LETTER: Proposed Official Plan is for a world that no longer exists

Councillors and Mayor,

I would like to talk to you about the County’s proposed Official Plan, the policy framework for how we are going to manage our resources and economy for the next twenty-five years. 

We are consuming resources five times faster than the Earth can replenish them; we are in an extinction crisis that is causing the web of life to unravel at the rate of a hundred and fifty species per day; we are in a climate crisis that is already having disastrous impacts on humanity, and that will get worse. We can’t wait 25 years address these crises. What we do over the next decade is a matter of life and death.

This has implications for planning.

I am going to focus on how the Official Plan deals with the climate crisis.

The way in which we “stand on the edge” here is we are within a hair’s breadth of causing irreversible, catastrophic global warming. 

There is hope, but we must drastically reduce human-caused emissions. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change summarizes the science thus: to save a livable climate, global anthropogenic CO2 emissions must be reduced by 50 percent by 2030—nine years from now—and to net zero by 2050.

You may have heard this means Canadians need to cut our emissions in half over the next nine years. That’s an interpretation that would give Canadians a five times larger share of the world’s remaining burnable fossil fuels than the global average, and would slash the meager share of fossil fuels going to less-developed countries to next to nothing. The injustice of this needs no further comment. Dividing the remaining carbon budget up equally among the global population, which still falls short of justice, would allow us a per capita carbon footprint of about two tonnes by 2030, which necessitates about a 90 percent emissions reduction for Canadians.

If we want a livable future, our Official Plan must be about how we are going to make these deep cuts.

I’d like to look at how the Official Plan deals with the County’s main sources of emissions.

I’ll start with the largest, which is the cement plant. For the year of 2018, the cement plant reported 533,128 tonnes of CO2 emissions. The plant contributes more to the County carbon footprint than all our other high-emissions activities put together. Cement plant emissions raise the per person carbon footprint for the County to around 40 tonnes, twenty times greater than what it must be 9 years from now.

Like emissions from every other sector of the economy, emissions from cement production need to be cut by about 90 percent by 2030. The cement industry has made reductions over the last few decades, and is aspiring to make more, but meeting the necessary target on time by changing technology would be virtually impossible. And even if it weren’t, their approach to “sustainability” is not coherent with reality: it is taken with a vision to maintaining if not increasing the astronomical global demand for cement. 

Carbon emissions are not the only threat related to cement. The cement industry is hugely extractive and has a devastating ecological footprint. But more to the point, paving over and building up the surface of the Earth at the rate enabled by mass production of cement is not compatible with life. Rolling back production is unavoidable if we want a future.

This has huge repercussions for the County economy, and beyond. But the repercussions of failing to make the cuts will be far greater.

It’s going to take an almost unthinkable adjustment in the way we live, and in our vision of the future. Like Alberta, the County needs to plan for a just transition away from a sector that must soon be reduced to a fraction of its size.

What does the County Official Plan say about all this?

Not one word.

Although they pale in comparison, transportation emissions are probably the second largest contributor to our carbon footprint. 

There is a widespread notion that all that needs to be done here is to switch to electric vehicles. 

This idea ignores emissions produced by mining, manufacturing, shipping, electricity generation, etc.—all the sectors that must be running to produce, deliver, and operate EV’s. It assumes that we do not need to reduce our resource consumption. And it’s based on the fantasy that we can endlessly uproot nature and destroy biodiversity to obtain the materials it takes to make cars. In short, it is a delusion.

The reality is, once you factor in all the reductions we must make to avoid destroying the climate and the ecosystem, it becomes clear that we must reduce our overall fleet of vehicles by about 90 percent by 2030. 

Basically, this means we cannot have personal cars, and that the transportation emissions we make must be spent on essential uses only, such as distribution of food and emergency transportation. Even if we follow this, staying within our carbon budget here is going to require unprecedented social reorganization. 

Although it pays lip service to the ideas of people walking and biking more, the County Official Plan just doesn’t grasp the reality of the emissions cuts we need to make. One consequence of bringing our transportation emissions within the realm of sustainability is the end of tourism—and well before 2030, if we begin our cuts with luxury emissions. In contrast to this, the proposed Official Plan envisions the County economy being supported by tourism for the next twenty-five years.

Another large part of the County carbon footprint is building emissions, at about 17 per cent, mostly from burning fossil fuels for heating. The County heats a lot of space. 

How are we going to reduce heating emissions by 90 per cent over the next decade?

For new buildings, the Official Plan says, “The County will recommend high standards for green building design…” In other words, it will be optional. This won’t work. Given the higher cost of these technologies, they are unlikely to be adopted unless compulsory policies are in place.

The Plan makes a vague reference to retrofits for older buildings. Here, small-scale energy-efficiency investments are affordable. But the deep retrofits needed to achieve even a 40 percent emission reduction are too expensive for most property owners, and would require significant funding. This leaves us a long way from the 90 percent reduction we need to make.

Simply put, we need to heat less space. 

Over the past decade of environmental crises, the County response has been to allow over-sized McMansions and resorts to pop up all over the countryside, despoiling nature, and to allow vast tracts of unsustainable housing and mega-stores to pave over our best agricultural land. Besides exacerbating the ecological and resource crises, this has hugely increased our building carbon footprint. It is going to require an unprecedented effort in public planning to even heat only essential County buildings while staying within the carbon budget.

Not only does the proposed Official Plan completely ignore this responsibility, it lays the foundation to expand our climate destruction with more resorts and subdivisions.

Reality tells us we cannot afford to expand the land area covered by buildings, period. 

As for other, lesser aspects of the County’s emissions, the Official Plan doesn’t address them, either. 

In its “Vision of the Future” the Official Plan imagines that by staying on the business-as-usual path for the next quarter century, “Prince Edward County…will continue to be an attractive rural community …safe, healthy, livable…” This is a fantasy, in contradiction to everything that is known, with scientific certainty, about failing to reduce our emissions.

But if the climate reality is not reason enough to reject the proposed Official Plan, you might want to consider this: Our federal government has committed to reducing carbon emissions by an inadequate 30 per cent by 2030. Because of its decision to expand the oil and gas sector, this means emissions from every other sector of the Canadian economy must be cut by over 40 per cent. This time around, growing public pressure and intensifying climate consequences are likely to force the government to follow through. 

We will likely be facing legislated deep emissions cuts in every area the County Official Plan proposes to grow them. Whether it is the 40 per cent cuts that align with a catastrophic 3.2 degree C. temperature rise, or the 90 per cent cuts that might help save a livable planet, going forward with the proposed Official Plan is not likely even going to be legal.

The draft Official Plan must be rejected. It is planning for a world that no longer exists, and is not coming back. We need a plan for facing reality with courage and solidarity. We share a common planet and we face a common future.

Rosalind Adams

Prince Edward County