Clarke on Climate Change

CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke was “not in the building” on September 27 when students (and others) from his community gathered in front of the Civic Centre to demand action on climate change. (His spokesperson tells me he “had meetings scheduled” in the morning and “a funeral” in the afternoon.)

But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t part of the conversation — well actually, it does, because rather than speaking to the climate strikers he penned an op-ed which he claimed was inspired by Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg’s speech to the United Nations last week.

If you have seen Thunberg’s speech (especially the Swedish death metal version), then Clarke’s response to it may puzzle you, because apparently, hearing Thunberg excoriate world leaders for their failure to act on climate change caused our mayor to look around him and decide that we in the CBRM are doing a pretty darn good job of combating the climate crisis.

Climate strikers at Civic Centre, Sydney, NS. 27 September 2019. (Spectator photo)

Climate strikers at Civic Centre, Sydney, NS. 27 September 2019. (Spectator photo)

The contrast between Clarke, a career politician who, back in May, was the only member of CBRM council to vote against declaring climate change an emergency, and the 16-year-old Swede is frankly hilarious.

But it’s even funnier (in an if-you-didn’t-laugh-you’d-cry kind of way) if you contrast some of what Clarke was “inspired” to write with some of what Thunberg actually said at the UN Climate Action Summit:

Clarke: Climate change is real. It is here. We see the evidence, first-hand, in Cape Breton. Be it in weather patterns, coastal erosion, changing growing seasons, uncertainty is becoming the new norm.

Thunberg: People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction…

Clarke: Our Novaporte and Novazone developments are being planned to be the greenest and most energy efficient. This is a new generation of industry and economic opportunity.

Thunberg: [A]ll you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!

Clarke: [A]s I consider Miss Thunberg’s remarks, I do feel as though CBRM’s response to climate change and environmental protection puts our community as a leader, not a follower. Even more so when you consider the financial challenges we struggle with daily.

Thunberg: For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight?

Clarke: Our energy reduction strategy has, so far, resulted in us lowering our green house gas emissions 6,830 tonnes CO2e a year – the equivalent of 1,226 vehicles.

Thunberg: To have a 67% chance of staying below a 1.5 degrees global temperature rise – the best odds given by the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] – the world had 420 gigatons of CO2 left to emit back on January 1st, 2018. Today that figure is already down to less than 350 gigatons.

There will not be any solutions or plans presented in line with these figures here today, because these numbers are too uncomfortable. And you are still not mature enough to tell it like it is.

And that op-ed represents Clarke posing as a climate activist. Imagine if Thunberg were forced to converse with the Clarke who ran for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservatives last year? How do you suppose she’d react to his battle against the “job-killing carbon tax” (that doesn’t actually apply in this province and is revenue neutral where it does apply)?

Source: cecilclarke.ca https://www.cecilclarke.ca/fighting_trudeaus_carbon_tax

Source: cecilclarke.ca (Link no longer works)

I could go on comparing and contrasting the world views of Clarke and Thunberg, but I have a few bones of my own to pick with the Mayor, so I’m going to take it from here and pull a few choice quotes from his screed:

 

Clarke: Environmental mitigation and conservation are a priority for us. Responsible stewardship is our mandate. We take it quite seriously.

First, I like the qualifier — you don’t take it “very seriously” or even just “seriously” but “quite seriously.”

Second, I want to say a little more about your being the only member of council to vote against declaring climate change an emergency in the CBRM. You said, during the May 7 general committee meeting where the motion was first raised, that while you supported all the “actionable items” associated with the motion, you could not support the use of the word “emergency,” although you didn’t explain why — not then nor during the May 21 regional council meeting when council formally voted on the issue.

Voting on resolution to declare climate change an emergency in the CBRM, 27 May 2019, CBRM regular monthly meeting.

Voting on resolution to declare climate change an emergency in the CBRM, 27 May 2019, CBRM regular monthly meeting.

Perhaps you shared the concerns of Municipal Solicitor Demetri Kachafanas, who cautioned council (in an email) against the use of the word “emergency” apparently for fear it would be confused with declaring a “state of emergency” and trigger a response from the Emergency Management Organization (EMO).

