This post is part three in a three part series written by Emma Power, MEJC and CAT organizer, about Climate Action Plans
Part 3: Climate-Shlimate… make whatever plans you want
If you’re reading this, you probably aren’t the sort of person who cringes at any mention of climate. You probably don’t need any convincing about the validity of the science or urgency of action. However, there are still quite a few people in that boat, and psychology tells us that there is no amount of facts or figures that can magically change minds. But what if we don’t have to change anyone’s mind at all?
This blog is the third in a series related to climate action planning. In the previous two I covered briefly the what, how, and who. Here, I hope to clarify the why.
What comes to mind immediately, and what I focused on before, is greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions (to limit the progression of climate change) and building resilience (to increase ability to withstand expected climate impacts). What I haven’t talked about yet is the fact that the actions we should take in both of these realms have far-reaching effects that sound great even to the biggest climate-skeptics. Let’s look at Buildings as an example topic.
The Manitoba Climate Action Team’s Road to Resilience, the City of Winnipeg’s Community Energy Investment Roadmap, and any other decent, science-based climate framework or plan will say that we need to stop using fossil fuels in our buildings. All of them, old and new. It is a requirement of achieving zero emissions, which all the leading experts of the world say we must do as soon as possible. But what else do fossil fuel-free and energy efficient buildings do? Here are just a few:
1. They reduce the cost of living.
Right now, as temperatures drop, many Manitoban households are being forced to choose between heating and eating. Old, inefficient building construction and “natural” gas heating systems (it’s mostly methane, folks, which is super bad) lock people into huge utility bills that are directly tied to the volatility of oil and gas prices, which in turn impact the overall economy via inflation. Individuals and families that are trapped in this cycle of paying more and more for heat, food, and everything else, are the least able to take on home energy retrofits or fuel switching projects on their own. It’s called energy poverty, and our climate plans can help to alleviate it.
Planning to set the highest energy efficiency standards for new buildings, ban new fossil fuel heating systems, and develop a program to retrofit existing buildings (keeping the needs of low-income households top of mind) are actions that reduce emissions, but also significantly decrease the cost of heating and cooling our homes. Not feeling the title “Climate Action Plan”? Call it an Affordability Plan – same thing.
2. They improve health.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been more talk about indoor air quality, which is great. Not many people would deny that cleaner air is better. Why then, do we openly burn gas in our kitchens? Gas stoves and ranges continue to be investigated further for their impacts on respiratory health. It’s common sense to me – of course burning a fossil fuel in an enclosed space releases things into the air that we shouldn’t breathe. But finally we have some numbers coming out that talk about the increased asthma risk that gas stoves may contribute to over prolonged periods of exposure (like cooking every day for many years). Air pollution from cooking is even more of a concern for residents in the global south who have no choice but to use very low-tech, open-flame cook stoves.
Here in Manitoba, we are privileged enough to have a low-carbon electricity source available… Mandating electric stoves, at least in new builds to start, could further reduce our dependence on fossil fuels (a classic climate action plan goal), but we could also potentially reduce the demand on our incredibly stressed healthcare system by reducing unnecessary respiratory health risks – there’s enough going around as is. COVID-19 Healthcare System Recovery Plan? Clean Air Plan? GHG Emission Reduction Plan? Sure, cool, whatever you like.
3. They help us in emergencies.
The 2021 heat dome across Western Canada taught us that we can no longer predict how hot certain places will get. The atmosphere is doing some crazy stuff already, and we know it will just get crazier. The deep freezes that we often experience are at the other end of the spectrum (those may arguably become less common in a warming world, but are still relevant). Extreme temperature events put people at risk. In fact, heat waves are the most deadly of all “natural” disasters (I put natural in quotes because the temperatures we’re seeing now are no longer natural, but caused by us). Huge floods and wildfires end up costing us more in infrastructure damage, but extreme heat kills more people. Which people? Probably the ones I’ve already mentioned – underserved, underprivileged, lower-income people that are just trying their best to survive day to day. Plus individuals that are physically more vulnerable like seniors, children, and those with existing health conditions. It’s not fair.
We often think of high efficiency buildings as keeping the cold out, but they also keep heat out. Access to air conditioning systems aside, there are ways for us to build homes and public buildings that use less energy yet provide increased protection. In the event of a heat wave, we yet again come back to the demand on our healthcare system – how might our stretched-thin system respond to hundreds of emergency calls in a short span of time related to people stuck in sweltering homes, unable to access cooling? It won’t be good, and it’s likely to happen. Prioritizing energy efficiency in all buildings for all people is therefore also an Emergency Response Plan, a Harm-Prevention Plan, an Equity Plan.
At the end of 2022, the United States (US) Passed the Inflation Reduction Act which includes a historic commitment of $369 BILLION to “energy security and climate change”. If all goes to plan, this will reduce the US’s GHG emissions by 40% by 2030. Sounds like a climate action plan, hey? But would it have been passed if that’s what it was called? Who knows.
I could go on and on with examples of how climate action is not just for “the environment”. I used affordability, health, and emergency response in the context of buildings to try to give some examples, but literally every aspect of our lives depends on getting this right. Our food system, our water resources, our security and safety, our mental health, our treasured outdoor spaces and species. A climate action plan is everything.
Call it whatever you want, whatever your audience will be receptive to. We know what we have to do. Beyond all the jargon, targets, and key performance indicators, there is a better world for everyone. That’s worth a try, isn’t it?