March 2017 will go into the record books as the month when the only environmental action that took place was turning the lights out for Earth Hour. The rest of the month felt like Throwback Thursday, as governments at all levels seemed in competition to see who could turn back the clock the most.
Starting closest to home, Winnipeg city council set aside its own resolutions on organic waste collection and opted to remain one of the few large cities in North America where composting is a mystery too hard to solve. The composting outcome was effectively determined when the only option was a surcharge for curbside collection — Winnipeggers for some reason don’t like paying extra for something that should be included in the city’s waste management plan.
At the same time, Mayor Brian Bowman made "Winnipeg is the city of the future" comments that were hard not to dismiss as trash talk, because visionary decision-making is notably absent from city hall these days on any file. If city council salaries depended on an extra levy per homeowner, I suspect councillors and mayor would be working for free.
Widening the circle, the provincial government declared a victory over red tape by reducing water regulations, just as overland flood season is about to start. I could have suggested other places to cut, but that wasn’t one of the options on the government’s online survey about a "made-in-Manitoba" climate plan.
Fortunately, the slogan "Make Manitoba Green Again" was not used to pitch that plan, because those cuts to water quality regulations made me think of the colour of our lakes after spring nutrient runoffs have refuelled the algae for another year.
The survey says: "It’s your turn to give your views on issues such as carbon pricing, water and land use, conservation and stewardship, clean economic growth and sustainable living." Out of context, this seems like a nice idea, especially after the two-week timeline was extended to the end of March because only 5,000 responses were received. The problem is, a number of individuals and organizations have already been asked these kinds of questions and have answered them privately — at length — several times since the Pallister government took office. If the government is looking for more information, a survey like this won’t provide it.
If they want popular support, online surveys require computers, so most Manitobans will not contribute — though people from somewhere else might.
It makes me wonder whether this is a fig leaf to cover decisions already made (such as the ones on water regulations) or, worse, if it is an excuse to do nothing at all.
Anyway, I have filled in my anonymous Manitoba Climate Green Plan survey — and so should you. In fact, since there is nothing limiting the number of surveys anyone submits, fill it in as many times as you like (I did).
While we await Premier Brian Pallister’s plan for Manitoba’s greener future, we know there must be a carbon tax of some kind, intended to encourage greenhouse gas emission reductions that meet our obligations under the Paris climate agreement. Since one of the main point sources of GHG emissions in Manitoba is the Brady Road Landfill, because (wait for it) we do not compost organic waste, perhaps the provincial government should step in and provide the environmental leadership for the majority of Manitobans who live in Winnipeg that city government cannot.
Widening the focus further, the federal government revealed its budget this month, demonstrating how seriously it takes climate change and the need for urgent action to protect the future Canada in which our children will live.
It’s our 150th birthday, a time for visionary leadership — but what we got was the federal version of Bowman’s vision for the city, along with more pipeline approvals and applause. We had hoped at least for the removal of the multibillion-dollar fossil fuel subsidies, as a sign they understood what has caused a heat wave in Canada’s North not seen since before the Ice Age.
No, March was not a good month. Down south, the United States Environmental Protection Agency is facing catastrophic cuts, under the leadership of someone who publicly said global warming is not caused by greenhouse gas emissions, so I guess we look a little greener by comparison.
Elsewhere, in the midst of what is shaping up to be their worst drought in 100 years because of climate change, the government of Kenya banned the use of the plastic bags that clog their landfill sites and blow across the savannah.
Small signs of hope, as Mother Earth ignores our March rhetoric and continues to warm.
Peter Denton is a Winnipeg-based sustainability consultant and chairs the policy committee of the Green Action Centre.