Is an emergency declaration by another name as impactful?

The answer appears to be “not quite,” based on some of the comments after county council opted not to declare a climate change emergency. Councillors said the timing was too soon, given their climate change plan is a way from completion. But the resolution they did pass fully recognizes climate change and its harms, as well as committing to address the issue.

Proving their ignorance, some deniers felt vindicated by the headline, not reading beyond it. Despite that, the resolution amounts to the same ongoing actions an emergency declaration would instigate. That’s fine as long as it’s not a sign of future hesitancy.

As a reporter, I do believe words matter and the county’s fearfulness here counts for something. It matters to both the deniers and the environmentalists. But the formality of a declaration now is not a big deal, considering the county already fully recognizes the issue and is working to address it. They will probably make the declaration
when they have a plan ready.

Declaring a climate change emergency would make no difference to what they are doing. Though the message would have been stronger, the declaration is unlikely to sway deniers. It amounts to little more than preaching to most of us who are already in the choir.

But what is cause for concern is the prevailing attitude of our leaders to take small steps, when the time for giant leaps is upon us.

There was no good reason not to declare an emergency. Climate change is undeniable and it’s a declaration hundreds of jurisdictions have already made. It would not have necessarily bound the municipality to any actions beyond what they are already doing. These declarations are important symbolic gestures but are not burdensome to places already committed to fighting climate change such as Haliburton.

Despite that, county council did a lot of hand-wringing about it. It is not unlike when Dysart et al council decided to delay banning Hydro One from using the toxic chemical Garlon for more than a year to give the company time to find alternatives.

But the municipality was well within its authority to implement the ban quickly and Hydro One is big enough to deal with that. The delay was unnecessary, as shown by how quickly Dysart council reinstated the ban, caving to pressure by cottagers.

Governments tend to change slowly. In most cases, it makes some sense. Checks and balances are important. The public should have the opportunity to give feedback, especially on big decisions.

But those important mechanisms are part of why governments have struggled so much with climate change. They were slow to fully recognize it, slow to start addressing it and are now slow in bringing in the radical changes needed. These changes and plans should have begun decades ago.

Major transformation takes time. But where climate change is concerned, we do not have much more time to give.

When it really counts, I hope our leaders are more willing to take bold stances in future.

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