In the Absence of Federal Leadership, Canadian Communities Take Action on Climate Change

When the Canadian Youth Delegation arrives in Mexico at the end of November, we’ll be adding our voices to the millions of others around the world demanding that our governments seal the deal on a climate change treaty that sets ambitious, fair and binding targets on greenhouse gas emissions; however, in the absence of an international agreement on climate change, many countries, municipalities and communities have taken matters into their own hands.  Here in Canada, where our federal greenhouse gas emissions reduction strategy has gained international infamy, these good news stories are especially important in showing each other and the world that Canadians take climate change seriously.

Consider the Transitions Towns movement. Based on the principal of permaculture, an approach to designing human settlements and agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecosystems, Transition Towns have put down roots in more 300 communities world wide.  There are 16 Transition Towns right here in Canada, including Guelph, Ontario, Salt Spring Island, British Colombia, and Poplar Hill, Ontario, where a number of concerned and active residents have come together with the shared vision of building resilience and sustainability into their community in response to the challenges of peak oil, accelerating climate change and global economic instability.

You may be asking yourself “But what does a transition town actually look like?”  On Salt Spring Island, it looks like a workshop series growing and preserving your own food, supporting residents in installing solar panels and other energy alternatives in their homes, and promoting the use of electric cars on the island.  In Poplar Hill, members of the Transition Town Network have worked with local farmers and artisans to organize a farmer’s market that ran from the spring to autumn harvest, and featured fresh local produce, homemade crafts, food products and plants.

The link between climate change and solar panels or electric cars is pretty clear – we’ve been hearing for years about fossil fuel based transportation and energy production as a serious source of greenhouse gas emissions.  But how can shopping at a farmer’s market be considered “taking action on climate change”? Food Share, a Toronto-based non-profit organization, has put together a great article about Fighting Global Warming at the Farmer’s Market.  Conservative estimates are that the average North American’s meal travels 2,000 km from field to table, mostly by truck.  That’s a whole lot of greenhouse gas emissions for a tomato from California that we could have purchased in-season from a local farmer at our neighbourhood market.  By purchasing locally grown produce, we’re not only investing in our local economy; we’re also reducing the ecological footprint of the food that we’re eating.

There’s no debating that strong federal policies are hugely important in supporting a society-wide shift away from carbon intensive practices like agroindustrial farming, tar sands development and car-based transportation systems towards more sustainable alternatives like local food systems, green energy and public transportation.  I find it encouraging, however, to know that many Canadians aren’t waiting around for the Canadian government – they’re taking action on climate change today.

Erica Nickels

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