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This past weekend, we were planning to write you about good news from city hall. Last Wednesday, Ottawa joined hundreds of cities across Canada in declaring a climate emergency. We were elated that our municipal leaders voted overwhelmingly to show leadership on the climate crisis, and we wanted to spread the word.
Recent events have overshadowed this jubilant mood. Over the weekend, flooding devastated homes and communities all over the Ottawa area. As we write this, area dams are buckling under the force of water, and the Ottawa River has yet to crest. Lives are being interrupted and thrown into disarray. And after the third year in a row of extreme weather disasters, Ottawans are wrestling with a sense of climate anxiety that no longer feels distant or abstract.
During the debate around council’s climate emergency declaration, some councillors had asked if climate change was a “real” emergency – on par with crises like opiate addiction, homelessness and violence in our streets. The answer – sadly – is all too obvious now. Climate change is undeniably a real emergency, and its impacts will be felt even more deeply in the years to come. It’s not yet clear if spring flooding will be a disastrous new normal for our city. But it’s clear that climate change poses more than a single threat, and can upend the status quo with alarming speed and violence.
This is why tackling climate change is the most urgent issue of our time.Action in cities like Ottawa, which are directly or indirectly responsible for half of Canadian emissions, is critical. Council’s declaration of climate emergency is a positive step, and is more than symbolic. In fact, it moves forward at least five critical elements. Click here to read more abouthow this declaration moves the needle on important issues like climate equity, resiliency, and aligning Ottawa’s emissions goals with scientific requirements.
As Councillor Shawn Menard noted last week, Ottawa is still at the beginning stages of responding to the climate crisis. Now, we must demand that council be bold in its plan for change. Put simply, we have 11 years to do three big things. We must dramatically change how we heat, cool and electrify our buildings. We must dramatically reduce emissions from how we move around our city. Finally, we must plan the future development of our city in a way that makes the first and second goals easier to accomplish.
There are so many opportunities to tackle these big challenges in the months and years ahead – from putting a stop to wasteful urban sprawl, to making our streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists, to creating a green jobs boom by retrofitting our buildings. There’s still time to tackle the climate crisis while building a better city, but we must act now.
In the meantime, we urge you to help our friends and neighbours who are most in need at this critical time. Click here to find out about how you can volunteer to help.