Sprawlcast: Inside Calgary’s new climate strategy
Get up to speed on what’s at stake.
SUE HENRY: As we're seeing the climate change, we're seeing more and more of those very, very intense events impacting various different areas of the city,
SANDY DAVIS: When people hear the word flooding, it's not only the rivers, it's the stormwater side as well.
COUNCILLOR RAJ DHALIWAL: We have a journey to embark upon collectively as one city—a journey to net zero by 2050.
TONY SNOW: The issue of the climate emergency—the issue of climate change—is a treaty issue.
COUNCILLOR COURTNEY WALCOTT: We have made declarations before. And truth be told, we have not stepped up before. But we can't make that mistake this time.
JEREMY KLASZUS (HOST): Calgary city council is slated to vote on a new climate strategy in July. As you just heard, this is a crucial moment for our city. We’ve had climate and growth plans before, with ambitious targets—and then we’ve fallen short of those targets. But now a new city council has the chance to set a new course at city hall.
After Mayor Jyoti Gondek was elected last October, she wasted no time in making climate action her first priority. Here she is on Real Talk with Ryan Jespersen on the day after the election.
JYOTI GONDEK: We have had the opportunity to declare climate emergency. For years, we have had various documents presented to us as a council, and I think we've had more than enough time to review them. So let's get serious. Let's declare this. And let's start going after some of the capital that we will see flow in once we make a bold move like that.
KLASZUS: But what’s substantively different this time around? In this episode, I want to contextualize this new plan. We’ll get to the nuts and bolts of it later in the show. But first, let’s go back to November 2021, when city council voted to declare a climate emergency.
Discomfort with 'climate emergency' language
This was just weeks after the new city council was elected. And when this came up in council chambers, there was some contention about if city hall should even use the term “climate emergency” or soften that language. We’re going to listen in to a little of that debate. You’ll hear Ward 1 councillor Sonya Sharp, Ward 10 councillor Andre Chabot and Ward 13 councillor Dan McLean.
SONYA SHARP: I completely agree that climate change is a critical issue. And it requires our municipality and our community to step up and do our part. But the one thing I am uncomfortable with is the use of the word ‘emergency.’ And not because this issue isn't important, it's critical. But I feel like the word ‘emergency’ in a municipal context means something very specific to our citizens.
ANDRE CHABOT: Like I said, I'm still not overly comfortable with the word ‘climate emergency.’ I know that we do have other emergencies as well that we certainly need to address—specifically on our economy. If this can somehow help us to move forward on diversification and investment, far be it from me to stand in the way of this motion.
DAN MCLEAN: I think my problem also is the wording with the 'emergency.' Because I believe we have a dire economic emergency with rising inflation, high [unemployment], with 30% of our towers sitting empty.
KLASZUS: But most council members endorsed the idea of declaring a climate emergency. Here’s Ward 5 Councillor Raj Dhaliwal, who represents the city’s far northeast, followed by Ward 3 Councillor Jasmine Mian.
DHALIWAL: Coming from Ward 5, I've felt it personally. My friends have felt it—my family, my neighbours, when we got hit by that hailstorm last year. And on the doors people were asking me one simple question: Why isn't the city doing more on climate change? Why are we kicking this can down the street? My kids, and their kids, they don't want to see this again in their lifetime. And I said yes, let's as a city collectively do more.
This is not opposing our energy sector. This is telling the narrative of what they’ve done.
JASMINE MIAN: I think this is the biggest challenge that we are going to face in this generation. And I believe that the work that we will do, in relation to climate change, and mitigating the impacts of climate change is the most significant work that I think we will do as politicians. And I think we're going to look back on this period in Calgary's history and see it as a turning point.
Addressing long term challenges is never easy in a short term cycle that we work in. But I think it's important, and I have to say that today I'm feeling inspired. I'm inspired by my the young people that protest every Friday outside of these chambers. I'm inspired by the everyday Calgarians that wrote in to me and spoke about how they think this work is important. And frankly, I'm very inspired by our oil and gas sector that I think does tremendous work in this area. And it's about telling this story. I reject the framing that this is an attack on the oil and gas sector. It's quite the opposite.
KLASZUS: Council members have repeatedly said that the strategy is complementary to what the oil and gas industry is doing—even stating that city hall is just following industry’s lead, as numerous companies have said they want to reach net zero emissions from their operations by 2050. Net zero is a phrase you’ll hear a lot—and it refers to balancing greenhouse gas emissions with greenhouse gases that are removed from the atmosphere. We’re going to hear now from Ward 11 Councillor Kourtney Penner, Ward 12 Councillor Evan Spencer, Mayor Gondek and Ward 14 Councillor Peter Demong.
KOURTNEY PENNER: Declaring a climate emergency—it is about more than oil and gas. We indeed know that our Calgary based oil and gas companies, Suncor, Cenovus, CNRL, they've set their own emission targets, in line with global timelines and targets. And in many ways declaring a climate emergency to commit through the public sector our actions with similar timelines and targets is a signal to the private sector that we're indeed supportive of their efforts.
EVAN SPENCER: I absolutely want to reject the the narrative that these two things stand in opposition. These are not mutually exclusive.
GONDEK: I can tell you that this morning, when we had the energy breakfast and had leaders from the energy sector in Calgary here—it was evident to them, and evident to us, that we all realize we have a strong energy sector here. This is not opposing our energy sector. This is telling the narrative of what they've done.
PETER DEMONG: Let's get to what seems to bother most people: the name. 'Climate emergency.' Guess what, I'm not fond of it either. I know other names that have not been popular. Many have shown a dislike for 'global warming.' Still others have a problem with 'climate change.' I'm old school, I simply call it by its original name: pollution. And we could all use with a lot less of that. I mean, what practical person wouldn't recognize the importance of moving to a more sustainable, more meaningful and less polluting transition to clean alternative energy?
What I've learned is that we're not leading in this endeavour. Far from it. We're following almost every major Canadian city, but most importantly, we are following industry. The oilsands are ahead of us. They've already stated their intent on transitioning to net zero by 2050. Most of Calgary's and Alberta's oil and gas companies are moving towards becoming complete energy companies.
What makes Calgary unique? Oil HQs and high GHGs
KLASZUS: Now, like Councillor Demong said, Calgary is not unique in declaring a climate emergency. But Calgary is unique in other respects. Here’s Dick Ebersohn, the city’s manager of climate change and environment.
DICK EBERSOHN: Calgary emits a high amount of GHGs relative to other cities. And we have done so for a long time. So we have a responsibility to quickly reduce our emissions. We also have significant capacity to solve the problem in comparison to other cities. Calgary is a rich and technically advanced city that is more capable of reducing emissions and taking mitigation action—and with that power comes an obligation to do so.
KLASZUS: Council heard more about this in April, at a strategic council meeting on climate change. And local energy economist Peter Tertzakian was one of the presenters.
PETER TERTZAKIAN: So I've been in and around the energy business for more than three decades, financed everything from hydrogen to solar panels, solar farms, wind farms, oil and gas, you name it.
KLASZUS: Here’s a bit of what Tertzakian had to say at that meeting.
TERTZAKIAN: Many towns and cities across the western world certainly in North America have declared climate emergencies or made pledges to reduce emissions. But Calgary is unique among a handful of cities in the world, and certainly unique amongst cities that have made such pledges. Sure, it's a community of people like all others, but among our community are a significant proportion of citizens that are engaged in the production and distribution of oil and gas.
And so this uniqueness is only reserved for probably half a dozen cities around the world. Houston, Dubai, London. These are where major decisions are made about the supply, refining and distribution of petroleum and natural gas products. If you don't already know, Canada is now the fourth largest producer of oil and gas in the world. And almost all the head offices of those boardrooms are located in Calgary.
The amount of production and the amount of production per capita is actually quite staggering, especially after $250 billion of investment over the course of the last 10 to 12 years. Our production has grown by 35%. And that has, as I said, placed us in the category of the world's super producers, fourth largest in the world. But on a per capita basis, I think it's important to recognize the influence and the level of production that we have.
Just take the simple relationship, we produce 4.3 million barrels of oil per day. In the province of Alberta, there's roughly 4.3 billion million people. So we have 4.3 million barrels per day divided by 4.3 million people—that's a barrel per day selling at $100. So it's $100 per day per person in this province. There's no other jurisdiction in the world that has that ratio. The next closest would be Kuwait, at $62 per barrel, per person per barrel.
So I'm not here to sort of rattle off all the statistics to wow you. I just think it's important for us as Calgarians, as Albertans, to recognize that the level of prosperity here, where the decisions are made about those barrels, is second to none.
I’m old school. I simply call it by its original name: pollution.
Calgary is bracing for too much water—and not enough
KLASZUS: Calgary has another distinct feature, too: its geography.
VIDEO CLIP: Calgary is fortunate to have two mountain fed rivers flowing into our city. We count on the Bow and Elbow rivers for a steady supply of clean drinking water, for irrigation, to support businesses, as key recreation spaces, and to enhance our high quality of life.
KLASZUS: This is a recent City of Calgary video about drought. I kind of get a kick out of it because it’s got this peppy, inspirational music as the narrator describes a rather dire future.
VIDEO CLIP: Meeting the needs of a growing population, and dealing with the realities of a warming climate where droughts will become the norm in our region, will continue to put more pressure on our rivers and water supply. Glaciers will continue shrinking, and the snowpack will melt earlier in the spring. So we won't have the same steady supply of water in our rivers to sustain us through the summer and driest months of the year.
KLASZUS: The city is bracing simultaneously for two scenarios when it comes to water. We’re bracing for too much water—in the form of floods—and not enough water, in the form of droughts. This paradox is one of the strange realities of climate change.
And it’s costly. It’s costly on every level—to human life, but also economically. And that has the insurance industry sounding the alarm on climate change. Earlier this year, Calgary city council got a presentation from an academic named Brian Feltmate. He leads the Intact Centre on Climate Adaptation—a research centre at the University of Waterloo that was funded in part by Intact, the insurance company. Here’s some of what Feltmate had to say to council.
FELTMAN: And what you can see is that from 1983 up to about 2008, the insurance industry could count on paying out between $250 and $450 million per year in insurable losses. But everything started to change from 2009 onwards, whereby for 12 out of the last 13 years, the insurable losses have been gone over a billion dollars per year, for an average cost of $1.91 billion for 12 out of 13 years. And the culprit that's driving most of the upward bend in this curve—about 50% to 60% is too much water in the wrong place. Flooding, and specifically residential basement flooding.
KLASZUS: As part of his work at this climate adaptation centre, Feltmate and his colleagues have looked at the impact of catastrophic flooding on the Canadian housing market.
FELTMAN: So what did we find? Over the last 10 years in Canada, the impact of flooding in communities, flood-impacted communities, reduced the sold price of homes by 8.2%. The average number of homes listed for sale in the aftermath of flooding was down 44%. This again is up to at least six months after flooding. For those who do put their home on the market for sale, homes set there for 20% longer.
So just to be clear, this is not modeling. This is not scenario planning. This is what's already happened in Canada over the last 10 years.
KLASZUS: The City of Calgary’s emergency agency has done a disaster risk assessment that identifies 15 high risk situations for the city. Drought is one of them, and the city is currently sketching out a Drought Resilience Plan to prepare for that end of the spectrum. But four of these 15 disaster situations have to do with too much water. Here’s Sue Henry, Chief of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency. She spoke to a city council committee in May during a meeting about Calgary’s flood preparedness.
HENRY: When we look more specifically at the four flood related hazards that have been assessed as high risk, these are catastrophic flooding on the Bow and Elbow rivers respectively. When we use the term catastrophic, we're talking about a one in 100 year or greater streamflow event. The other two are a major dam breach upstream of the city on either the Bow or the Elbow River. As a reminder, when we talk about a one in 100 year flood, that doesn't mean that since we had that flood in 2013, we shouldn't expect to see that level for another 100 years. It means we have a 1% chance of reaching that flood level on any given year.
KLASZUS: Since the 2013 flood, the city of Calgary has taken a number of measures to brace for the next big flood, whenever it comes. But the reality is we know we can’t entirely stave off the effects of climate change, including those floods. We’re going to listen in to Sandy Davis, river engineering team lead with the city’s water resources department, followed by Frank Frigo, a water resources engineer who leads the city’s watershed analysis team.
DAVIS: With the Springbank off-stream reservoir under construction, now we will meet our target for resilience to another 2013-level flood on the Elbow River. On the Bow River, a new reservoir being investigated by the Government of Alberta will enable us to manage better both flood and drought risk.
Despite this progress, which is worth celebrating, there will always be flood risk in Calgary. Extreme weather leading to flooding is expected to increase as our climate changes. There could be extreme floods that overwhelm our defences, and erosion and high groundwater in communities near the rivers, or potential water quality issues when the river is flowing high.
FRIGO: In this basin we recognize that we'll probably never have enough storage to adequately manage all the risks that we may see. We've got a very changeable hydrology, a very flashy basin that we have to deal with. And that does mean that we need to operate very actively, and so continuing to invest in the finest that we can achieve in the way of forecasting systems, utilizing all of the latest remote sensing technology, all the latest modeling technology is very important. Because we'll always be in that situation where we're very actively managing hydrologic concerns both at the drought end of the spectrum and, of course, at the flood end of the spectrum.
Frankly, I’m very inspired by our oil and gas sector that I think does tremendous work in this area, and it’s about telling this story.
What does Calgary's climate strategy propose?
KLASZUS: Okay, so that brings us to the main event. The new climate strategy itself. Here’s city climate director Carolyn Bowen, speaking when the strategy went before council’s community development committee on May 31.
BOWEN: What you see before you is a strategy, it's a guidance document, that clearly lays out the pathways, accelerated timelines, and high level actions that we need to take to get us to net zero by 2050, and reduce our climate risks to build a climate resilient city. And these pathways and strategic actions that you see in the document are really meant to inform and guide the development of our 2023 and 2026 service plans and budgets.
KLASZUS: That’s a crucial point. The strategy maps out, in broad strokes, what the city is hoping to do. How the city will transition to a low carbon economy. But the real test will come at budget time.
And there are two aspects to this strategy. There’s adaptation—dealing with the effects of climate change, like the floods and droughts we’ve been talking about. And then there’s mitigation—or reducing the emissions that contribute to climate change.
It’s important to remember that one third of carbon emissions in Calgary comes from transportation. The other two thirds come from buildings. To this end, the strategy talks about retrofitting old buildings and making sure that new ones are more sustainable. The goal is for all new and existing buildings to be net zero by 2050.
On the transportation side, the strategy relies heavily on electric vehicles—which is consistent with previous city plans. It envisions 40% of trips in the city being taken by walking, wheeling or transit by 2030, with that going up to 60% by 2050.
And just to put that in context, that number in Calgary was close to 20% before the pandemic hit. The car is still king in Calgary, and this strategy envisions the car continuing to dominate our city for years to come—except they’ll be electric.
The strategy lays out several ways that the City of Calgary can reduce citywide emissions. One way is by cutting emissions in its own operations. But that only makes up a fraction of citywide emissions in Calgary.
BOWEN: Within the city, 96% of our greenhouse gas emissions comes from the community and only 4% are within our corporation's direct control. And it is only going to be through collaboration, partnerships and relationships within our organization and community that we're going to achieve the climate goals.
