Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Challenge of Improving Our Environment

Last Thursday, I had the honour of co-presenting one of the 2008 Environmental Awards with Regional Chair Partington and John Lundrigan, Chair of the Region’s Ecological & Environmental Advisory Committee, to Pelham’s Adam Shoalts. Mr. Shoalts received the 2008 Volunteer Award for actively raising environmental awareness across Niagara.

Perhaps you have read some of Mr. Shoalts columns about environmental, nature, and conservation issues in the Tribune and the Voice of Pelham. I always find them poignant and thought-provoking.

Mr. Shoalts also sits on the Tribune’s Youth Editorial Board, ensuring that the paper has a “green” voice, and speaks about environmental issues across Niagara. As a student of Brock University, he is active on campus as a member of the Brock Environmental Club.

In addition, Mr. Shoalts is the founder and chair of the Friends of Coyle Creek – a volunteer community group dedicated to cleaning up and preserving a tributary of the Welland River that flows south through Pelham and Welland.

Upon receiving the award, Mr. Shoalts thanked the Region, but also eloquently urged municipal leaders to push the “green” envelope.

“There's a great deal of work yet to be done ... before we can really celebrate anything. Saving the environment won't happen without the support of municipal and regional governments,” said Mr. Shoalts.

This challenge by Mr. Shoalts reminded me of a similar challenge by Thomas Homer-Dixon, a professor at the University of Toronto, during the Smarter Niagara Summit in May.

Homer-Dixon also challenged municipal leaders to play a significant role in shaping humanity’s response to global warming. In fact, he suggested that half of the changes needed to deal with global warming must be made at the local level. He suggested that municipalities need to link global warming with planning, infrastructure, public facilities, and emergency preparedness.

Homer-Dixon suggested that all public buildings make use of renewable energy sources. He also suggested that municipalities increase the requirements of future storm water collection systems so they can handle more frequent and extreme weather. He encouraged transit and municipal planning that makes more efficient use of land.

Because of the high price for fuel, Homer-Dixon suggested that production should be closer to consumers and that employees should be closer to work – to “buy local” and “work local.”

I want to assure you that members of Pelham’s Council have been discussing these issues. Next week, I will outline what actions we have already taken and some of our considerations for future action.