BE THE CHANGE- How to Change the World From Your Own Backyard

Robb Barnes

While it may have become a bit of a cliché by now, the expression “Think globally, act locally” is still packed with meaning when it comes to climate action.

We often think of climate change as something “out there.” To the casual observer, it’s melting icebergs, wildfires and droughts in far-off places. It gets solved by politicians in suits, signing international agreements and making grand policy statements in the House of Commons.

But real climate action is nothing without grassroots power. As important as international and national climate leadership may be (and it is hugely important), it means nothing if we don’t build political will and take action locally.

First, let’s look at why municipal leadership matters. Cities like Ottawa are where the vast majority of Canadians live and are directly or indirectly responsible for nearly half of Canada’s emissions. Globally, cities are where the world is moving. If global civilization is increasingly urban, we can’t build a greener country or planet without putting cities front and centre.

From planning to transportation to infrastructure to energy use, cities are where daily decisions have out-sized effects on our collective future. So, how do we make a more climate friendly city? This is where the power of community comes in. While individual decisions are important and can influence our society at the level of personal values and social expectations, climate change is fundamentally a political problem that must be addressed by political means.

All of us have political power and that power is often strongest where we live — on our street, in our neighbourhood, in our ward and riding. We all have networks and as constituents and community members we have many opportunities to raise our voices. Elections are important but involvement here should be the bare minimum. We can have our say during budget consultations, policy debates and through the many initiatives of neighbourhood groups, community associations and advocacy organizations.

What should we raise our voices for? What’s the best use of our community power? Right now, the City of Ottawa is on the verge of renewing its Official Plan, a major planning and policy document that will shape our urban fabric out to 2046. This encompasses the next decade, a period the United Nations tells us is vital to avoiding climate catastrophe through aggressive action. We must ensure the new Official Plan is Ottawa’s climate emergency plan and that the plan responds with adequate ambition and vision. The city will provide opportunities through its “Engage Ottawa” web platform and public consultations, and community groups will be gathering public feedback to weigh in.

The good news is there’s still time to tackle the climate crisis while building a better city. One of the most inspiring elements in the city’s early conversations about the Official Plan is the concept of the “15-minute neighbourhood.” That is, a neighbourhood that provides access to services and amenities within a 15-minute walk. Old Ottawa East is already a leader in this area. We can improve on what is already working by enhancing urban density, embedding more mixed-use development and lessening car dependency city-wide.

There has never been a time when climate action was this important. Even in the midst of a global pandemic, there has never been such a tremendous opportunity for Ottawans to change the world for the better from our own backyards.

The time for action is now. Join your local community association, your local environmental advocacy organization and call your councillor to underscore the importance of climate action. Together, we can make Ottawa a greener, more vibrant and more dynamic city, for now and for future generations.

[Robb Barnes is Executive Director of Ecology Ottawa and an Old Ottawa East resident]

SLOE (Sustainable Living Ottawa East) wants to hear how you are working environmentalism and climate change action into your everyday living here in OOE. Contact SLOE to stay informed on their projects at sloe@ottawaeast.ca. Also, on January 20, 2021, the second installment in The Mainstreeter’s Social Issues Discussion Series takes place the topic of this free community webinar is Sustaining Biodiversity in Old Ottawa East.Register now at: bit.ly/biodiversity_ooe.

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