A WAKE UP CALL!
Vigil at Hamilton City Hall
A dozen people marked the one year anniversary of the worst ever recorded air quality index reading in the province - a reading of 103 - a dubious distinction for Hamilton achieved on October 26, 2004.
WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 26, 2005
6:00 - 7:00 pm
The small gathering was to be a "wake-up call" to city council, a first notice that some citizens want to see some substantial action to address issues of smog and climate change.
Children chalked messages on the pavement, as others donned air filter masks and held a "Climate Change: Action NOW!" banner in front of city hall as hundreds of cars zoomed past on Main Street.
The group moved inside moments prior to the start of a city council meeting to deliver their wake up call.
As city councillors settled into their chairs, a brief but noisy percussion session erupted in the foyer outside council chambers. The banner was clearly visible for councillors and a group of students visiting from Mohawk College.
Downtown councillor Bob Bratina came and joined in a circle dance led by Rex Barger, before returning to his council seat.
The vigil ended with Hamilton's daily newspaper and local television station failing to cover the event.
A year ago, Clean Air Hamilton's chairperson Brian McCarry said the extreme smog warning should be a wake-up call about the amount of pollution produced locally.
Yet, a year later we have to ask ourselves: Are we allowing ourselves to get used to smog? How much poisonous air is acceptable? What do we need to help make better choices? And, given that Canadians consider climate change an urgent issue we must ask: are governments doing enough?
A recent study by the David Suzuki Foundation indicates that "Canada is one of the worst environmental performers in the industrialized world and has shown no improvement over the past decade." The study notes that Canada's greenhouse gas emissions are two times higher than the average for other industrialized countries and major smog-causing air pollutants are two-to-three times higher.
In Hamilton, smog and climate change are driven largely by our transportation choices. A report prepared for the city found that while fuel use increased across Canada during the 1990s, Hamilton's per capita fuel use increased more rapidly than most other cities, from almost 1,100 litres per capita to nearly 1,250 litres." Automobile travel is the largest producer of Green House Gases (GHG)
With only 7% of daily trips using transit, it is clear where we might begin to make the kind of gains necessary if Canada is to stop going the wrong direction on our Kyoto commitments.
Not facing climate change, according to another study, means that heat-related deaths will double by 2050 and triple by 2080 because of global warming. The authors say that increased air pollution will cause a 20 per cent increase in smog-related deaths by 2050 and a 25 per cent increase by 2080. Scientists urged the federal government to focus on mandatory, rather than voluntary measures to meet Canada's targets under the Kyoto Protocol for reducing smog and greenhouse gases.
We are witnessing the effects of climate change - from the seemingly mundane, like pollution-stressed trees showing less fall colour, to hurricanes and extreme weather, flooding, landslides, sea level rise, heat/cold waves, water shortage, air pollution, intensification of heat islands. The list goes on and it is only going to get worse.
It's time for serious reflection, time to acknowledge our role in climate change and resolve to do all we can to prevent a continuation of destructive ways. It's clear that we need action, we need to be proactive and come up with a preventative, not just a reactive, smog strategy.
We might start with planting more trees, pass an anti-idling by-law, build more bike paths and bike lanes and connect more footpaths, lower transit fares and increase service funded by dedicated gas taxes, create green roofs, de-pave parking lots, put our roads on "diets", invest in clean local energy, raise taxes on SUV purchases (currently taxed at a rate that is between one-half and one-third the rate for passenger vehicles), protect and support local organic agriculture and agricultural lands, reduce our fuel consumption through conservation measures, build more compact cities by embracing "smart growth", ensure climate change is factored into new developments, and make binding - not voluntary - emission thresholds for industry.