Annapolis County’s municipal council has declared a climate emergency after debate in committee of the whole Sept. 16 led to a motion recommending such a step. On Sept. 23 the motion was made by Deputy Warden Martha Roberts and passed 7-2, putting council on a course that will involve working with citizens as the situation unfolds.
The motion was seconded by Councillor Gregory Heming and read: “In accordance with the recommendation of Committee of the Whole, that municipal council for the County of Annapolis declares a climate emergency in order to engage citizens in a cooperative approach that would address the rapidly emerging impacts of the deteriorating climate.”
Both Roberts and Councillor Michael Gunn voted against the motion.
It was a long day on Sept. 16 as committee of the whole included climate change in two spots on the agenda. First was a plea by Extinction Rebellion Annapolis County to declare the emergency and based on that declaration have councillors roll up their sleeves and work with constituents to help turn the climate change ship around.
“We are in an emergency. Hurricane Dorian has made it a lot easier to make that clear. One of the strongest storms ever recorded,” Extinction Rebellion Annapolis County spokesperson Nina Newington said in a morning presentation to council. “Category 5 hurricanes used to be on average about once every 10 years. We’ve had four of them in the last five years. The science is undeniable now. Human-induced climate change is leading to frequent and more severe storms, and floods, and heatwaves, and droughts, and wild fires.”
She asked council to declare a climate emergency.
“What you do with that declaration is up to you,” she said. “Of course we have suggestions.”
She had provided briefing notes to council and said Extinction Rebellion representatives would be happy to talk to counillors about them.
But she said time is running out.
“We have 11 years to turn the ship. Young people are desperate, angry, scared,” she said. “They’re facing an uncertain future because governments and businesses are still failing to act. And speaking for myself, old people are scared too.”
She said people have a choice.
“We can bury our heads in the sand or we can face facts and do what needs to be done,” Newington said. “The mayor of Nelson, New Zealand had a really good way of putting it. She said ‘Crisis is throwing up your hands. Emergency is rolling up your sleeves.’ And that’s what we’re asking the council to do. Declare an emergency and working together roll up our sleeves.”
More than 60 citizens showed up for the Sept. 16 presentation, filling council chambers beyond capacity with residents standing along the walls on both sides.
“I think the process of making a declaration is an important step,” Warden Timothy Habinski said after Newington’s presentation. “It’s an important step because we declare our solidarity with municipalities elsewhere in Canada and around the world who are all acknowledging this must be a priority.”
Debate on climate change was further down on the agenda at the Sept. 16 meeting and wouldn’t happen until mid-afternoon, but the warden did comment on the issue before committee of the whole broke for lunch, noting such a declaration is only as good as the paper it’s written on.
“The most important thing from our perspective is the work that has to follow, and that’s a task that our entire council of course takes very, very seriously,” he said. “And I’m certainly hoping that as many of you as possible will attend the local climate change summit that we’re hosting this fall. Part of the rationale for hosting this summit, and specifically local climate change, is we’re aware no topic has been discussed in terms that are more disempowering than climate change right across the country. And we have many, many events that take place that are showing us how dire the situation is – and there’s no question it’s very, very serious – but we also have a wealth of local expertise, a lot of local wisdom.”
Habinski said by his tally at least 20 local organizations are currently active in one way or another in addressing one or another of the consequences of climate change.
“But most of these organizations operate in silos,” he said, noting the intention of the summit is to bring together community organizations, individual community experts, and outside experts to help to guide council so it can be aware of what work is currently being done on climate change adaptation and mitigation in Annapolis County.
He said the county wants a strategy that encompasses the entirety of the county and its population. He said the summit would likely become an annual event. “Because we’re going to have to continue to address and modify our strategies as events unfold,” he said.
“A few months ago I questioned the term ‘climate emergency’ in this room,” said Councillor John MacDonald. “So then I went home. I also cannot drop it there. I went to dictionaries, text books. I went and I researched the word ‘emergency.’ I researched the word ‘crisis.’ And I thought ‘well, I got my definitions, but is that really what matters?’”
MacDonald coaches high school basketball and he found part of the answer in the gym.
“I went to a bunch of youth,” he said. “They weren’t in school yet. This was summertime. Each and every one -- once I got them to speak -- each and every one was scared. So then I sent 20 texts out to people I’m familiar with on my phone. Out of 20, 15 responded…they were all on board with climate emergency and some used words that began with ‘f’ and ‘why didn’t you do it last year?’”
Constituents from his district attended Newington’s presentation. “I have friends and acquaintances in this room from all over who aren’t in my district,” he said. “And you know what? I’m having a hard time finding someone that doesn’t feel that this is super important and needs to be dealt with. And I’m only one guy, and we’re only one municipal council, but we can start.”
“If nothing else you’ve given me the courage to read what I’m going to read. I didn’t have that a month ago,” said Heming after Newington’s presentation.
He said local government is the only level of government that stands any hope of taking the economic, political, and social action required to prevent the near-term societal collapse that is now inevitable as the result of climate change.
“This is a daunting undertaking to be sure, and it will require bold and immediate action,” he said. “We must keep in mind that humans have never lived on a planet like the one now staring us in the face and there is currently no senior provincial or national or international political system, or even a hint of one forthcoming, that can deal full-on with this emergency.”
He said a declaration of a climate emergency was necessary in order to engage county residents in beginning to understand the severity of the crisis and to realize any hope of a unified collective, cooperative response in Annapolis County.
When the topic came up later on the agenda, Gunn made the motion to recommend to council that it declare a climate emergency, but several other councillors wanted the motion to include some indication of what that meant and what actions council would take.
In the end, the motion was amended to include engagement of citizens, something Gunn opposed. He wanted council to make future decisions through a climate change lens and put pressure on other levels of government. “Annapolis County is doing things already,” Gunn said, adding that there are groups out there that are going to engage the citizens.
“We don’t need to engage the citizens. We’ve got these folks over here and they’re doing it for us already,” he said, indicating members of the public in the gallery. “What we need is to look at ourselves, Annapolis County, and how can we cut down our carbon footprint. That’s what it all comes to.”
Although Gunn voted against his amended motion, it did pass and led to council’s Sept. 23 declaration.