Council’s climate plans dither while Planet Earth withers

City Hall | by Paul Dechene

Maybe you’ve read the headlines? “IPCC report warns rapid changes needed to stem catastrophic global warming,” says CNN. “We have 12 years to limit climate change catastrophe, warns UN,” says the Guardian. “UN report on global warming carries life-or-death warning,” says the Globe and Mail.

And, according to the Washington Post? “The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say.”

Yes, there’s a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change titled, “Global Warming of 1.5 °C.”*

The TL;DR version? Our planet is doomed.

Oh, every one of these news stories gleans nuggets of hope from the IPCC report that disaster can be avoided. All we have to do is organize an unprecedented global effort to transition our economy to zero emissions — yeah, zero emissions — i.e., nil, zilch, nada, diddly-squat — by the middle of the century. If we don’t, we’re in for massive droughts, famine, disease and a city-sinking rise in sea levels.

But the clock has been ticking since the IPCC’s First Assessment Report warned of climate catastrophe in 1990. Thus, the time frame in which we have to act has shrunk from a comfortable span of decades to a mad scramble of 12 years. And seeing as the initiative mustered by the global community so far has been thoroughly inadequate to solving this problem, the odds the nations of the world will have an epochal shift in the way they approach the environment in time to save the planet are becoming vanishingly small.

That’s especially true when you consider climate solution saboteurs like Trump, Jason Kenney, Scott Moe and Doug Ford are once again ascendant in governments around the world.

The future’s looking bleak for our pale blue dot of a planet. Well, at least for its dominant hairless apes, who are apparently a lot dumber than their big brains suggest.

The IPCC report does note that there are degrees of badness, however, and that 2°C of warming is far worse than 1.5°C. And that means that actions to curb carbon emissions, no matter how small, will help.

Enter, your city council, ready to do its little bit…

Scrape Your Plate For The Planet

At its Sept. 24 meeting, council approved a curbside food and yard-waste collection and processing service. As organic waste is the main source of greenhouse gas emissions at the city’s landfill, once the program is fully rolled out, city administration expects the program will slash Regina’s carbon footprint by 760 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s the same as taking 140 cars off the road annually. One-hundred forty whole cars!

And while the globe screams inexorably towards 1.5°C of warming over the next decade, we should see this program implemented city-wide by 2022 or 2023 as, for this to be a truly Made-In-Regina program, we’ll first need to run a pilot project in 2020 covering 1,000 households across 10 communities.

“I think we need to do a trial to see how it works and determine the cost of the service delivery model before we go forward,” says Mayor Michael Fougere. “I think everybody would like to see this happen earlier rather than later. But I think in fairness to taxpayers, let’s have a trial to see how this works.”

The organic waste collection program will accept pretty much any food or yard waste, including meat scraps, lawn clippings, the leftover pasta fazool I always make way too much of, miscellaneous oils and grease and even empty pizza boxes. Administration estimates the program will cost upwards of $7.9 million a year to run. But, as organic waste makes up over 50 per cent of the garbage going to the landfill, handling it separately means the city will be able to shift to bi-weekly garbage collection and thereby save $4.6 million.

The city has yet to determine if it will pay for the program through property taxes or if it will charge a user fee for the service. Council will decide on the payment model once the exact program cost is determined after a waste processing facility is constructed and the pilot project is underway.

Council also foresees possible revenue opportunities for an organic waste processing facility as its services can be sold to nearby communities looking to reduce the garbage they truck to landfill.

And while this program has been in the works since Waste Plan Regina was approved way back in 2009, not everyone on council was happy with it. Councillors John Findura and Jerry Flegel voted against curbside organic waste collection.

At issue: the cost and the need for households to deal with a third rollout bin.

“It’s just simple as that. [My residents] don’t want another bin. Space-wise. And space is one thing but rodents and all. There’s better ways of doing this so another bin is not an answer,” says Findura, who also expressed concerns about Regina residents’ poor uptake and misuse of the curbside recycling system and what that would mean for the success of any additional services.

“Personally, we’re only on 20 per cent diversion rate now,” says Findura. “Obviously, did we do a good job? Have we succeeded on that sense of designing the recycling program. I feel we did not. So I asked the question, what makes us think that this is going to be successful going forward again? So a bin is not an option.”

And while Findura was finding it hard to be green where organic waste collection was concerned, he did put his signature to a different environmental initiative…

Renewable Regina

At their upcoming Oct. 29 meeting, council will debate a motion to make Regina a “Renewable City”. The motion has been co-signed by Councillors Andrew Stevens, Joel Murray and John Findura.

The motion calls on city administration to bring forward a report in 2019 on how the city can commit to operating 100 per cent off renewable energy sources by 2050. The motion suggests finding funding to cover the costs of this shift from external sources such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

Considering what a prolonged fight it was getting the city to sign onto the Blue Dot Declaration — that being an official acknowledgement by council that access to a clean and healthy environment is a human right — prepare to see the Renewable City motion face similar inaction.

Because inaction is exactly what the planet needs more of right now.

* Full title: Global Warming of 1.5 °C: an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty