Between a certain orange-tinged American politician and another one back in Ontario, it’s my tendency to associate politics, of all levels, with hostility and partisanship.
On the surface the story this week about council’s 4-3 vote to declare a climate emergency might look like it has all of those characteristics.
A close vote.
A controversial topic.
The truth, however, is that there was actually a lot of agreement among council with regard to the issue of climate change.
All three councillors who voted against the motion acknowledged, in their own way, that changes to the Earth’s climate are a serious issue.
Coun. Frank Wray noted that, if this really is an emergency, we need to act like it, stop all non-essential spending and look at the possibility of using the town’s $5 million legacy fund to fund storm sewer infrastructure updates expected to cost the Town millions in coming decades (anyone who knows Wray knows that if he is suggesting spending $5 million on something, he isn’t doing so lightly).
Similarly, both Councillors Lorne Benson and John Buikema expressed serious concerns about climate change and a desire to work with the Town to pursue green initiatives in the future when applicable.
On opposition to the motion, I think Coun. Wray said it best when he talked about the dangers of virtue signalling.
Put it this way: a town could declare a climate emergency and then do absolutely nothing about it.
Likewise, a town doing more than 95 per cent of other municipalities might not have declared an emergency, but it doesn’t lessen any impact of the green initiatives they have undertaken.
With that said, I don’t really have an opinion on Smithers’ declaration.
What I will say is that now I (and I expect others) will hold the Town more to account — especially the three councillors and mayor who voted for this motion — when it comes to environmental issues.
Because words are cheap — the challenge is following up on them.
Consider the following: on all accounts, Smithers is a relatively green community.
Already, in a time where one of the biggest barriers to electric vehicles in rural Canada is access to charging stations, council has committed to an additional Level 2 station on top of the pre-existing one on Second Avenue.
A quick Google search shows there are an additional two chargers within town limits, one at the Frontier Chrysler car dealership and one at the Smithers Guesthouse on Main Street — even better.
Mayor Bachrach also confirmed to me that a recently-installed charger behind Roadhouse restaurant in Smithers was installed by the Province for government staff use.
That’s four charging stations (and at least two which are fully available to the general public) with a third on the way in the next year.
Not bad for a quiet little northern mountain town of under 10,000.
The fact is, any way you slice the proverbial environmental pie, Smithers is an environmentally-conscious town with a council that is forward-thinking when it comes to the issue.
So instead of getting hung up on whether or not it was the right decision to make the declaration, let’s not lose sight of the real goal: advocating for green initiatives within our boundaries whenever we can.
Because if climate change is a crisis, the emergency is complacency and an over-reliance on government to fix the issue.
The entire world could declare an impending climate doomsday tomorrow, but it’s meaningless if we don’t actually self-actualize and make personal changes.
Likewise, if the seven billion and change who live on Earth all collectively decided overnight to make a genuine effort (see: billions doing it imperfectly as opposed to thousands doing it perfectly) at zero-waste living, we would likely be able to tackle the issue relatively easily — and all without a single quasi-fascist U.N. world government.
I know it can feel good to trust in your elected officials and put faith in your government to fix problems, but the future of this planet doesn’t rest on the recycling habits and environmental views of the six councillors and mayor who voted on this motion.
It rests on you and I, and that’s a fact — regardless of who declares (or denies) it.