By Steve Hubrecht
Concerned residents continued to press Invermere council for action on climate change during the most recent council meeting.
At the meeting, a group of young adults, representing Columbia Valley youth group Columbi-YA, pressed councillors on why the district has neither a municipal climate change resilience coordinator nor a climate change action plan, pointing out that many municipalities in the Kootenay region, including nearby Kimberley, have at least one of those, if not both.
“We have ski hills around here that need their winter,” Columbi-YA member Amira Elwakeel told council members, hinting that climate change entails economic as well as environmental impacts.
Elwakeel continued that the youth present are well aware the council has a multitude of pressing issues on its plate but noted that that’s precisely why the district should consider hiring a full-time employee to deal with the climate change resiliency; that if the district had a designated person fulfilling that role, that would take pressure off other district staff for whom climate change is one issue among many.
Fellow Columbi-YA member Kate Watt explained that the group is very appreciative of the steps Invermere council has taken so far to be more environmentally minded, but added that hiring a dedicated coordinator could be even more effective.
Elwakeel asked if, for instance, the planned downtown revitalization takes into account the potential for increased extreme weather events, such as the recent hailstorm that hammered Invermere or the 40 plus degree heatwave that preceded it.
“If you don’t have somebody (on staff) to ask those questions…I don’t know if you can expect to make it through 40 degree weather,” she added, outlining that the coordinator role could be “full-time or part-time, anything is awesome, and sooner is better than later.”
The youth handed council members a list that collectively formed an informal ‘action plan’; listing steps the district can take in the areas of transportation, home building, and energy efficiency, among others, that could help combat climate change.
Invermere mayor Al Miller responded that district staff and council members do look at issues and make decisions through an environmental “lens” and climate change does get thought about, although he hastened to add “not as much as if there were a dedicated coordinator.”
Local resident Tracy Flynn presented next to council. She was also curious as to why the district has not hired a municipal climate change resilience coordinator or adopted a climate change action plan.
“My son, who is the same age as many of the young people here (referencing the Columbi-YA members) has decided not to have children, because he doesn’t think the world is a great place to bring kids into,” Flynn told council.
Flynn pointed out that money spent now on dealing with the issue will almost certainly come back in spades in future years, and added she is pursuing the issue not just with Invermere council, but at federal and provincial levels, and that she plans to bring it to the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) and the village of Radium Hot Springs as well.
“We’re facing our biggest challenge in history…what’s stopping us? It’s time for bold leaders and bold actions,” she said, adding that sometimes she wonders if it is a climate crisis or a leadership crisis.
The district has little to lose, said Flynn, with the worst case scenario that it hires a climate change coordinator, and it doesn’t pan out. She noted there would be a cost associated with that but added that such a cost is relatively small compared with the district’s overall budget, and infinitesimally small in comparison with the potential costs of not doing enough to fight climate change.
Invermere mayor Al Miller responded that climate change is something that would be discussed during the district’s strategic priority sessions.
“I certainly believe we need to do more than we are,” said Miller, but added that there are a lot of pressing things in the community that need to get done. “Where does it (climate change) fit?” asked Miller rhetorically. “We’ll discuss that.”
Councillor Greg Anderson added council will do more but that citizens have to be realistic with their expectations.
“We can only do so much at one time,” said Anderson, adding the concerns of citizens wanting more action on climate change needs to be balanced with the concerns of the “many other people in the district for whom climate change is not the top priority.”