It was a close vote, but Smithers has declared a climate emergency.
A motion by Coun. Gladys Atrill to make a declaration of climate emergency passed in a 4-3 vote, with Councillors Lorne Benson, John Buikema and Frank Wray opposed.
The decision comes after a request from Thornhill resident Martin Holzbauer at council’s June 25 meeting.
Mayor Taylor Bachrach said he thought the declaration was appropriate given the situation.
“An emergency suggests an urgent situation that requires immediate action and in my view the situation involving our climate certainly fits that definition, the question is what we’re going to do about it.
“As Ms. Ford’s very detailed reports each year have shown, despite many different actions our emission reductions aren’t yet at the level of ambition that is required in order to meet the targets that we’re told are necessary to keep the globe within 1.5 degrees of warming.”
Bachrach noted that the issue with declaring an emergency is that it is expected specific changes will follow, adding he is excited about a number of proposals staff is working on for the coming year.
Coun. Atrill said part of the reason she supported the motion was that it is important to have the tough discussion about climate change, even if it’s a hard one to have.
“Councillor Buikema used the word uncomfortable and I think that actually is a good word, it’s pretty uncomfortable to talk about it, but it’s more uncomfortable to think about what’s going on.
“I think we’ve been very lucky in our community and the Bulkley Valley over the last decade seeing things that have happened in other places and [it] felt last year that we kind of dodged a bullet with the fires all the way around us … but I think it’s only a matter of time, things are changing all around us.”
Coun. Greg Brown agreed.
“At this point every action is going to matter, that’s what we know,” he said. “The predictions are happening they’re happening faster than we expected so if it causes us to reconfigure and spend money in different ways then maybe that’s what this is calling for.”
Even though Councillors Benson, Buikema and Wray were opposed to the motion, all of them acknowledged that climate change is an issue, but that they didn’t think the declaration of emergency was necessarily the way to tackle it.
Wray said he could not support the motion because he felt declaring an emergency is only appropriate if you’re going to act like there is one.
“If your house is on fire and it’s an emergency you don’t stop and mow the back lawn, you don’t stop and examine the foundation for cracks, you put the fire out.
“If we’re going to declare an emergency then we need to stop all non-essential spending, we need to make sure that instead of putting away our five million dollars that we spend it right away on the storm sewer infrastructure that’s clearly not up to the task of an emergency.”
But he added despite not voting for the motion he felt this and past councils have taken the issue very seriously and that he is happy with the direction council has taken with regard to coming up with green solutions to many of the town’s problems.
Coun. Buikema agreed.
“I’m also extremely comfortable moving into the future with this council that we’ll make decisions that recognize the climate challenges of today without having to take the step of declaring a national emergency.”
After the motion passed Bachrach acknowledged the necessity of making sure the conversation continues.
He said that topics like introducing electric vehicles into the Town’s fleet and finding more green energy solutions to local infrastructure needs are conversations council will have come budget time.
Bachrach also suggested the town go to the BC Municipal Climate Leadership Council for future information as the organization has come up with a package for communities which have made similar declarations, to which there were no objections.
In his closing comments he noted the issue was important to him for personal reasons.
“As a father more than anything I want to be able to look my kids in the eye and say that, as a leader in the community, I did whatever I could to make a difference for the future they are going to inherit.”
The House of Commons passed a motion to declare a national climate emergency June 17.
But as Holzbauer explained June 25, when he made the official request to council, the House of Commons had not made such a declaration.
He said he felt that even after doing so it was important for smaller communities like Smithers to make similar ones in solidarity.