And how prescient he was: the moment council declared that climate change was an emergency, EMO kicked into action, forcing people all over the municipality to evacuate their homes, which is why I am writing this in a climate emergency shelter where I must remain until 2020, when Nova Scotia is expected to meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions at least 10% below 1990 levels.

I’m kidding, of course. Kachafanas’ concerns were overblown, as he would have realized had he examined what had happened in any of the 58 other Canadian cities (including Halifax) that had already declared climate change an emergency as of May 2019. The worry with a symbolic declaration like this is not that it will trigger sudden, disruptive action but that it will trigger no action at all.

 

Clarke: Within the jurisdiction, responsibility, and ability of your municipality, so much progress has been made for positive change.

This question of environmental jurisdiction is one I’ve been thinking about a lot since the debate over the Big Pond RV Park, during which our municipal planners were unequivocal: protecting the environment was a provincial, not a municipal, responsibility.

But the truth is more nuanced.

Our constitution divides governmental powers between federal and provincial governments (with some overlap). “Residual powers,” those not explicitly assigned to either level of government, remain with the feds.

When it comes to the environment, according to this 2013 parliamentary background paper on the issue:

Sections 91 and 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867 list subject matters in relation to which each level of government may regulate. Neither list includes “environment” as a subject matter. Rather, the “environment” is a collective term referring to numerous issues, including some of the various subject matters the Constitution does assign to either Parliament or the provincial legislatures.

The author, Penny Becklumb, then lists the federal and provincial “subject matters” (like fisheries and oceans for the feds, property and civil rights for the provinces) that provide the basis for their jurisdiction over environmental issues.

But she also notes that the provinces have designated to municipalities:

…the power to regulate matters such as zoning, development, waste management and recycling, drinking water and wastewater; and generally all matters of a merely local or private nature in the province…

Writing for the LawNow blog in 2017, Jeff Surtees, executive director of the Centre for Public Legal Education Alberta, noted that the most common complaint about environmental regulation in Canada:

…isn’t that there are too many levels of government putting too many rules in place to protect the environment. It is the opposite . . . that no level of government is doing enough and that each level points the finger at the other as the problem.

And finally, writing for rabble.com in 2012, Paula Boutis and Laura Bowman noted that a 2001 Supreme Court decision (Spraytech) has established that “broad ‘general welfare’ provisions in municipal legislation could support environmental regulation.” Municipalities, wrote Boutis and Bowman:

…can set a higher standard than provincial or federal legislation, but not a lower one.

Which means, they concluded, that while bearing in mind the limits of these ‘general welfare’ provisions:

…there is a lot of untapped potential in municipalities to regulate more to protect health and welfare in the community, including providing more information and consultation opportunities to citizens, and by limiting environmentally harmful activities within the municipality.

All of which is my long-winded way of suggesting that Mayor Clarke’s notion of the municipality’s “jurisdiction, responsibility and ability” to protect the environment may be incomplete.

 

Clarke: Since 2015, we have reduced our energy use by more than 25 per cent. With that, the Municipality’s energy costs have dropped nearly $2.5 million per year.

This is good news and I was curious as to how, exactly, the municipality had cut its energy use by “more than” 25% (25.8%) in four years, so I asked the mayor’s spokesperson who supplied me with a list of “initiatives” including:

  • To date, have installed LED lighting in over 75% of CBRM owned buildings and facilities
  • Major heat recovery upgrades to ice plant at C200
  • LED street lighting
  • Replacing all of windows at CBRM City Hall with high efficiency glass to minimize heat loss

The CBRM received an Energy Nova Scotia “Bright Business” award for its energy use-reduction plan, which the mayor discusses in the video below. He says the CBRM’s annual energy bills were $10 million prior to the implementation of the plan and the video notes that it applies to the municipality’s “approximately 150 buildings.”

 

 

The CBRM also introduced a water leakage detection system that has cut water use in the municipality by 6,180,000 liters per day. That also won us a Bright Business Award — and another video:

 

As I said, this is all good news.

