Much as Greater Sudbury did in May 2019, the city of Thunder Bay has officially declared a climate emergency, joining hundreds of municipalities across the country – and the federal government itself – in what advocates say is a potent symbolic move.
The declaration, passed unanimously at Monday’s city council meeting, is intended to signal the seriousness of the global climate crisis to the public and other governments, while reinforcing the importance of climate action in future planning. It does not compel any particular action by the city.
A nearly-full public gallery erupted in a lengthy round of applause after council passed the motion, which was recommended by the city’s EarthCare sustainability committee. The proposal drew a petition in favour with over 400 signatures, and letters of support from 15 organizations, including Confederation College and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit.
Aynsley Klassen, chair of EarthCare’s climate adaptation working group, told councillors the declaration would help send a signal to the public that urgent action is needed.
“If no one around us is acting like it’s an emergency, then we are less likely to act,” she said. “Tonight is an opportunity for the city of Thunder Bay to respond to this crisis, and to stand as a strong leader.”
Local secondary school science teacher Matt Roy also addressed council, explaining some of the basics of climate science. He urged council to consider future generations in making their decision.
“We can show the kids I teach, and the kid I have at home, that as the adults in the room we’re prepared to make the big changes we need to,” he said.
Mayor Bill Mauro pointed to the impact of the spruce beetle on western Canada’s forestry industry as one example of the environmental and economic devastation climate change can wreak.
Councillor Andrew Foulds, who chairs the EarthCare committee and put forward the motion, highlighted the rising number of evacuees from northern communities due to floods and wildfires. The city accommodated over 900 evacuees in the summer of 2019, reaching a point where it had to turn others away. Foulds says the problem is likely to get worse with the impacts of climate change.
“We had to turn people away who were desperate and in crisis,” he said. “We have to do better.”
Councillor Aldo Ruberto supported the declaration, but said council wasn’t acting as if climate change is an emergency. He pointed out the city spends exponentially more on roads than bike lanes.
“We’re talking about it, but where’s the money to back it up?” he asked.
Turning to the several dozen citizens assembled in council chambers to support the motion, Ruberto gave them credit for the city’s progress on climate change, and encouraged them to keep pushing council to take action on the issue.
“You’re doing the heavy lifting,” he told the group, “but we’ll help you.”
Greater Sudbury declared a climate emergency on May 29, 2019, also voting unanimously to do so.