KLASZUS: City admin also sees itself reducing emissions through education, advocacy, research and incentives. And then there’s the most powerful tool in the city’s toolbox: regulation. But the city will be slow to use that one, according to the strategy. Here’s a direct quote: “Regulations are the most direct way to reduce emissions, but can be politically sensitive to implement quickly. Therefore, The City can use the other approaches to help build support, capacity, buy-in, and increased adoption before introducing regulation.”
As we’re going to hear, that has some folks worried about how much this climate plan will actually do.
The idea of a 'climate budget'—and the city's built form
One of the crucial elements of this whole plan is what’s called a “climate budget.” And it’s somewhat like a financial budget, in that you plan and track your expenditures—except in this case those expenditures are carbon rather than cash. Cities like Oslo in Norway have made real progress by using this method. And Calgary’s climate strategy talks about doing something similar.
But it remains to be seen how robust that process will be. Councillor Gian-Carlo Carra asked city admin about this on May 31, and here’s what Brit Samborsky with the city’s climate team had to say in response.
BRIT SAMBORKSY: We will be introducing that piece of work this year, for the first time, for the next four year budget cycle. And it's going to be in multiple phases as it's being introduced. You can think of it as parallel or, or supportive informative to the financial budgeting process. It will be starting with dealing with capital budgets and operating budgets that the city controls. And moving over a series of years to include carbon budget impacts on different aspects of the city's operations, which include strategy, planning, and policy. And then what happens outside of the city's direct budget area.
KLASZUS: Councillor Carra also asked about the built form of the city. As we know, Calgary’s sprawling and car-dependent footprint has locked in high emissions levels. Here’s Councillor Carra, and then we’ll hear Claire Beckstead, a climate change specialist with the city, in response.
COUNCILLOR GIAN-CARLO CARRA: Part of the criticisms or concerns—and these are light criticisms and concerns—of what has been presented today is that the built form of the city doesn't seem as front and centre to some respondents that that have sort of reached out to me as maybe they would like to see. I see the built form of the city being pretty central to this. But I would like your opportunity to respond to that. I mean, we know that buildings and how we get around the city are the two biggest things—and how we build the city, of course ,will then be a big part of whether we're successful or not in in mitigating and adapting to climate change.
CLAIRE BECKSTEAD: Thank you for your question, Councillor. So, agreed, the built form and how we build out our city and how we plan our city is absolutely critical to tackling climate change. We also are sort of stuck with the city we already have. And so, best practice land use planning that encourages different ways to get around the city, more efficient buildings—those are all critical and part of the plan. There's also a program pathway that looks at broadly land use planning and how we can integrate climate change into our all of our planning processes across the entire spectrum. So it's absolutely part of the plan.
It is imperative that the city consults our generation.
Calgarians speak out at public hearing
KLASZUS: We’re going to listen in now to some of the public hearing portion of this meeting. More than 30 people spoke to council, including some young Calgarians who are part of the Fridays for Future movement.
ANASTASIA: My name is Anastasia, I live in Ward 14 and I'm a Grade 11 student at Bishop Carroll High School. We are here to represent Fridays for Future Calgary, a local chapter for a global youth environmental movement. In order for Calgary to become a climate leader, it is imperative that the city consults our generation and provides a platform for youth to participate in the active development, progress and implementation of Calgary's climate strategy.
NADIA: The city was built with the expectation that people should drive cars, which does not only lead towards an unsustainable future, but it also leaves youth and vulnerable populations behind. We ask that transit and mobility be a key part of climate strategy because it will improve quality of life for Calgarians and assist in achieving net zero targets.
GARY: We ask that bike infrastructure is built with commuting and errand-running in mind. And this includes safe bike lanes, accessible pathways and secure locking facilities.
