Last week, members of Haliburton County council declined to pass a resolution declaring climate change an emergency, but did have a long discussion about it, and passed a lengthy resolution making it clear the local government believes in the disastrous effects of climate change, and noting the things it is doing about it, such as the creation of a climate change mitigation and adaptation plan.
It would have made more sense, and probably been a lot quicker, to simply make the declaration.
To be clear, there is typically no work inherently attached to such declarations, no legal or financial commitments of any kind. They are meant largely to be symbolic, recognition by political leaders that climate change and its effects are a real, pressing and dire problem. Ideally, seeing such a resolution come from a municipal council will spur supportive action among community members. Such a resolution was passed in the House of Commons this spring, and a number of municipal governments have also made such declarations. Such declarations certainly imply that work is or will be done, but most have no specific action tied to the actual resolution.
Cynically, they are an easy political win, a proclamation sure to appease a lot of people, but with no specific mandate attached.
A joint environmental committee consisting of members of the environmental committees from the county’s four lower-tier townships recently passed a resolution in support of a county declaration, County Warden Liz Danielsen noting last week that the municipalities had essentially asked the county to take the lead on it. While county councillors stressed that no one in the room was denying climate change, they also seemed to agree that the county didn’t have enough of a plan in place to pass a declaration at that juncture. The county is undertaking the creation of a climate change mitigation and adaptation plan, and recently hired a staff person to oversee that process, which will take a couple of years.
However, again, no one was asking the county to already have an emergency plan in place, but rather to acknowledge that climate change and its effects should be considered an emergency, something anyone who believes in climate change science is likely prone to believe. Instead of the declaration, county council passed a resolution noting its commitment to climate change work, one so long that it can’t be reprinted here because it would take up the entire space allotted for this column. There was also some indication that a resolution may be passed in the future.
“I want you to act as you would in a crisis,” Swedish climate change activist Greta Thunberg said in a speech earlier this year. “I want you to act as if your house is on fire. Because it is.”
The declaration would have been one of acknowledgment, nothing more. Something is either an emergency, or it’s not. The house is on fire, or it’s not.