But I have to note that nowhere in either video is it suggested that conserving energy and water might have environmental benefits. The benefits are all framed in terms of saving money — on your water bill or on the municipal light bill.

The mayor actually says in the video, “So, this is all about dollars and sense.”

But it’s not. Or at least, it shouldn’t be.

 

Clarke: Council, working with the provincial and federal governments, just announced nearly $100 million more in new wastewater systems in addition to the $60 million for the Westmount system. While we take pride in that, we also recognize that hundreds of millions of dollars more worth of work needs to be done.

Here’s another way to put that: the CBRM continues to dump untreated sewage into the Atlantic Ocean — including into its own harbor — and has no choice but to improve its treatment of wastewater to conform to tough new federal regulations about which I have written in some detail.

Map showing level of sewage treatment across the country.

Map showing level of sewage treatment across the country.

 

Clarke: CBRM is our home. It is as important to us as it is to you that we have a clean environment in which to live. Our waste management team does a phenomenal job collecting, separating and processing our “trash.” Green Island, where our recycling is handled in Sydport, is a prime example of recycling at its best.

Our citizens deserve credit and much appreciation for their role in making our waste management and recycling programs first-rate. That said, we struggle with littering and illegal dumping, so we have committed significant resources to education and enforcement.

I am sometimes tempted to “credit” myself for sorting my trash and washing out empty plastic peanut butter jars and composting and putting out more recycling than garbage and no longer putting out black garbage bags — which many of us still cling to for reasons of “privacy,” apparently, to which I say, if you have garbage you consider embarrassing, put it in a clear bag in front of your neighbor’s house.

That said, I am embarrassed by the volume of recycling I put out. I’m not a compulsive shopper, but those things I do buy come wrapped and encased and draped and sealed in plastic or paper or both — often multiple layers of both. And my awful secret is that I put almost all the plastic and paper I generate into blue bags, hoping against hope it can all be recycled, but knowing — even before I watched this week’s horrifying CBC Marketplace episode — that much of it will end up buried or burned.

I don’t blame this on Mayor Clarke, obviously — and I’m very grateful for things like our CBRM composting program, which may be more expensive in dollar terms than just putting everything in a landfill site, but is much better in environmental terms. Still, it’s hard to listen to him bragging about our wonderful solid waste system when, according to what department manager Francis Campbell told the Cape Breton Post in May, we shipped 29,159 tonnes of materials to Guysborough waste management facility in 2018.

Malaysian plastic dump. Screenshot from CBC Marketplace episode on Canadian recycling. https://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/

Malaysian plastic dump. Screenshot from CBC Marketplace episode on Canadian recycling.

And, as of January, we were storing over 300 tonnes of film plastic because, since China stopped accepting it, we have nowhere to send it. (I asked for an update on this situation, but as of press time, had not received one.)

And our just-under-100,000 citizens made 128,000 trips to the dump last year (on top of regular curbside garbage and recycling collection and heavy garbage collection) to dispose of additional garbage.

And some of us can’t even make it to the dump, preferring to deposit our garbage along our otherwise scenic back roads.

This doesn’t make us a climate action “leader,” it just makes us Canadian — as Charles Wilkins wrote in Canadian Geographic in 2017:

Despite what anyone might believe about the country’s oft-cited ecological values and its liberal ambitions for the planet, Canada leads the developed world in per capita production of garbage.

We produce 720 kilos of waste per capita each year, which Wilkins noted was:

…twice what is produced per capita in Japan, and as much as 10 times what is produced by a half-dozen countries in Africa. More alarmingly, our production is seven per cent higher than per capita ouput of waste in the United States, which all but invented consumer excess.

And here’s a sobering thought, according to Myra Hird of the Queen’s University school of environmental studies, even though much of what we think we are “recycling” ends up in landfills, either here or in China or Mexico:

When people think their stuff is being recycled, it clears their conscience, no matter what is actually happening beyond the blue box. Our research shows that when their conscience is clear they tend to consume more than ever. Since Canadians started recycling in earnest maybe 30 years ago, consumerism in this country has done nothing but climb.

