Hamilton city council recently declared a climate emergency and pledged to substantially reduce the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. While the declaration carries symbolic weight, the ambitious emission reduction targets can only be met if city council commits significant resources towards climate change measures. Climate activists and city councilors weigh in on what this will mean for the city.
On March 27, Hamilton city council finalized the decision to declare a climate emergency in the city of Hamilton.
The decision comes as a result of a report from the United Nations intergovernmental panel on climate change released in October 2018. The report found that, unless humanity limits global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, there will be a risk of long lasting and irreversible changes that will result in major loss of life.
The report found that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would mean reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 45 per cent of 2010 levels by 2030, and reaching net zero emissions by 2050.
“Limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society,” stated the report.
Hamilton city council has joined a number other Canadian cities, including Kingston, Vancouver and Halifax, who have pledged to reduce emissions to meet these targets.
The declaration instructs the city manager to put together a multi departmental task force and present an emission reduction plan within 120 days.
According to the 2018 vital signs report released by the Hamilton community foundation, Hamilton has double the per capita GHG emissions compared to other greater Toronto and Hamilton area cities.
The 2015 community action plan set the goals of reducing GHG emissions by 20 per cent of 2006 levels by 2020, 50 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050. The new goals, however, are more ambitious.
By declaring a climate emergency, the city aims to communicate the degree of risk to the public and demonstrate that the city is taking the issues seriously. During the board of health meeting, environment Hamilton climate campaign coordinator Ian Borsuk noted that it is important to show the public that the city understands the severity of the issue.
Additionally, a major goal of the declaration is to coordinate municipal action to develop a centralized strategy for dealing with climate change. This will take the form of a multi departmental task force across city departments.
“This isn’t something that can be left as a side project, this isn’t something that can be left as another file, this is something that needs to be part of what the city does every single day,” stated Borsuk during the presentation.
At the March 18 board of health meeting, presenters from environment Hamilton made suggestions to the city about ways to reduce emission levels by the target dates, noting that the city has already taken significant measures to reduce GHG emissions, but can do more.
One suggestion was to expand and improve public transit. Currently, Hamilton street rail ridership falls short of projections by about 10 per cent. The city is currently working towards a 10 year plan to improve HSR service, which includes improving service and adding capacity.
After industry, transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gas in Hamilton. According to Hamilton 350 coordinator Don McLean, transportation is one of the areas that the city can make the biggest difference. By extending bus service and making transit more affordable, McLean sees potential for large increases in ridership.
McLean also notes that Hamilton charges some of the lowest parking fees in Canada. The city owns some parking facilities, and has the ability to tax parking lots separately in order to drive pricing. In order to incentivize people to take public transit, McLean says, the parking rate has to be considerably higher than bus fare.
“Why switch to a bus if I can park downtown all day for $4?" he asked.
Another suggestion that environment Hamilton made to the board of health was to develop a “green standard” for new public and private buildings. By mandating energy use limits, the city can make a substantial difference in emissions.
Environment Hamilton executive director Lynda Lukasik also noted during the presentation that enhancing green infrastructure would help the city meet its emission targets. This includes measures such as bio soils, better managed storm water, and planting an urban forest.
Urban canopy currently sits at about 18 per cent, which is 12 per cent below the official target. Expanding the urban forest would help draw down emissions, reduce stormwater flows, and mediate heat effects.
In order to meet these goals, multiple environmental organizations across Hamilton have suggested that the city commits to applying a climate lens to all of its decisions. Similarly to the equity, diversity and inclusion lens equity, diversity and inclusion lens announced in March, the climate lens would evaluate all city actions in terms of their climate impact.
One of the main challenges for meeting the emission reduction targets is resource availability. During the board of health meeting, ward 3 councilor Nrinder Nann pointed out that achieving the commitments would likely involve retrofitting almost every building across Hamilton and switching to electric or hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles. Implementing these measures would require substantial investments of time and money.
Currently, the community climate change action plan receives provincial funding from the proceeds of the cap and trade program. However, the province scrapped the cap and trade program in October 2018 and has pulled funding from other environmental initiatives. Therefore funding for the emissions reduction plan would likely have to come from other sources.
Ward 4 councilor Sam Merulla noted that the challenge will become clear once staff reports the budget to city council within 120 days. If people hear that their taxes will increase, they may be resistant to implementing the plan.
However, Nann pointed out that even though dealing with climate change requires immediate spending, it will generate revenue in the long term. Additionally, inaction will incur high remedial costs.
Another challenge for meeting the emission reduction targets is industry. Industry accounts for 83 per cent of Hamilton's emissions, a large percentage of which comes from steel mills. However, steel mills are under provincial and federal jurisdiction, meaning that the city does not have direct control over their emissions.
Despite this, notes McLean, the city can work towards offsetting emissions through agricultural practices and reforestation.
Even if the city manages to reach the emission reduction targets in time, McLean worries that it will be too little, too late.
Climate change is a cumulative problem, meaning that all GHGs currently in the atmosphere will continue to contribute to warming, even if emissions stop.
