As we start a new year and reflect on 2020, all will agree it has been an unexpected and challenging one. Many of you have made immense economic and social sacrifices for the health of our community. Fortunately, through concerted efforts we have kept the worst of the pandemic at bay.
With COVID-19 front and centre, you may have missed some of the good news stories about how our community is tackling the other big crisis, climate change. Like the pandemic, it requires action on multiple fronts, from global to local, from individual to collective action. The West Kootenay is known to be an incubator for innovative ideas that spread to other areas. So even though we are a small rural area, we punch above our weight on climate solutions.
A good example is the Climate Caucus, founded by Nelson Councillor Rik Logtenberg, to gather local elected climate leaders from across the country to share resources for climate initiatives and push for climate action at higher levels of government. Climate Caucus now represents over 300 locally elected leaders from as far away as Iqaluit and St. John’s, N.L., with around 10 per cent from the Kootenays.
The City of Nelson just passed its ambitious climate plan, and the villages of Kaslo and Warfield recently passed 100 per cent Renewable Energy plans, with leadership from the West Kootenay EcoSociety. Plans for six other local governments in the West Kootenay, including Castlegar, will be voted on soon, placing the West Kootenay at the leading edge of local climate action in Canada.
The Youth Climate Corps was launched this fall in the West Kootenay. Youth want to have meaningful employment on climate solutions, like their recent work reducing the wildfire risk in our forests. Community mentoring is helping them gain competitive job skills.
Jobs are a critical part of the transition. Kootenay Clean Energy Transition is launching with a focus on skills training, bulk procurement, and community capacity needed to transition to a low carbon society.
The Columbia Basin Trust heard loud and clear that basin residents are concerned about climate change and want funding for local climate action to continue. After hearing that feedback, they modified their new strategic plan to embrace climate resilience in all their decision making.
While we celebrate these local gains, we don’t want to brush over the very real impacts of climate change on people around the world, often by those least responsible for the problem. We have a long way to go, and of course we can’t solve the issue with local actions alone. We clearly need policies at all levels of government that support and amplify our local initiatives. And we need common sense alignment of those policies. For example, we need to stop subsidizing fracking and LNG if we want carbon pricing to be effective.
We need citizens willing to continue to push hard for the better future we want. We hope you will take time to talk to family and friends, and hear what they are excited about, and also what their concerns and fears are for this transition. We share so many common values — fresh air, clean water, healthy forests, our own health, and our children’s future.
In this age of social media echo chambers, what can we do in the new year to create open and inclusive dialogue? What do we need to do to build back better, in ways that are more equitable and just? We can create a healthier and more economically resilient community by addressing the climate crisis. We look forward to you being part of it.
Laura Sacks and Judy O’Leary co-lead the Nelson—West Kootenay chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby