The head of a relatively new environmental group in Niagara says the time for talking is over and real efforts need to be made to address the effects of climate change.
“We have moved from a place of climate change denial to climate change – we can’t do anything about it,” said Herb Sawatzky, who heads 50 times 30 Niagara, a group that is pushing 12 Niagara municipalities to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2030. and then to zero in 2050.
Sawatzky was speaking at an Earth Day rally held at Peace Park in Pelham on Saturday. The rally drew about 100 people, many of whom held placards with statements such as “Earth Day is Every Day” and “We Demand Climate Justice.” This event featured a number of speakers and the performance of the Air Strong Women’s Indigenous drum group.
Sawatzky told the crowd that surveys had shown that 80 percent of Canadians were concerned about climate change.
“One of the things that tells me is that 80 percent of councilors are concerned about climate change and 80 percent of city staff are also concerned about climate change. I also believe that 80 percent of the people who work for developers and builders are also concerned about climate change. But we were here and somehow it didn’t work out.”
Buildings and motor vehicles, he said, are the two biggest carbon emitters, producing 80 percent of emissions. Electric vehicles and better public transport will help as will switching to the old way of doing things – “district heating” for buildings.
“There are cities in Europe that have been doing this for 100 years,” he said. “New York has been doing this for 100 years. You have one central heating system and it heats all the buildings in the area.”
Pelham Advocates for Trees and Habitat (PATH) organized the demonstration. Uwe Brand members say Canada is home to more than one million square kilometers of wetlands. Niagara has lost more than 90 percent of its wetlands.
“In Niagara, we seemed to crush them,” Brand said.
He said wetlands have many functions from controlling floods to helping limit carbon dioxide emissions.
“The best place to store carbon dioxide is in nature. That goes for us,” Brand said. “So why do we want to get rid of them? Why do we want to pave the way for them?
He and other PATH members are concerned about plans to expand Merritt Road through the wetlands.
Whoever crosses the road in the spring, the road along it is always flooded,” he said, adding that when the area is paved, “the flooding will only get worse.”
And when that happens, Brand says, “we will blame climate change instead of the wisdom or shortcomings of our politicians and their senior staff for doing the right thing here.”
One of the local politicians, Pelham Mayor Marvin Junkin, was at the rally along with city councilor Diana Huson.
Junkin said it was up to municipalities to do the work and address the impacts of climate change and limit future impacts as much as possible.
“This is grassroots,” he said. “This is a place where a difference can be made. This is the level where it happens.”
Petra Norris Pett attended the rally and said action on climate change was needed.
“We are here because our voices must be heard loud and clear,” he said. “There is a climate emergency.”