“The kinds of things that are being talked about now are the kinds of things that should have been very actively implemented 30 years ago,” he stated. “ If you've got a cumulative problem then setting any date in the future as to when we should stop is too late.”
In order to make the climate change emergency more than a symbolic gesture, the city will have to dedicate significant resources and implement regular checkpoints to reduce emissions. The true weight of this declaration will become clear once the task force presents the emission reduction plan to city council. To achieve net zero emissions by 2050, the city has to implement unprecedented changes across all aspects of decision-making.
By: Neda Pirouzmand
On Feb. 27, the McMaster Students Union sustainability education committee began their three day “Compost at Mac” education campaign in partnership with the academic sustainability programs office and the MSU Maroons.
The campaign marked the beginning of a movement to create more opportunities for students to engage with long-term investment towards changing McMaster’s sustainability practices.
The committee set up a booth in front of Union Market in the McMaster University Student Centre for students to take home herb plants for free.
In addition, the committee distributed cards highlighting the locations of the new compost bins that have been installed across campus.
The new bins have been placed on the first and second floors of Mills Memorial Library and the H.G. Thode Library.
Bins can also be found in front of Union Market in MUSC, in Burke Science Building and in the Michael G. DeGroote Centre for Learning and Discovery near the Tim Hortons cafe.
Tasneem Warwani, the MSU associate vice-president (University Affairs) and a member of the MSU sustainability education committee, acknowledges the importance of coordinating efforts within the MSU to achieve sustainability goals.
“I think the MSU definitely plays a role in advocating for issues such as no waste. We represent the needs and wants of our students, and this is definitely an important and topical issue,” she said.
According to Warwani, system-wide changes will only be effective with the combined effort of many teams as the task is simply too big otherwise.
Warwani expects the committee to undertake work in the near future that could set the stage for a wave of change in sustainability practices at McMaster.
Without compost bins, solid and organic waste go straight to landfills. The piling of waste in landfills prevents oxygen from reaching buried food waste, causing food waste to produce methane gas.
According to the Canadian government, methane is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in contributing to global warming.
Diverting organic waste from landfills prevents hazardous effects while simultaneously allowing for the proper harnessing of methane gas for renewable energy.
The Ontario government has publicly available information on its major landfills. Currently, Hamilton houses one of the largest landfill sites in Ontario in the Glanbrook district.
Based on available information, there are less than 200 years left until this landfill runs out of space. This creates another reason to remove unnecessary organic waste from landfills.
In addition to green bins, McMaster also has electronics recycling bin drop-off locations in a number of campus buildings, including the Arthur Bourns Building, John Hopkins Engineering Building, Information Technology Building and the Ivor Wynne Centre.
Created because electronics contain harmful chemicals and cannot be easily responsibly disposed of, drop off centres take products like computers, hair dryers and microwaves.
“We are interested to see what other initiatives we can encourage next year’s committee to run. We got a ton of great feedback about the reusable cutlery,” said Connor Maclean, the chair of the committee. “I think making sustainability convenient for students can get so many people engaged in environmental protection and preservation.”
Over the next few weeks, the MSU sustainability education committee will be taking the feedback it received from last week’s campaign to advocate for more green bins on campus.
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By: Isaac Kinley
McMaster University President Patrick Deane is assembling a fossil fuel divestment advisory group in response to a petition demanding that the university pull its endowment out of fossil fuel investments.
The petition, an initiative of Fossil Free McMaster, aimed to collect 1,000 signatures but has so far managed to garner just over 900 in the two years that it has been online. Its text warns of the disastrous effects of climate change and says that McMaster students “deserve the opportunity to graduate with a future not defined by climate chaos.” It calls on the university to halt new investments in fossil fuel companies and to divest from all fossil fuel-related investments within five years, which it argues is also a financially responsible decision.
The advisory group will counsel the McMaster Board of Governors’ Finance Committee, responsible for the University’s investment decisions, on whether to divest from fossil fuels. Deane aims to form a group that is unbiased and includes both an undergraduate and a graduate student. To this end, he has contacted the Student Representative Assembly and the Graduate Students Association to ask them to provide candidates.
Conner Hurd, the head of Fossil Free McMaster, feels that this lack of bias may be difficult to achieve. “There’s very few people who sit on the fence on this issue,” he said. “It’s going to be hard to find an unbiased sample.” He expects that the advisory group’s eventual verdict will be in Fossil Free McMaster’s favour, but also stresses that his group advocates an approach that will allow the University to avoid losing money.
“Going forward with integrity doesn’t just mean taking the moral high road on any argument, it means being pragmatic. Ultimately we don’t want the university to lose out on money that comes back from endowment funds because it goes towards bursaries and grants,” he said. “Plus it is donated money, so the people who’ve donated [it] want to see it go back into the University.”
Professor emeritus of economics Atif Kubursi, who has been involved with the initiative along with Biology professor James Quinn, is also optimistic about its outcome, although he said he would like McMaster to move more quickly on the matter. “We should be at the vanguard of things,” he said. “It would be terrible if the university were a laggard and always reacting to others.”
