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Fork in the Road: A now or never race to the finish

With COP 27 and a new council, Whistlerites reflect on our climate crossroad
crossroads
As world leaders convene for COP 27, humanity finds itself at a climate emergency crossroad.

Monira Al Qadiri is a Kuwaiti artist sometimes referred to as a “prophet of doom with an ear for a joke.”

Her current exhibition at Texas’ Blaffer Art Museum is called “Refined Vision,” an ironic reference to all the fossil fuels at the heart of her show and our carbon- based economy. That includes Monira’s birthplace, Kuwait, which depends on hydrocarbons for about half of its GDP. (For Canada, that number is about five per cent of our GDP.)

More irony: the centrepiece of her exhibition is “Crude Eye,” a video commissioned with funding from a centre set up by the wife of the late George P. Mitchell, a billionaire and hydraulic fracturing engineer who made his fortune from—you guessed it—fracking.

Not to be a prophet of doom, but it turns out the joke’s still on us as world leaders meet Nov. 6 to 18 for COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, a beautiful resort town that depends on monied visitors. Hey, like Whistler! Only it’s in Egypt, a quarter of whose GDP is based on oil and gas. And, no, Greta will not be going. She calls the whole thing “greenwashing.”

Wow.

Beyond the crazy heat and drought, and the atmospheric river we just experienced— all of which has been disastrous for our farmers and overall food and water supplies—I shouldn’t need to remind you where we’re at in terms of climate on the eve of COP. But I will.

To start, COP is the conference where the IPCC (the UN-based Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) presents its findings regarding the latest science on climate change. The IPCC’s April report—called the final warning to governments about climate breakdown—says that the only hope for the world to avoid the worst disasters of climate change is a “now or never” race to a low- carbon economy and society.

The World Meteorological Organization reports that heat-trapping greenhouse gases reached record highs in 2021 and continue to rise “...showing that we’re heading in the wrong direction.” Of the 193 countries that agreed last year to crank up their climate action, only 23 have done so!

Even COP 27’s chair, Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister, says the goal of limiting warming to 1.5 C is “more fragile” than ever, due to geopolitical tensions worldwide, like the war in Ukraine.

Meanwhile, irony mocks again as Svalbard, Norway, home to the giant underground global vault storing seeds as back-up for world crop diversity, is the fastest warming place on Earth!

As new councils get underway, and people are hugely disappointed, if not downright freaked, that most jurisdictions, including Whistler, aren’t meeting their climate targets, I asked some key locals for their take on the Resort Municipality of Whistler’s commitment to its climate plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2030—and how things might shake out.

While no one can, or should, comment on an incoming council at such early stages, some interesting points came out.

Cheeying Ho, the Whistler Centre for Sustainability’s E.D., had some great advice about where the new council should focus: really invest in active transportation and capitalize on the e-bike revolution. Continue to push aggressively for regional transit, including to Mount Currie. And identify ways to allow infill rental housing, which uses existing land and infrastructure more efficiently and is better for the climate, in all neighbourhoods.

For decades, forest ecologist and Whistler Naturalists founder, Bob Brett, has been reminding councils—and all Whistlerites— about the importance of protecting the environment, and biodiversity. While he doesn’t profess to know what, at a municipal level, can be done to address climate change, he does know that “you can’t get out of climate change by replacing a municipal fleet with EVs.”

In his view, most of the best ways to reduce or mitigate climate change are land- based: protect old forests, and manage second-growth in a way that restores more old forest habitat, like by not logging them again, or by doing selective logging.

Like lots of locals, Bob also feels that the municipality has been way too slow when it comes to meeting its own climate goals.

All of this is not lost on Arthur De Jong, who has just been re-elected to his second term on council. He’s been known as Mr. Environmental, especially for all the good work he did on Whistler Blackcomb’s enviro file before he retired, like setting up a zero-footprint plan that spread to all Vail mountain resorts and did things like reduce waste by 70-plus per cent.

“Through my first four years ... I very much felt a keen, driven RMOW staff on climate,” says Arthur. “In fact, I always felt encouraged, and I know when I would get worked up [that] we are not moving at the rate we need to be moving on on this, staff would smile.

“They want to push harder, and the same with Jack. But, clearly,” he adds, “we’re not meeting our goals in terms of carbon reduction. We know we need to find the means and the ways of accelerating.”

With that acknowledgement, and the fact that no one knows exactly what Whistler’s new council will do, Arthur is still confident they’re all pretty much in the same boat—a green one.

I’ll go one step further and say if you’re a political nerd like me, and track council (see my letter to the editor this week along those lines), place your bets that finally some big, tangible initiatives will be coming down the line for Whistler.

While we fidget, waiting for those, remember that as the leaders we elected meet at COP 27, or around council tables, to tackle the climate disaster, you and I need to step up our own behaviour and not leave it to them, or the artists. We need to radically cut greenhouse gas emissions in our own lives like never before.

You know how—so do it.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who is plenty scared, especially for the young ones growing up.

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