“I don’t want to live in a world that’s underwater”

On Thursday Oct. 4, King’s student Lily Barraclough addressed Halifax’s Environment and Sustainability Standing Committee. Barraclough is the Canada Program Coordinator for the youth-run climate change organization iMatter. Alongside Neria Atwine from Saint Mary’s University, she proposed that iMatter and the HRM work together to achieve net zero emissions by the year 2040.

The day was a success for Barraclough and Atwine. Their proposition was supported by councillor Bill Karsten, who motioned that the city staff draft a report researching iMatter’s proposed resolution. The motion was carried unanimously by the committee. Once complete, the finished report will be submitted to the committee before it’s given to regional council. It’s a positive outcome for iMatter and the committee, as a step towards action by the city.

Halifax is one of the coastal cities in Canada most at risk for flooding as a result of climate change. According to research done by the Globe and Mail, Halifax could experience its sea level rising up to 90.3 cm by the year 2100 if climate change continues on its current path.    

“I’m here today because I’m scared for our future, because I don’t want to live in a world that’s underwater, or a world where we’re experiencing extreme weather events at increased frequencies,” Barraclough told the committee.

In Barraclough’s presentation, she referenced Halifax’s results in the Youth Climate Report Card,  a tool developed by iMatter and used internationally. The report card was created using climate data and science from James Hansen, the director of the climate science, awareness and solutions program at Columbia University. It was first implemented in Canada and Halifax in 2016. In this year’s report card, Halifax’s overall grade went up to a B- from a C+ in 2017.

Those improvements can be attributed to policies implemented in the past year, like the Urban Forest Master Plan, which focuses on planting trees in urban Halifax to create better air quality. Halifax also received bonus points on this year’s report card for youth involvement, because of the growing youth presence in climate change discussions and implementation of climate change policies.

But Halifax got a D- in renewable energy because of the city’s heavy dependence on fossil fuels. Halifax Transit’s bus fleet, for example, is made up of 338 diesel buses, and only two hybrid buses. That’s only 0.6 per cent of the entire fleet, as reported by Global News in September 2018. In comparison, one-third of Toronto’s buses are hybrids. The D- was the main focus of iMatter’s presentation.

“It’s not an easy thing to grasp and it’s terrifying, and quite frankly, it sometimes feels awful to be doing this work. Today we did have the committee take a step forward, and move towards actually taking aggressive action, but most of the time we don’t get that, most of the time we’re faced with delays and pats on the head,” said Barraclough.

The committee’s decision includes looking at what the city is doing to help marginalized communities adapt to the possible impacts of climate change. If nothing changes and sea level begins to rise in Halifax, wealthier neighbourhoods have the infrastructure to deal with that. Those in lower-income areas will have a harder time repairing damages or being able to move if needed.

iMatter believes that since climate change will affect everyone, protection from climate change should be ensured for everyone. They feel that there are many other issues in the world that must be resolved, so not everyone can focus on climate change. That means that people must work together to solve climate change for those who can’t.

The students received a positive reception from the committee.

“When I hear people come forward that are passionate about their futures like you ladies are, and your whole organization, I often say that our future’s in good hands,” said Karsten.

“Historically, council has not been a leader. Our governments are not leaders—on all levels. To say otherwise is a barefaced lie…I want to thank you for coming in and motivating people who should have been motivated years ago,” said councillor Richard Zurawski.

To learn more about the iMatter youth movement in Halifax, visit: https://www.imatteryouth.org/halifax-ns/