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LETTER: Former mayor: cities can't afford to be bystanders on climate

Actions of a municipal government to amplify individual actions also count, reader says
Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash

GuelphToday received the following letter to the editor from reader Karen Farbridge about an upcoming Community Climate Forum.

Thank you, Guelph Climate Action Network, for organizing the Community Climate Forum on May 4.

Thirty years ago, I joined a delegation to urge city council to act on climate change. After the meeting, a senior city administrator wrote to the mayor noting there was little a municipal government could do to reduce a community’s greenhouse gas emissions.

That early resistance was overcome. Twenty years ago, the city embarked on a journey to reduce the community’s emissions and quickly became a leader in the country. However, 10 years later, our community’s progress came under attack politically.

In particular, our investment in low-carbon energy infrastructure – district energy – became a target of political and bureaucratic misinformation and disinformation that sadly endures to this day. We have yet to recover, and Guelph has been eclipsed by other communities having broader and deeper impact on climate change.

I believe Canada’s towns and cities must actively engage in the energy transition to a low-carbon economy. If not, our country will continue to struggle to make the changes that will be necessary, at the scale and pace required, to meet our national emissions target. Full engagement of communities is our best chance for a just and democratic energy transition.

Globally, the energy transition is accelerating. The question is whether it can happen quickly enough to make a difference on climate change.

Our towns and cities simply cannot afford to be passive bystanders, or worse, barriers to the change that is coming because this energy transition is local.

The infrastructure to produce and distribute energy in our incumbent energy system – comprised of electricity, natural gas and transportation fuels – is very different from the infrastructure that will be needed in the future – from harnessing and distributing local renewable energy sources to how we design and build our communities to reduce energy demand. 

From energy production to end-use, our current linear, centralized energy system generates considerable energy waste and pollution. Local solutions offer a different future.

We are all entangled in an energy system that backstops our economy, our quality of life and modern way of living but is simultaneously harming our planet and children’s future.

We know we have to change individual behaviours, but those behaviours arise from the systems in which our society operates.

Untangling this complexity will take considerable courage and creativity which I believe is more readily found in communities.

Every action counts. This is true. And it is also true that the actions of a municipal government – to enable and amplify individual actions – also count.

Thanks again for restarting the conversation.

Karen Farbridge