Sustainable Cape Breton

We are a group of concerned citizens exploring ways to promote environmental, economic, social, and cultural sustainability in Cape Breton.

Global climate change poses one of the most significant challenges of our time, and affects us all. It is therefore incumbent upon us to work together to find solutions. We believe that the most practical place to start is at the local level, expanding outward; and that the best way to address this and other issues is with an integrated, community-based approach.

And we are not alone. Our goal is to engage communities and organizations already working on these issues, as well as all those with a stake in Cape Breton’s future. As an organization we are goal-oriented, but we believe that sustainable, legitimate results are only possible through consensus-building.

We believe real change is needed, and that significant gains can be made, in three sectors:

  • energy
  • transportation
  • agriculture

Creative, grassroots solutions to the climate crisis can reduce our impact on the environment, develop (as oppose to grow) the economy, preserve and promote our cultural heritage, and protect society. All the while making our communities more resilient and adaptive, safer and healthier – and generally better places to live.

Global warming: One Hot Topic

Published in the Cape Breton Post and

We live in interesting times. There’s no denying it.

In light of the unprecedented scope and complexity of the problems the world faces, Thomas Homer-Dixon has said that ‘ecology’ – the study of natural systems – will be the dominant field of study in the 21st century. The term ‘system’ refers not only to the environment, but to things like economies and populations; and – most importantly – to the interconnectedness between and among systems, as in a town or city.

If, instead, we treat problems in isolation from one another, we may find that we are treating multiple and recurring symptoms while the cause persists.No other issue epitomizes this need for a holistic approach to problem-solving than climate change.

The build-up in the atmosphere of heat-trapping gasses like carbon dioxide and methane is causing global temperatures to rise. This in turn is destabilizing the earth’s climate systems as they adapt, trying to equilibrate. And while global warming is largely the result of the profligate burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas) and unchecked economic growth in the industrialized West, the effects of climate change will be felt first and worst in the poorest communities in the Global South — effects ranging from poor air quality and rising sea levels to desertification and ocean acidification. In already stressed parts of the world, the more extreme of these effects may lead to resource wars, not just over oil but food and water.

Slowing, adapting to, and mitigating the worst effects of climate change at home and abroad will require seeing the complex interconnections between ecosystems, economies and human populations; between energy, development and social justice. In short, climate change is not only a scientific and technological issue, but a political, economic and moral one, too.

However, despite being perhaps the defining ecological crisis of our time, climate change only seems to surface in the mainstream media when yet another controversy breaks.

In November of 2009, just weeks prior to the international Climate Conference in Copenhagen, a large number of emails were hacked from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) at the University of East Anglia in England. The emails were between leading climate scientists involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), prompting the media to dub the theft ‘Climategate’.Many believe the emails reveal disturbing evidence of data manipulation and deletion, as well as a conspiracy to silence dissenting scientific opinion. Some have even gone so far as to suggest the entire case for global warming has been manufactured in order to transfer billions of dollars from rich to poor nations.

This Tuesday at 7pm at the Cape Breton Centre for Heritage & Science, Andrew Reynolds, a history and philosophy of science professor at Cape Breton University, will discuss these charges of scientific fraud by offering a comparison to several recent cases of real scientific misconduct; and will provide some historical background into the climate skeptic movement.

Geoff Lee-Dadswell, a physics professor at CBU, will investigate the consensus among the scientific community about global warming; address what scientists mean by “uncertainty”; and summarize the evidence for human-caused global warming with a look at some of the questions that remain unanswered.

In addition to the consensus and controversy surrounding the science and politics of climate change, the discussion will also include a look at some of the ways communities in Cape Breton and around the world are already responding to climate change.

Climate change is a multi-faceted, multiplying and ultimately messy problem. It won’t go away simply by ignoring it. If Homer-Dixon is right, what the world needs is an increase in communication, especially between disciplines, as well as practitioners willing and able to test the assumptions of one discipline against the findings of another. Meanwhile, engaged citizens must be ready to take those findings from the drawing board out into their communities. Perhaps never before has “think global, act local” been so relevant.

Message to CBRM

Everyone who brought a reusable mug to the vigil on Saturday had their name entered in a draw for Al Gore’s new book, Our Choice. The winner asked that the prize be donated to a good cause. On behalf of the vigil organizers and everyone who attended, the book has been sent to CBRM council with the following message:

A report released by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates that ”municipalities have the potential to supply between 20 and 55 Megatonnes of emission reductions, equivalent to 15 to 40 per cent of Canada’s 2020 emission reduction target [of 20% below 2006 levels].”

The report calls for “a strategic approach, led and in part funded by the Government of Canada.”The benefit to the federal government is that local, community-based greenhouse gas emissions reduction initiatives – such as improving public transit, shifting to more fuel-efficient fleets, retrofitting public buildings and turning landfill gas into energy – are an especially cost-effective way to cut emissions.

The benefit to municipalities is job creation, community economic development and increased competitiveness; and energy efficiency measures can lead to lower overall municipal operating costs.

Municipalities are key to achieving large and low-cost emission reductions, in partnership with federal and provincial/territorial. Not only do Municipal governments have direct or indirect control over approximately 44 per cent of GHG emissions in Canada, but “Municipal governments are also the order of government that is the closest to citizens and can most easily engage households and businesses to implement local projects to reduce GHG emissions. Municipal governments can affect GHG emissions as a regulator, facilitator, partner, program deliverer and educator.”

Full report: Act Locally – The Municipal Role in Fighting Climate Change [pdf]

Climate Vigil in Sydney a success

Approximately 60 people braved sub-freezing temperatures, gusting winds and blowing snow to attend the climate vigil in Sydney this past Saturday. They joined people across the country and throughout the world to show support for a binding emissions reduction agreement in Copenhagen.

The gathering took place at the Wentwork Park bandshell. The acoustic amplifier helped carry the sound of Mi’kmaq drummers – performing traditional songs about the need to respect the earth – out into the street and beyond.

Brief but powerful speeches described the effects of climate change on Inuit in Canada’s Arctic, coastal residents of low-lying Bangladesh, and Cape Bretoners themselves – highlighting the need for an international solution to a global problem.Closing out the event was a call for leadership at all levels of government, as well as practical suggestions for each of us to reduce our ecological footprint.Only a few candles beat the wind, but the message was clear: change is possible.