ASEEL: My name is Aseel. I live in Ward 10. And I'm a Grade 9 student. In our modern era's relentless cycle of overconsumption, youth will be the ones left to deal with the repercussions. Implementing limits and regulations regarding single use packaging is crucial and reducing waste municipally.
SASHA: So the fact is, we cannot see a future for ourselves in the current real estate market. Homes are too expensive, and they openly harm our future by not being sustainable enough to meet the targets. So we ask that all building codes be updated to not only be net zero, but built in a way that is long lasting and sustainable. And the key part is that green homes should not only be for those who can afford retrofits. Green homes and sustainable housing should be available for all communities all Calgarians.
JANET GOURLAY-VALLANCE: As boomers, our lifestyle was built on expansion, extraction, and limitless growth. However, we now know the cost of that lifestyle, and that significant changes are required if our grandchildren will be afforded the opportunity to thrive in this place as we have. Our path for their future begins here with your decision to support the actions required to begin our transformation.
KLASZUS: Not everyone was in full support of the strategy. The Calgary Construction Association cautioned against some elements of the plan, particularly when it comes to retrofitting buildings. We’re going to hear Frano Ćavar, the Calgary Construction Association’s government relations director, followed by Bill Black, the group’s president.
FRANO ĆAVAR: We are concerned that in the present form, the retrofit construction goals of this strategy are untenable.
BILL BLACK: Legacy resistance to climate related matters in this geography will be a significant obstacle if it is not addressed in the right manner. Those who have resisted in other jurisdictions that I've been involved in have become very strong supporters once they've been engaged in the manner that allows them to be engaged with where they are now, in order to be able to jointly and collaboratively investigate financial feasibility and approaches that create the right balance.
KLASZUS: So the Calgary Construction Association is worried that the strategy goes too far. But others are concerned that it doesn’t go far enough. The Calgary Climate Hub, Sustainable Calgary and the Calgary Alliance for the Common Good all spoke in support of the strategy. And many of the speakers had some specific suggestions for how to bolster it.
A lot of this stuff is pretty interesting. For example, Robert Miller of the Calgary Climate Hub talked about tree equity. His presentation was about the city’s tree canopy — which is going to be increasingly important as summers get hotter. And he talked about how there’s a significantly thinner tree canopy in areas of the city with high BIPOC populations—and how a low tree canopy also corresponds to low individual incomes when you look at a map of the city.
MILLER: So our primary concern with new forestation is to ensure equity and reduce heat islands in all communities with low tree canopy, starting with the most disadvantaged.
KLASZUS: We’re going to hear Noel Keough with Sustainable Calgary, followed by Sabrina Grover, Robert Miller and Robert Tremblay of the Calgary Climate Hub. They spoke about what they’d like to see from the strategy.
KEOUGH: The overarching message of this presentation is that the strategy's urgency must be commensurate with climate emergency. Our concern is that in order to be popular or palatable today, this climate strategy will fail to meet the clear and urgent needs of the future.
GROVER: And we think that the climate strategy needs to explicitly name the Green Line, airport line and electrification of the bus feed as key priorities, and work on these priorities to be funded by federal and provincial partners where necessary.
MILLER: We're looking for an ambitious goal of 16% tree canopy by 2030.
TREMBLAY: So what we're asking of the climate strategy today is that it explicitly include that all electricity in Calgary be net zero by 2035, including electricity which is generated by our municipally owned asset, Enmax.
'Climate change is a treaty issue': A conversation with Rev. Tony Snow
KLASZUS: The strategy also talks about how “Indigenous perspectives and land stewardship are integral to climate action.” Rev. Tony Snow was one of the speakers at that public hearing. He’s an Indigenous minister at Hillhurst United Church and a board member of the Calgary Climate Hub. He’s also a member of the Stoney Nakoda Nation, and has been doing work in the realm of environmental protection for many years.
