Payoff for climate foresight

Canadians have watched with horror and sympathy this month as millions of Texans suffered through blackouts, boil water orders, traffic nightmares and other results of a rare, at that latitude, and extended winter storm.

While the temptation to skimp on winterization of key elements of the power grid is understandable in a region known for heat, not sleet, state officials’ historic resistance to federal regulation led to a situation where other states could not even supply Texas with emergency power during this latest crisis. The choice not to link to the national power grid allowed Texas utilities to avoid federal regulation, which would have required some measures be taken to avoid the disaster they’re currently undergoing.

The Texans gambled and lost on their bet that they wouldn’t be catastrophically affected by a changing climate, at least in the short term.

Closer to home some eyebrows were raised and even a few snickers heard when Wellington County announced in February of 2019 the county would use a $125,000 federal grant to fund a climate change coordinator staff position.

The plan was to increase the county’s capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by adding mitigation practices into daily municipal processes.

Two years later, the project is about to bear fruit as climate change coordinator Karen Chisholme is expected to present  Future Focussed, a climate change plan for the County of Wellington to county council this week.

The 100-plus page plan includes everything from a greenhouse gas emissions inventory and forecast to concrete steps to both minimize greenhouse gas emissions (and thereby global warming) and adapt to changes that have already arrived and those it’s too late to avoid.

Previewing the report for Wellington North council on Jan. 11, Chisholme said the increased frequency of extreme weather “is something our conservation authorities are watching and modelling,” as increased storm intensity is expected to be another noticeable result of climate change.

Preparations for extreme weather as it specifically affects our region are just one element of the plan, which also looks at such practical impacts as anticipated complications for road maintenance, as well as ice damage to trees, problems with invasive species, increased nutrients and sediment in water ways, and an increase in algae presence, among many.

Chisholme noted recreation “may be of more concern to our municipalities rather than the county,” but warmer temperatures will increase the cost of operating ice rinks and other facilities.

Wellington County has shown considerable foresight in taking advantage of an offer to assist with forward planning from the federal government and, in looking ahead, will no doubt find savings, or at least avoid future expenditures by investing in the right areas for a changing world.

At the same time, the feds were wise to incentivize lower tier governments, as the county report notes “municipalities are keenly positioned to play a pivotal role in greenhouse gas reductions” as energy consumers, investors and influencers.

“In 2009, it was estimated that 44 per cent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions were directly or indirectly controlled by municipalities.”

As Chisholme noted, mitigation (reducing greenhouse gases) will help “avoid the unmanageable,” while adaptation will be required to “manage the unavoidable.”

North Wellington Community News