that the global mean temperatures are rising due to man-made emissions and, with that, escalation will come catastrophic results.
“There’s an enormous amount of support for action relating for the specific terms- they do have relevance here and have a larger relevance beyond Prince Edward County,” McNaughton said. “I know there was talk about tailoring this motion to fit Prince Edward County but Prince Edward County is part of the planet and what happens throughout the globe is affecting us currently which is why some of the wording is very specific.”
“We have a responsibility to use the strongest wording possible and this amendment does fit,” she added.
McNaughton referred to a communique council received how such a motion would tie in with other municipalities and how to make decisions with climate and carbon usage in mind.
The Picton councillor said a climate emergency motion passed by the County of Prince Edward might inspire similar motions to come forward on a larger scale and be part of something bigger than not only the County’s own carbon foot print but also encourage others.
“Emergency is not too strong and maybe it’s too weak but right now is the right time to start a ball rolling that hasn’t been rolling and language is part of it,” she added.
South Marysburgh councillor John Hirsch seconded the ammendments and simply noted that in support of the emergency, scientists from around the globe say the planet is in a climate emergency and “How can Prince Edward County not be in an emergency if the whole planet is?” The amended motion, he reasoned, was a chance to show solidarity with other municipalities , provinces and nations that had accepted that climate change is a top priority and “That we can all get our act together and do something about this.”
Wellington councillor Mike Harper supported the motion and called the declaration a good first step to addressing the tough issue but it was followed closely with the reinstallation of an EAC that would be able to advise council on a wide breadth of environmental issues.
Janice Maynard of Ameliasburgh called the motion a good intial step and while it’s not addressing a civil emergency, “it was clear to her something terrible was looming on the horizon” and it was vital for council to do what they can when they can.
But fellow Ameliasburgh councillor Andreas Bolik, who opposed the motion as it was tabled at the committee level, also opposed the amendment Tuesday night.
Bolik said he didn’t think anyone at the horseshoe was debating that the climate is changing but explained he didn’t want to vote on a motion that was simply “nobel rhetoric” and preferred that, if the matter was an emergency, it was treated as just that- An emergency.
“In an climate emergency, climate becomes the first priority and everything becomes secondary,” Bolik said.
However McNaughton said this motion would not bind council’s hands in the future, only that the motion acknowledges a serious problem much the same way other municipalities across Canada have.
“We are not talking about state of emergency, a civil emergency or any sort of emergency that’s going to bind our hands, force us to buy only hybrids or install electric charge stations on every street corner,” McNaughton said. “It’s going to recognize there’s a very serious problem that requires consideration. Decisions will be based on our own appraisal of what the EAC brings. It doesn’t bind our hands but I hope we take the consideration seriously when they come forward.”
Rosalind Adams, who also spoke at the COTW meeting in support of the original motion tabled by McNaughton, urged council to declare a climate emergency and not pass a downgraded motion using the word urgency.
“It’s had to fathom why when hundreds of millions of people’s lives are in danger, when our own children and grandchildren’s chance of decent survival is threatened, this council would not want to do everything in its power to change things. I can only imagine two possible explanations-one is the belief continuing status quo is worth ending the world for everyone the other is confusion about climate change and our responsibility to reduce our emissions. I hope it’s the latter,” she said.
Adams offered to clear up some confusion that was spread at the Committee meeting by correcting a number of statements around matters such as humans and animals and animals releasing carbon and that Canada didn’t rank amongst the top producers of global emissions. Adams explained humans release carbon dioxide through turning food into energy and the process of releasing sequestered carbon through the burning of fossil fuels isn’t an apt comparison.
“To reduce emissions, we don’t need to stop breathing, we just need to stop burning fossil fuels,” Adams said. “Council seems to be under the impression by not declaring a climate emergency, they can choose not to have a climate emergency. This is not the choice. The choice you are facing is to declare a climate emergency and do all you possibly can to avoid the catastrophe or to do little to nothing about it and contribute to destroying the future for everyone. In conclusion I would like to remind council you are all a part of everyone. Do not declare a climate urgency, declare a climate emergency today.”
In attempting to defer the amended motion, Bolik said it was ‘preemptive’ to vote on declaring a climate emergency at this stage of the term given council has yet to hold a strategic planning session let alone set its list of priorities for the next three and half years.
“We have no staff report on what can be done and what the costs would be and I move to have this motion deferred until after the strategic planning session to allow for planning,” Bolik said.
Bolik’s motion to defer was seconded by Councilor Brad Neiman but the motion was lost.
In the recorded vote to declare a climate emergency and reestablish the EAC, Councillors McNaughton, Harper, Hirsch, Maynard, Stewart Bailey, Ernie Margetson, Phil St. Jean, Bill McMahon, Jamie Forrester and Mayor Steve Ferguson voted in favour of the motion.
Councillors Boilk, Nieman and Phil Prinzen were opposed.