Sackville Town Council spent 40 minutes on Monday at its first April meeting hearing about and discussing what can be done to avoid the worst effects of climate change.
The meeting brought forth warnings and pessimism, but also practical suggestions and hope.
Some students, who skipped classes to march on Town Hall last month, listened as Sabine Dietz, a local environmental consultant, urged council to start thinking long term about protecting residents from the effects of rising seas, extreme storms and severe flooding.
“Sackville is in a terrible location, we’re in a really bad spot,” Dietz said, adding that the world’s highest tides roll up the Bay of Fundy every day toward the town.
“We sometimes really forget that we are a coastal community and I think we can no longer ignore that.”
Dietz referred to a recent news story which reported that the Chignecto Isthmus is only one “perfect storm” away from having its transportation links severed.
“We’ve been really, really lucky that nothing has happened so far, but this is just a matter of time,” she said, pointing to dykes that are more than a hundred years old and that were not designed to protect built-up areas.
Dietz called on council to adopt what she called a “climate lens” so that the inevitable effects of climate change are considered in all of its actions including adoption of the new economic development strategy that consultants have just submitted.
Later during an interview, Dietz referred to council’s decision to allow a new ambulance station to be located on Robson Avenue as a prime example of failing to view municipal planning through a climate lens. She reiterated her concerns that ambulances could be cut off from both the town and highway during a severe storm putting local residents at risk.
At the same time, Dietz acknowledged that if the town had refused to rezone the land to allow the station, Ambulance New Brunswick could have appealed that decision to the Assessment and Planning Appeal Board.
But, she said, it’s important for local politicians to stand up to outside pressure from other levels of government when it comes to protecting their citizens from the effects of climate change.
It was a point she made earlier in her presentation to council.
“It’s really up to local government to protect its citizens and infrastructure in a way that makes sense,” she said. “It’s our risk, it’s our lives, it’s our community.”
Councillor Bill Evans served notice he would be presenting two motions at next week’s council meeting that striking students had called for during their march on Town Hall last month.
“The first was to pass a motion, which is perhaps symbolic, but I think hugely important, and that’s recognizing that we are in a climate crisis,” Evans said, adding that he would also bring a motion forward to amend the town’s Sustainable Sackville plan in light of the latest UN report on climate change.
Councillor Allison Butcher voiced support for Evans’s motions. She said that as the mother of two students who were taking part in the march, she found it “completely inspiring to watch.”
She added it made her realize she is part of a generation that hasn’t done anything about climate change.
“It’s really shameful that we have put on the shoulders of our children,” Butcher said, “that they need to shake us and say ‘we don’t have time to wait until we are adults to do this, it needs to happen now.'”
Councillor Andrew Black also seemed in agreement, but he sounded a note of deep pessimism as the father of “three young kids.”
He said he would not necessarily have chosen not to have children because of the future that awaits them “but they’re going to probably live in a world that’s going to be very different from what I would like them to live in.”
Black went on to say he firmly believes “we’re doomed when it comes to climate change…I base my pessimism on my lack of faith in humanity,” he said.
“Because people are too selfish or unaware of the change that each of us has to make to ensure a future for humanity, let’s face it, the Earth will remain, life will go on, just not including us. As dire as that seems, it’s the reality we face,” Black said.
Councillor Shawn Mesheau questioned the value of Evans’s “symbolic” motions and after some discussion, agreed to bring one to council next week with “more tangible things…which we can work on and put resources behind.”
Councillor Michael Tower rounded out the discussion saying he would support Evans’s motions. “I agree we do have to act now,” he said, “we’ve been given all kinds of reasons tonight why we have to do it.”
To listen to the council discussion of Councillor Evans’s proposed motions, click on the media player below. The discussion begins with comments from Mayor Higham:
‘Could I speak?’
As the discussion concluded, Hanna Longard, a Mount Allison student who was co-organizer of the march on Town Hall, stood up and asked, “Could I speak?”
After a pause, Mayor Higham said no.
“Sorry, but no unscheduled presentations,” he answered, adhering to the rule that no one is allowed to make comments or ask questions at council’s first monthly meeting unless they’ve been approved in advance.
Longard then left the council chamber clearly upset.
She explained later that she had wanted to reinforce what Sabine Dietz said by calling on council for a commitment to act.
“That is what I wanted to speak to in the context of clarifying that a climate emergency is not symbolic and as students, we’re not asking for a symbolic climate emergency,” Longard said.
She repeated Dietz’s call for a “climate lens” to guide council’s actions.
“Then it’s not just symbolic. All our policies going forward are responding to the climate crisis with the weight and the urgency that we need to,” Longard added.
She also took issue with Councillor Black’s expression of deep pessimism about the likelihood of action on climate change.
“When you say you’re a pessimist about climate change, you are saying no to our futures,” Longard said.
“You’re saying to us that you don’t see we have a future and we’re saying that we still have time.
“If you implemented the climate policies that we have come up with in different governments throughout the last 60 years, if those had been implemented and if we implemented them now and implemented stronger ones, we could find a way to create a liveable future,” she concluded.
Longard also referred to Black’s suggestion that he would think twice about what it means to have children who face a dire, climate change future.
“I’m questioning every day what it means to have children,” she said. “And that’s what we’re talking about in our social circles as young people.”
Today, Longard sent a letter addressed to town council outlining the concerns she was not able to express during Monday’s meeting. To read it, click here.