From left, Tina Portman, Jesse Hiemstra and Debbie Wellwood participated in a green new deal townhall in Smithers June 6. (Trevor Hewitt photo)

Dialog on green new deal for Canada reaches Smithers

Coalition wants Canadian CO2 emissions cut in half by 2030

Bulkley Valley residents had the opportunity to weigh in on elements that will constitute a “green new deal” for Canada at a townhall meeting in Smithers on June 6.

The event was put on by the Coalition for a Green New Deal (C4GND), which has been holding these meetings across the country.

“What these meetings are about is getting Canadians together to talk about what they would like to see in a green new deal for Canada,” said Tina Portman, environmental advocate and host of the meeting. “A green new deal for Canada is a large-scale national push to address what we need to do to meet our climate target.”

“People from all walks of life can be part of the solution if they want to be,” said Debbie Wellwood, a wildlife ecologist who attended the event. “We all have something to offer and we should also be ready to lend people a hand that need a hand. That’s an important part of the green new deal, that people don’t get left behind.”

“People have debates about whether its top-down problem solving or bottom-up problem-solving,” said Wellwood. ” I think that it has to come from all levels, going back to the individual, and the community, and the family. Everybody at all levels, because it is so urgent, needs to be thinking about this and working on it.”

READ MORE: “Your hot days are getting hotter”: Climatologist talks climate change’s effects on Bulkley Valley

Inspired by Le Pacte in Quebec, the core demand of this grassroots movement are that policies be implemented that would reduce Canadian carbon emissions by half within the next 11 years; that economic stimulus be provided for safe and renewable energy, green jobs and infrastructure; and that the autonomy and sovereignty of First Nations is respected by working alongside Indigenous communities with free, prior, informed consent.

Portman says that the danger of climate change has been ignored for too long.

“From the Rio climate convention, through the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord, Canada has a history of falling short of carbon-reduction goals, she said. “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has presented us with a new goal: To reduce our CO2 emissions to the level of 308 megatonnes by the year 2030 (a 50 per cent reduction of 2017’s CO2 emission level).”

Portman and the others involved see this as a narrow window of opportunity to act before “runaway climate change.”

“It’s like the Titanic, it’s something that has momentum,” Portman said. “If we don’t meet these targets in the next 11 years, the momentum is set. Then, by 40 [years], it’s catastrophic. If you’ve got a little two-year-old or three-year-old at home, if we don’t do something in the next 11 years, when they are 43, the world is going to be a very different and harder place for them to live.

“Think about the things that have to be predicable in order for us to survive happily as a species. We need to know when we can grow things, we need to know there’s going to be [drinkable] water, land that’s not flooded. We need all these things to be predictable to produce our food. We need things to be predictable, as far as forest fires go. And if suddenly you are living in a northern community and your kids, every year, spend the summer in smoke because of more fires due to hotter, drier climate, that affects life.

“We’re moving away from an environmental issue, and we are moving into a health, safety, and security issue. It has become a community safety and family safety issue. The biggest risk is not to us right now, but to our kids when they are in their 30s and 40s.”

READ MORE: Transfer station experiences uptick in usage after Smithers, Telkwa suspend curbside recycling

Proponents of a green new deal want the public to know that the danger presented by climate change is an emergency and should be treated by our leaders as such.

“Because we keep missing these targets, it’s really important for our politicians at all levels to hear that the public want to have this change,” said Wellwood. “Because if the politicians aren’t getting the message that we need to do something, it’s probably not going to happen.

“I’ve been watching climate change for my entire career. I’ve come to the realization that the best place to effect change is within ourselves and within our families and within our communities, and in the province and nationally. Each step you go up it gets harder for us as individuals to make that change. Sometimes I feel very discouraged and I come to this community and see all of the energy that was here tonight. I feel inspired by that energy.

“I think Smithers and the Bulkley Valley are a wonderful place for pulling together and working on complex problems, but I do think that all voices in the community need to be heard. We’ve had people here who have offered lots of ideas, but there are still a lot of people in the community who haven’t had the chance to get involved. So I see this as a first step, bringing up the conversation to the rest of the community.

“We can do better, I think we can do a lot better if people voice their ideas and they can find areas of common interest. And we can deliver that message to the government while they are running. I think that may be one of the more important things is that special interests don’t have more power in the decision making, that it compromised our common interest. That is what the bottom line is for me, that the common interest is taken care of before special interests. Dumping a lot of carbon into our atmosphere is not in our best interests.”

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