Dr. Dianne Saxe, former Environmental Commissioner of Ontario and internationally recognized environmental lawyer, joined Kingston City Council on a rainy October 22 evening for a special presentation in a modified town hall format.
Dozens of people, some as young as nine years old, filled Memorial Hall to hear Saxe’s presentation, titled ‘Climate Changes Everything’, before Saxe took questions from both City Council and members of the public.
Saxe spoke broadly about focusing every decision the municipality makes through a climate lens, including a focus on greenhouse gas impacts, and if decisions being made will help to transition to a low-carbon economy.
Saxe cited multiple examples of other municipalities and the environmental projects they have undertaken, including the cycling network implemented by Seville, Spain and a solar farm implemented on a landfill in Atlanta, GA. She also commented about Boston’s goal of becoming a carbon-neutral community by 2050.
“Kingston has a real advantage”, Saxe said, referencing the combined water, power and gas services of Utilities Kingston. She added that Kingston’s mix of urban and rural reach and highly educated population should help to aid in improving Kingston’s environmental impacts.
One key takeaway from the presentation was that council should begin to budget carbon emissions as they do money. Construction projects that generate additional carbon impacts, such as the runway expansion or construction of the third crossing, should be balanced with reductions elsewhere or, if needed, with carbon offsets.
Saxe also noted that, while bike lanes are a key component, having lanes end abruptly before cyclists are able to reach their destination or having lanes that feel unsafe will lead to them not being used.
“Some people say this is a new normal. It isn’t. A new normal is when you gain 10 pounds and buy a new pair of pants,” Saxe said to laughter as she compared the idea of weight gain to the increasing temperature of the planet. Saxe also received a large round of applause from the audience when she suggested that the Mayor begin biking to meetings.
Saxe answered roughly a dozen questions following her presentation. She first took questions from members of Council, who asked about the potential need to increase taxes as a way to pay for environmental expenses, as well as the concept of municipally-issued “green bonds,” which would allow residents to invest in local climate projects.
Members of the public were invited to ask questions after council, allowed as a result of council’s town hall format. Residents asked about the impact of a new bridge, bike tourism, smart carbon offsets, and what more residents could do to help make sure that cities understand the importance of this issue. Saxe reiterated that Kingston’s work is “a great start,” though she commented that work was more being done without an overarching goal in mind.
He presentation and Q&A session were wrapped up with a standing ovation from the crowd assembled, as the Mayor thanked her for her time. Council next meets on Tuesday, Nov. 5 at 7:00 p.m. in Council Chambers for its regular meeting.
Born and raised in Kingston, Tommy Vallier bleeds limestone. An avid council watcher since 2004, he first began reporting on municipal affairs in 2011, helping to modernize meetings and make them more accessible through social media and live video. When he isn’t focused on City Hall, he’s an avid gamer, theatre supporter, and Disney fan.