Dianne Saxe Leaders Lunch in Peterborough

Community leaders from the economic, social, cultural, and environmental sectors attended a luncheon on May 9 entitled Leadership in a Time of Climate Crisis.

It was sponsored by the mayor’s office, Peterborough Public Health, the warden of Peterborough County and For Our Grandchildren. It was hosted by Mayor Diane Therrien, Dr. Rosana Salvaterra and Deputy Warden Andy Mitchell, mayor of Selwyn Township.

The meeting began with two exercises: participants were asked to think of a site from their childhood that is particularly fond to them, and then to imagine what it will be like for our grandchildren in 80 years when the world we knew as children will be gone.

Dianne Saxe, environmental lawyer and former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario, gave the keynote presentation, aimed at bringing people up-to-date on the climate crisis with a focus on Ontario. Saxe stated that the climate change is here now and worse than predicted at this point, but there is still time to avoid the worst effects. The advantages of working quickly far outweigh any short-term pain, and include better health, economic growth, environmental sustainability, more competitive industries and lower energy bills.

People speak of extreme weather events as “the new normal,” but Saxe says that with both global temperatures and atmospheric CO2 still rising, “there is no new normal in sight.” She asked, “What was the effect on humans the last time CO2 levels were this high?” and then answered “There were no humans then. Humanity has never experienced the conditions we are entering.”

Saxe stated that the previous Ontario government greatly improved the situation by eliminating electricity from coal, with typically zero smog days per year compared to about 53 previously across Ontario.

She said that pollution from vehicle tailpipes is now the biggest health danger for our respiratory system. Moreover, it is far worse for a baby in a carriage than for her parent: the baby is at car level, her lungs are still developing, and she has more time to develop illnesses.

This is aggravated by Canadians driving the worst cars for fuel-inefficiency in the world. Saxe congratulated the previous government on their introduction of a cap-and-trade price on carbon, which has been shown to be the most effective single way to reduce the emissions that cause climate change.

The money raised by cap-and-trade was used for many projects that benefited the population, including energy-saving retrofits at 19,000 social housing units and about 800 schools, hospitals, universities and colleges, all of which reduced public expenditures in the long term. In addition, 129 municipalities, including Peterborough, received funds for transit, waste, energy efficiency and cycling infrastructure. Saxe said that is was very unfortunate that this price on carbon pollution was eliminated by the current government.

Saxe’s closing message was that we all have a personal responsibility to minimize the effects of climate change, with the most effective methods being to reduce home heating energy, to drive less and with more efficient vehicles, to fly less and to eat less beef. Saxe also urged her audience to hold our elected representatives responsible, and to start discussions with our friends and associates about the climate crisis.

The climate crisis is with us, and we have to make it more of our everyday conversations if we are to address it effectively.

Below is a link to a similar talk that Ms. Saxe gave at University of Toronto a few days later.

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