Sara Jennings was the first person in a sold-out crowd to pose a question to Elizabeth May after the Green Party leader and environmental activist offered Sea to Sky residents an in-depth breakdown of the recent COP21 climate talks in Paris.
“In Whistler we continue to see the number of personal vehicles increasing on the road, and snowmobiling is a very fast-growing sport in the corridor and this concerns me in a town that is considered quite green,” said Jennings, who is the past president of the Association of Whistler Area Residents for the Environment (AWARE), the organization that put on the event. “As an individual who is passionate about the environment, what is the best way to bring that down to the individual level when trying to encourage people to take personal responsibility for change?”
For much of the evening last Thursday (Jan. 21) at the Whistler Conference Centre, May focused on the national and international implications of the global climate summit. While the aim of the event — which also included a presentation with the mayors of Whistler, Pemberton and Squamish — was to help locals understand what they could do to help curb global warming on a community level, May said the answer lies largely with government policy.
“The route to encourage every person to take personal responsibility will take us past 1.5 (degrees),” May said, referring to the cap set for global average temperature increase at the conference. “We need to increase the carbon fuel tax. It needs to cost more to ride around in a snowmobile. We need to send people the signal and we need more investment in infrastructure that makes it convenient for people. A lot of people have to drive a car… for many reasons. If we make it about the personal, it’s really hard. We have to change the structure of society so it becomes easier — for example, tax rebates to buy hybrid or electric cars. We need to encourage that behaviour while discouraging the use and waste of fossil fuels.”
Overall, May said a “very ambitious agenda” emerged from the climate talks, during which Canada punched well above its weight. It painted a future in which the countries involved committed to going off of fossil fuels in order to curb global warming before it reaches the point of no return.
“If we take them at their word, the leaders of 195 countries have just committed our society, our economies, all nations to go off fossil fuels completely as soon as possible,” May said. “We’ve committed to ensure that the global peak of greenhouse gas emissions is as soon as possible. There is speculation we may (have) hit it in 2015 and (will) go down from there.”
For its part, the provincial government is in the midst of seeking input from residents for its new Climate Leadership Plan, Jordan Sturdy, MLA for the West Vancouver-Sea to Sky riding, told the crowd. “A strong leadership plan will help us take advantage of a low-carbon economy, a future and green jobs,” he said.
While almost 6,000 people completed a survey released in the plan’s first phase, the second phase of consultation was launched on Monday (Jan. 25) on the Climate Leadership Plan website focusing on options and time frames for greenhouse gas reductions in B.C.
Meanwhile, the mayors also shared their community’s environmental initiatives. “Whistler has been interested in climate change and greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption for a long time,” said Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden. “We’ve got targets built into our OCP (official community plan), we want to reduce GHGs from 2007 levels by 33 per cent by 2020, 80 per cent by 2050 and 90 per cent by 2060. Between 2007 and 2012 we reduced our GHGs by 17 per cent. We’ve got a lot of work to do. We can’t kid ourselves, but we’ve paid attention to these issues and we’ve done some very good work so far and I have every confidence we will carry on doing so.”