A call to action

Wow, what an intense week of listening, learning, discussing and then marching! The week began at the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM) annual convention with four days of meeting with elected officials from across the province on key issues such as the climate, affordable housing, fire and flood mitigation and recovery, and then one very full day of marching with my children and 100,000 others in Metro Vancouver. At the end of it, I’m left with a mix of hope and inspiration, a sense of urgency, and a strong call to action.

Being part of the growing global momentum behind the youth-led #Fridaysforfuture climate marches is exciting and gives me some sense of hope that us humans do indeed care about the climate justice and a living planet for our children and grandchildren. My question now is what next? It was fun and inspiring to be part of something big last Friday – crafting our signs, peacefully marching with thousands of fellow concerned citizens, and chanting about what we want “them” to do to fix this problem.  Whodo we want to fix the problem, though? I would argue that we all need to take a leap out of our comfort zones to be part of the solution: not just by remembering to recycle our Starbucks coffee cups, or even by taking the bus rather than driving.

This was my third climate march with my kids, and likely not my last.  While I love the energy of them, this one in particular, left me with a nagging sense of guilt.  These marches are, at their core, about children letting us adults know that we are failing them. When we first started listening to Greta Thunberg some months ago, my nine-year-old son told me that the line that stuck with him the most was 

You say you love your children beyond all else and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes”. 

I know he wasn’t directing that at me, but unless I am very actively part of the solution, then I am part of the problem. At 44, I am not ready to just throw my hands in the air and apologize to our kids that we failed, and to thank them for stepping up to see if there is still time for them to “fix” the problem. 

First of all, major decisions need to be made NOW, not even when Greta is old enough to vote never mind run for political office. Second, being seen as a generation that destroyed our planet does not sit well with me.  Today, we have less than a month before deciding which political party will run our country for the next four years.  Yes, there are a lot of issues on the table, but if we are not reviewing each party’s policies from a climate emergency lens, then I would argue that we are missing the boat.  Imagine if all the people who stood up and marched last Friday were bold enough to actually VOTE with the same conviction that they chanted about change. Are you willing to speak out with your vote, or just on sunny September days when you can hide in a crowd and ask “them” to make a change?

How do we know what to look for when evaluating the various candidates and platforms in the election? As an endurance athlete, I know that having a goal and a target, such as a particular finishing time in a key race, is important.  What is more important however, is the training and the short-term milestones that are needed to reach that goal. It is in those regular, tough training sessions where a race is won or lost, and a target met (or not).  Similarly, when we look at what our federal politicians are promising us, we need to first ensure that they are setting real climate targets (such as zero net emissions by 2050), but then also look at what concrete and drastic measures they are proposing for NOW. Let’s face it, it is pretty easy for someone who is going to be elected for four years to promise something thirty years from now and not feel much of a sense of accountability (so it is pretty eye opening to see some parties not even willing to set long term GHG emission targets!). Just as with endurance racing, however, merely setting a goal by no means guarantees success, and attention to details on how the goal will be met is key.

If, like Greta Thornburg, you believe that climate change really is an emergency, then climate action needs to be drastic and immediate, and in particular, a severe reduction in carbon emissions needs to start now. How we each choose to vote will determine if we really are serious about being part of the solution, or just out to be part of the hype of the climate action marches. Further, how do we each change our daily actions to do our part in decreasing emissions (flying less? eating less meat? driving gas cars less?).

I feel a double burden this year. Like every other Canadian, I have a vote in this election and I need to hold my feet to the fire, just as I am asking you to. I also made the decision this spring to be part of the political change that is needed.  As one of 23 members of the Mayors’ Council on Regional Transportation in Metro Vancouver, and one of 40 members of Metro Vancouver’s Board of Directors, I have a role and a responsibility in making policies and decisions that will shape the future of our region.  This is not something that I take lightly – in fact, the pressure of getting this right is what keeps me awake at night.   

As I mentioned at the beginning, I had the pleasure of spending the week at the UBCM convention, speaking with, and listening to other local elected officials about what trade-offs to prioritize to best decrease greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, make our region more affordable, and protect our environment. The experience was both encouraging and overwhelming. The decisions we need to make will have an impact on all of us – both financially and on the conveniences we enjoy.  I don’t have nearly all the answers – in fact, the deeper I dive in, the more questions I have, but I am glad to have a seat at the decision making table, and am doing what I can to better understand the options and to work with other regional leaders to make meaningful changes. I feel fortunate to live in a region where there are a number of smart, highly informed, compassionate individuals to work with on such issues.

Peter Mansbridge giving the Keynote speech at the UBCM Convention, highlighting (among other things) the huge climate changes to Canada’s arctic

I am not writing this to preach about what you should or should not do.  I’m writing it from a place of deep responsibility (guilt?) that we as adults have been too passive in our response to climate change that we as a planet now find ourselves in a state of emergency that sometimes feels too daunting to address. If we believe climate scientists that this is indeed an emergency, then our decisions, actions, spending, and perhaps most importantly this month, our voting need to reflect the urgency of the situation.  Please make sure that you are registered to vote, you research what each party is proposing to do during their term to get to zero net GHG emissions, and that you vote accordingly.

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