If CBRM wanted to be a “leader” in solid waste disposal,  it would be encouraging us to consume less, rather than trying to become a more efficient processor of our garbage. Wilkins (in that Canadian Geographic article you really should read) speaks to Daniel Hoornweg, a one-time waste management adviser to the World Bank, and an associate professor of energy systems at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology in Oshawa, asking him of there is “an ultimate solution to proliferating waste.” Hoornweg says:

“People have to buy less.” The problem, he adds, is that “our economy is based on endless growth, endless production of what our landfills tell us is basically junk. The stuff wouldn’t be in them if it wasn’t junk! I mean, nobody wants our economy to fail; we can’t tell the companies that employ Canadians to just stop producing stuff, or the stores to stop selling it. Then again, our economy is already failing us in the way it messes up the planet in the service of all this crap. The cycle just keeps going: manufacture, consume, discard.”

 

Etc…

Clarke also checklists the tar ponds clean up, which was obviously a good thing, but which you can’t discuss without acknowledging the effort we put into creating the tar ponds before we cleaned them up or that, as recently as 2014 (after the clean up) we were considering allowing a Russian company to establish a coal-fired, iron ore “pelletization” plant on the site.  We gave the firm public money — $400,000 from the province and $300,000 from Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation — to fund a feasibility study, all on the (undoubtedly inflated) promise of 700 jobs.

Clarke further claims the “public and private” sectors are working together to “ensure economic development efforts for our port include greening opportunities at our cruise terminal by exploring new waste management opportunities. Millcreek Environmental, for example, has expanded its services to include marine waste removal; allowing for cleaner waters and a safer shipping industry.”

Climate strikers at Civic Centre, Sydney, NS. 27 September 2019. (Spectator photo)

Climate strikers at Civic Centre, Sydney, NS. 27 September 2019. (Spectator photo)

This is a subject I’ve written about before (here and a follow-up story here) — the Port of Sydney has been given temporary permission by the Canada Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to transport “international” garbage by road to the only landfill sites in the province authorized to handle such garbage, both of which are in Dartmouth. This despite what the CFIA told me in August 2017 about the possibility of establishing of safe route for such transporting such garbage:

The transportation route from the Sydney Marine Terminal to the approved disposal sites in Dartmouth would be considered lengthy transportation of international waste through an area with a significant livestock population and agricultural crop production, thus it is not possible to achieve an acceptable level of protection to Canadian agriculture.

Brian Naud, senior media relations officer with the CFIA, told me that the agency had “approved an international waste carrier” for the Port of Sydney “on July 2, 2019, which is valid until December 31st, 2019.” He added:

CFIA’s role in international waste is to review and approve plans for haulers, their travel routes and waste disposal facilities, as per the International Waste (IW) Directive, which is in place because of the risk of introducing plant diseases, pests, and important animal diseases of concern.

Port of Sydney spokesperson Christina Lamey told me:

With CFIA’s assistance, we have been able accept and transport international garbage on [an] as-needed basis while we work on a local solution.

But “international garbage” is the least of the climate threats represented by the cruise industry — threats that barely get a mention from the Port of Sydney, which celebrates the arrival of a vessel like the Carribbean Princess (scheduled for seven visits season) even though it was fined a record $40 million in 2016 for dumping oil at sea. (Carnival Corp., the owner of Princess Cruises, just got slapped with another $20 million fine for dumping garbage in the ocean.)

We allow cruise ships to sit all day at our docks, pumping pollution into the air we breathe. We value the business they bring more than the environment they damage. We’re complacent about it. We figure they’ll eventually figure out how to clean up their acts, and in the mean time, they’re paying us $6 a head to send their passengers to the Fortress Louisbourg, so we’re good.

But I don’t think our complacency, the kind of complacency on proud display in Clarke’s op-ed, would survive an encounter with Greta Thunberg — or, for that matter, with the protesters who had hoped to speak with our mayor last Friday.

Which is precisely why he should speak with them — because complacency is what has brought us here. Clarke and I are of the same generation — the one that was supposed to know better but didn’t (or knew better but chose to pretend otherwise).

Talking to the next generation about their concerns is the least we can do.