He also feels that the recent 50 percent drop in oil prices may provide McMaster with a financial incentive to divest. “If they had listened to us, they would have saved a lot of money. This is an opportune moment to rebalance your portfolio by going into the kinds of investments that are sunrise, not sunset. The oil industry is a sunset industry. Sunrise would be renewable energy,” he said. “The University, even for pure financial reasons, is ill-advised to remain in fossil fuels.”
By: Grace Bocking
It always begins with that anxiety in the pit of my stomach. I see the alarm clock, poised in anticipation, ticking away the hours until it gets to go off in an explosion of horns and sirens to wake me from what should have been a blissful eight hours of sleep. I lie there, accompanied only by the noises being created by my roommate upstairs who’s doing god-knows-what at this hour. I try different sleeping positions. I count some sheep. Heck, I even get out of bed and make a pathetic attempt at yoga because that’s supposed to help, right?
Wrong. Nothing works. Insomnia is like some incurable disease that preys on the sleepdeprived. Those of you who have REM cycles that are practically on demand won’t be able to relate to any of these frustrations. However, if you are far too familiar with early morning infomercials (the ShamWow guy never sleeps either), you’ll understand where I’m coming from. There is nothing worse than not being able to sleep when you really need to, and I have the dark circles to prove it.
Of course, this isn’t to say that insomniacs aren’t able to get a couple hours of sleep in some of the time. At some point after your full emotional breakdown at 3 a.m., your thoughts finally stopped talking and you must have fallen asleep. Maybe you didn’t get enough of a rest to function properly the next day, but you’ll get by if you have a coffee...or three. Starbucks makes a killing off of you.
Still, the worst part about insomnia isn’t the money you spend on caffeine each morning, but the fact that it always strikes at the worst possible time. So, you have a midterm the next morning in that godforsaken 8:30 a.m. class? Don’t count on getting enough sleep, kid, you’re staying wide awake. You have a job interview tomorrow and want to look your best? Here’s hoping you can rock those bags under your eyes.
While the rest of the world lies unconscious, there are always a few of us awake in our beds, watching the hours pass by. I don’t mind having to pull the occasional all-nighter, but at some point, sunrises lose their appeal. The next time you see one of us in the library, slouched over with drool coming out of our mouth, don’t judge. We’re just catching up on the sleep we’ve been missing out on.
Tired and frustrated university student
Skip the Tim’s line and brew coffee at home. Make a beeline for the rotting discount produce cart at your local grocery store. Split a pitcher, pass on personal pints.
The student life and the endless struggle to save money fit together as naturally as Halloween and candy corn. Most of us are pretty aware of the little daily differences that can go a long way to keeping some extra cash in our pockets. But when it comes to saving substantial money on the utilities bill, many of us, myself included, don’t have a clue.
The semester goes on in all its glory, but every month the hydro bill arrives, and every month a lot of my money and a little bit of my soul gets paid out to Horizons. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
A major recent government of Ontario initiative has been the implementation of the Smart Meter, which is a time-of-use electricity measuring system.
That means that electricity prices vary, depending on when you are using it. Roughly translated, electricity use on weekdays between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. will cost about 1.5 times more than during evening hours and weekends. So whenever possible, do laundry, cooking and laptop charging during these off-peak times, because every little bit adds up.
The number-one energy consumer in residential homes is central heating. In my home growing up, adjusting the thermostat was roughly the equivalent to tasering the family dog…you just didn’t do it. If you were cold, you put on a sweater. If you were still cold, you put on another sweater. If you were still cold, you were instructed to run up and down the stairs ten times.
Only then, between sweat-drenched gasps for air, were you permitted to negotiate the possibility of turning up the thermostat a few notches. True, life was hard. But it taught me some valuable lessons about energy costs that have saved me countless dollars throughout my undergraduate career. Lucky for you, I am willing to pass them on.
Computers still use energy when they are locked, sleeping, hibernating or anything but off, so if you’re leaving the room for any substantial amount of time, shut the thing down.
Opening the oven door to see how your food is coming along releases all the hot air your poor oven has worked so hard to generate. So if you must see how your cookies are mid-bake, use the oven light. Better yet, avoid this step altogether and just eat cookie dough.
Skip laundry! Hot water is the second biggest factor in household energy output. More importantly, hygiene is overrated. If a clothing article is soft viagra beginning to look particularly dirty you can always hand clean it on the new washboard abs all those flights of stairs will have helped you develop.
Turn off the TV, shut off the lights, and hunker down with a book and a tea-light for some good, 20th-century evening entertainment. November should be a month of clear night skies and predictable lunar phases, so if the flickering light of a candle isn’t quite cutting it you can always strategically place yourself where there’s a little extra moonlight.
Why take a shower when you could not take a shower? If you must, take a cold one. It may seem like seven minutes of hell on earth, but when you finish, the air outside of your bathroom will be a balmy 21-degree paradise in comparison.
With a little energy saving knowledge and some simple alterations to your hydro-consuming lifestyle, you’ll be able to slash your utilities bills in no time.
Then you can sit back in the light of the moon as it streams through your bedroom window and ponder the endless possibilities of what you can do with all this unexpected extra monthly cash.