Last week Smithers council declared a climate emergency by a 4-3 vote.
Mayor Bachrach and Councillors Atrill, Brown and Thomas were in favour. Councillors Wray, Benson and Buikema were against.
The Interior News takes the dissenting councillors’ side on this one.
We are not saying that climate is not an urgent global, regional and local issue.
We are not even necessarily saying council should not declare an emergency.
What we are saying is, if it is an emergency, shouldn’t the Town be acting like it is?
As Coun. Wray put it: “If your house is on fire and it’s an emergency you don’t stop and mow the back lawn, you don’t stop and examine the foundation for cracks, you put the fire out.”
Last month, council decided to invest $5 million of the $6.2 million Northern Capital Planning Grant the Town received from the Province.
That money was intended to address infrastructure deficits all municipalities are facing. Infrastructure such as aging (and unfinished) storm sewer systems. Systems that could mitigate the impact of a climate emergency.
The “legacy fund” council created instead, and the associated bylaw that requires them to maintain a $5 million balance is what most people would refer to colloquially as a “rainy day fund.”
If we are in the midst of a climate emergency, is that rainy day not already here?
Families, businesses, municipalities and higher levels of government all have emergency plans for unexpected fires, storms etc. Why is the Town not executing the climate emergency plan? Do they even have a climate emergency plan?
Why are they not immediately suspending discretionary spending, finishing the storm sewers, converting Town operations to clean energy, outlawing single-use plastics, getting recycling back up and running, banning recreational fossil fuel-guzzling vehicles, helping residents switch to renewable heating and power options and other measures?
The Interior News is not necessarily advocating for all, or any, of these measures. Even if tomorrow we somehow managed to become a zero-emissions town, it would have very little, if any, effect on slowing climate change.
What a municipality can do, is make sure it is prepared for the effects of climate change. An emergency requires immediate, decisive action.
Otherwise declaring one is merely a symbolic gesture.
The Town’s money is the citizens’ money.
If council believes we are under a climate emergency, it needs to put our money where its mouth is.