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climate change hands
I was at city council in Owen Sound the night they reneged on their commitment they made to young people to hire a climate change adaptation and mitigation coordinator to help chart a course for the city. Four councilors against, four counsellors in favor, the mayor made the deciding vote to put the position on hold. One had to notice there was no commitment to a timeline to revisit or a request to staff for a report on options. We are in limbo on the fastest growing crisis the world has ever faced.

What I found fascinating were the arguments as each councilor spoke. Those wishing to backtrack cited fiscal restraint, the lack of unanimity among the constituents they had been talking to, that council had been sort of “carried away” in the moment and that we are already doing our bit with an energy efficient rebuild of city hall. There was also an attempt at us and them, suggesting “outsiders” had infiltrated, that a majority of “real” Owen Sounders opposed – but presumably not enough to try and find a chair in the packed council chambers. This is a curious take while the Mayor advocated for a regional approach. Climate change knows no borders and it should be no surprise that residents of the small municipalities that surround Owen Sound watch this council for leadership.

Those who opposed the motion to backtrack spoke with passion about what going on in the world, how other significant players in business and globally have made commitments, how we lack enough information to chart a clear course to make good decisions in the city’s environmental business, waste management, transportation, water infiltration at Kelso Beach.

It was Counsellor Greig who hit the nail on the head when he said (and I am paraphrasing) why do we in Owen Sound always step back from the leading edge of decision-making, waiting for the problem to become so obvious, that there can be unanimity, desperation almost, for solution. Stepping back is certainly one strategy to obtain consensus among constituents. Let the problems worsen and then, no one can argue there needs to be a fix. It is not however good fiscal restraint; run away problems are always more expensive.

Why do we step back – and what would it take for one more member of Council to see that on this issue we must step forward? Strong leadership is about stepping just ahead of the curve to mitigate harm for Owen Sound and help people to adapt to what is coming.

Finding those small change points early in a big change can save money save strife and sometimes open the way for new business opportunity. At a recent public discussion with Miller Waste on recycling there were a dozen ideas that would improve efficiency and increase the amount of waste recycled in the city. They were all simple ideas, as simple as updating the information on the city’s website - low or no cost solutions. Sometimes, tackling water infiltration in public parks is not about expensive hardscaping, walls to hold the water back. Sometimes it is about planting, restoring natural vegetation that buffers change in the water’s edge – and creates habitat for creatures. Low hanging fruit, we call that. But finding those shift points requires an environmental systems view and connection to community.

This is what a climate change coordinator with her/his eyes across the community could do. Not an add on to city business, but a way to do city business cost effectively in light of the changes that have already begun.

Marilyn Struthers




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