By Sue Tiffin
A small but engaged group of people represented Haliburton County in the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice.
Members of Concerned Citizens of Haliburton County and Environment Haliburton joined together outside of the county building on Newcastle Street in Minden on Nov. 5 for an hour, holding placards declaring ‘System Change, Not Climate Change,’ ‘Climate Action Now,’ and ‘Code Red, this is a Climate Emergency.’
The group was met at the steps for the hour-long conversation by Korey McKay, the county’s climate change co-ordinator, county warden Liz Danielsen, Dysart et al councillor John Smith and county CAO Mike Rutter for what one organizer – Bonnie Roe – said was “some constructive and positive dialogue.” In advance of the rally, Roe said the goal was to raise awareness about the importance of COP26, Canada’s pledge to reduce greenhouse gases by 2030 and how residents of Haliburton County will be affected.
McKay has been presenting details of the Community Climate Action Plan to local councils [see story Page 3], which “addresses both climate change mitigation – reducing greenhouse gas emissions – and adaptation – reducing the negative impacts of climate change” with next steps including an advisory group and feedback from the community.
“I see us making some strides here,” said Danielsen. “They’re small strides, I know that. I know they’re sometimes frustrating to people who can want and expect more, but right now we’re doing everything that we can.”
Those participating in the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice asked McKay and councillors about their progress so far, questioned why some initiatives hadn’t been taken, and discussed what more could be done at a municipal level to face ongoing climate issues.
Some asked about wetlands and how to build resilience to climate change, which McKay said were included in the community plan. Public transportation, the possibility of making the rail trail more multi-use, and planning for Net Zero Ready housing was brought up. Some brought up the issue of organic waste and questioned why commercial and multi-residential facilities weren’t composting it – Danielsen said encouraging composting is a lower-tier responsibility, and Smith said landfills are regulated by provincially-imposed rules but that there is change happening, though it’s a multi-year process. The issue of a potential expansion of the natural gas pipeline into Haliburton County and the need for an examination of municipal policies to align municipal goals with not expanding fossil fuel infrastructure was raised, and a question about the reluctance to call a climate emergency was asked.
“I can’t disagree with you but I also can’t answer on behalf of the rest of the members of council,” said Danielsen to the latter point.
“It’s a group decision, and it’s not mine to make. Is it a good decision, maybe not, but they did at least heed the message and have moved forward and have made substantial investments. I know you’re disappointed with the targets that we’ve set, but as I wrote in an email, we set targets that we knew we could achieve. And all of us hope that we can exceed those targets, but we didn’t want to set ourselves up for failure. I think you’ll see some changes in those targets as time goes by but I think we’re on the right track.”
The challenge of education, and ensuring that everyone had access to the most current information came up often.
“It’s a pervasive problem,” said Danielsen. “People look at Haliburton County and they see a beautiful place with wonderful lakes and they think, well, we’re not part of the problem. I heard that yesterday when it came to the pandemic. Well, there’s no problem here. We are part of the problem. Maybe we’re just small, but if every small community can make some inroads … We are part of the problem. We know it, it’s just a matter of communicating that.”
“If you read the letters to the editor, there are some people who call us extremists, or radicals, or treehuggers,” said one Environment Haliburton group member. “We are just people who care about nature, and the future of humanity, and our planet.” She said the consultants who worked on the shoreline preservation bylaw said that in Sudbury, people like the people in Environment Haliburton are paid to do the work that the local group does here to educate the public.
“I’m not asking for you to pay me,” she said, laughing. “What I am asking, is if there’s a possibility that the county could kind of get behind what we’re doing at Environment Haliburton, try to educate the public, and make our message a little bit more mainstream. If you got your power behind what we’re trying to do, I think that it would carry more weight.”
One person attending the rally noted that it is a struggle to be trying their best, when their neighbour does not seem to care.
“That’s frustrating,” she said. “So we look to governments to impose something that we can’t do individually.”
“Well, let me tell you about frustration, we try to do a lot of things, and a lot of good things,” said Danielsen. “There’s also a large population that fights it, doesn’t understand it, and that’s where education, and information, and groups like yourself can help us in spreading the word and the knowledge. But there’s a lot of things we try and do that we are not successful because there’s so much pushback. A lot of people just don’t care and that’s really sad.”
Danielsen said the issue of education comes up “over and over again” and that it will be an important one to tackle.
Danielsen and Smith noted several times that although they agreed with many of the ideas and suggestions discussed during the rally, they are each only one person on council, and only counted for one vote.
“One of the things we need to remember is that if you want Korey to start to go in a certain direction, the best way is to make a delegation to county council,” said Danielsen. “Put your arguments forward to us, as a group, where we can make a decision as a group, and direct her in that regard. She probably would like to do all kinds of things, but she needs some direction from us. Come and talk to us.”
Sometimes, the conversation was heated, with frustration causing raised voices.
“I’m not angry at you as a person,” said one member of Environment Haliburton to Danielsen. “I’m thinking first of our lives and my granddaughter’s life.”
“I appreciate that, you have to appreciate that our jobs are not always as easy as you think they are,” responded Danielsen, who noted at one point that councillors had received threats while working on the recent shoreline preservation bylaw. “We have to come to an agreement. There are so many factors involved in trying to make a decision. I don’t disagree that climate change is an emergency.”