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  • Kevin Bowers

The Word Emergency has a Meaning

I read an article called: 'We are going to have to burden our taxpayers' in my local paper the Kingston Whig Standard. It is about my city’s inaction towards our recently declared climate emergency.

In an emergency ‘normal’ ceases to exist. When the house is burning we don’t follow routine. We don’t hear the fire alarm, casually note that the couch is burning, then make tea and watch Netflix.

Here are some of quotes from some of my City Councillors:

"Quite frankly, I would be willing to spend more tax dollars to fight climate change, but we, as a council, decided that we didn’t want to spend more than inflation with tax increases,” said Williamsville District Councillor Jim Neill, who put forward the two motions.
“Frankly, I don’t think we can achieve the targets, the very ambitious targets, we have set for ourselves with just inflation increases in our taxes every year.”

Quite frankly, you have to do way better than that.

The word emergency has a meaning. In an emergency ‘normal’ ceases to exist. When the house is burning we don’t follow routine. We don’t hear the fire alarm, casually note that the couch is burning, then make tea and watch Netflix. Yet, after publically engaging the word emergency you said, “We didn’t want to spend more than inflation with tax increases”. I can’t conceive of a more ‘normal’ sentence in municipal politics.

We need a new kind of thinking. We need grit, guts, intelligence, and 'outside of the box' thinking to confront the largest threat that mankind has ever faced. To declare impotence at this existential moment is lame. It is especially lame because it is a lie. We are not impotent. There are all sorts of things that we could do, and they would not only be moral and inspirational and place us on the right foot as we tackle the climate crisis, but they would also save us money and enrich lives.

I understand that the system in which you operate will not make it easy.  The same orthodoxies that steer us towards ecological collapse built the culture in which you work.  But cultures and orthodoxies need to respond to emergencies. It is not your job to defend a system that our best science says is killing us.

What might an emergency response look like? Well there are a myriad of things in the potential repertoire. One thing that comes to the mind of this citizen on the sidelines of municipal politics is the third crossing.  This piece of infrastructure is going to cost at least $180 million.  

Do we have an existential 'crossing crisis'?  Is the need for this bridge more important than the survival of ecosystems?   The question is absurd because the answer is obvious.  

The reallocation of priorities is going to have to be on the menu of this council in order to meet this crisis. The facile and cynical manoeuvre to pit middle class tax concerns before this glairing, obvious, and scientifically verified emergency is part of the neo-liberal script that got us into this crisis.

I suspect that within the corridors of council, this decision seemed sensible and reasonable and even balanced, but if that is the case then those corridors are part of the problem. Step outside and march with 600,000 people in Montreal. To them, this decision and the attitude that supports it, is bizarre and dangerous.

Science has not offered you any ambiguity. There is no ‘business as usual’ option on the table. 11,000 scientists have just declared what we already know. We are in an emergency. The contention that you, “don’t think we can achieve the targets” is inadequate.

On behalf of my grandchildren and common sense, I would ask that you to go back to the council room and revise your decisions. I would ask that you don’t base your resolutions on past practice, or on the inertia of the status quo, or on the wills and wishes of establishment forces. Rather, make decisions based upon the unambiguous definition of the word emergency. Make decisions that will inspire pride in future generations. Make decisions that require fortitude and guts. Make decisions that you know will be met with venom and scorn by those with dollars to loose. Make decisions that will turn sunlight into power and that will make public spaces sustainable and beautiful for generations. Make decisions that will stimulate innovation and make hope concrete and palpable. And most importantly, make decisions as if everyone and everything we love depends on it.

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