SNOW: I want to speak in support of the goals with the proviso that each of these goals as they relate to transportation, mass transit, affordable housing and community mental health, align strategically with the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the calls to action and the fulfillment of Canada's commitments to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
KLASZUS: After hearing Tony Snow speak at council that day, I sat down with him to find out more about the intersection of climate action and reconciliation.
KLASZUS: Welcome to Sprawlcast, Tony.
SNOW: Thank you. Nice to be here.
KLASZUS: Thanks for making the time. At the public hearing for the climate strategy, you've talked a bit about how this climate strategy and the goals of it are intertwined with reconciliation. And I'm curious, how do you see those as intertwined?
SNOW: I think for me, they're intertwined because of the treaty. And as a descendant of the signers of Treaty number 7 for the Stoney people, we are always concerned about our efforts and our impact on the world around us—and what that says about our relationship to one another.
The treaty in itself was meant to be some form of sharing between one another and the resources of this land. And so when there is an imbalance in that treaty relationship, that affects how we are able to govern, how we are able to find a balance in our teaching, as well as the in our community structures. So because for a long time, we didn't have access to courts or to legal proceedings, we were not able to retain lawyers. A lot of things that happened that we now seem to find redress for in things like land claims, and and things like some of the injunctions that have been put forward, because these are done without our consent and without our participation.
So moving forward, when we think about the effects on the environment... For me, when one of the points that I was bringing up in that presentation to City Hall was that the issue of environment, the issue of the climate emergency, the issue of climate change, is a treaty issue. It is an issue of reconciliation, that if we were to have worked together and been a part of the discussions, we would have a very different world today. And because so many of the studies and initiatives around Indigenous spirituality and Indigenous governance, the issues around our view of the environment have become prevalent, especially in the international arena.
It is important that we listen. And we begin to understand a different worldview and a different context that we bring to these discussions, that we might find different solutions and different priorities to move forward with. So that we are not continually working at a deficit or at our wits end when it comes to some of the more disastrous things that are happening in our community, but that we learn to find our place within nature's dialogue.
In our modern era’s relentless cycle of overconsumption, youth will be the ones left to deal with the repercussions.
KLASZUS: Yeah. The treaty you talk about and the the underlying broken trust that's followed since. I mean, it's interesting, because we're talking about this particular climate strategy for the City of Calgary but maybe it's an opportunity to also go back to that treaty. And think about what does that mean, what was broken there? What wasn't followed through on? So you see it as that kind of opportunity?
SNOW: It is an opportunity. And I think that it is an opportunity for the time that we have now. There are many significant cultural heritage sites within Calgary and the area that we call Wîchîspa Oyade. And that is the flows of the water, that is the lands and the significance of those lands, the places of spiritual connection, the places of origin that we talk about within some of these spaces.
And so when we talk about the importance of these areas within the city, it's part of Calgary's built heritage. And that we don't recognize it because of the Indigenous connotation. And that we have not included a lot of Indigenous people in the work that needs to be done. There's a recent study done by the for the Indigenous Gathering Place by the Stoney people. They were putting together information on significant heritage sites and what exists within the the boundaries of Calgary. And that continued to emerge other understandings and other stories that we have not had a chance to share, and was only put into a report in a very hurried manner, because they were not included in the initial discussions.
And so this is to bring forward some of the points that they wanted to make about the elders' memories of these spaces and the cultural history of these spaces. What our elders say in our oral history. And how important that is to what we become. I was talking to a minister not too long ago, talking about the area of Scarboro United Church, and talking about what were some of the stories in places in that area. And with the built heritage, it's knocked out, destroyed and eliminated a lot of those stories and areas. And we have not had the Indigenous people speaking to those areas. So you don't have that history recorded. That history is there. But it's not been shared, it's not been in any way written down for the benefit of our historical context.
It's a lot of work that's yet to be done, and a lot of work that I think for the climate strategy that's impacting Indigenous people, visioning in their relation to the land, and their relationships with one another. And how we are ultimately part of this city. So as we work forward, that was why I was saying that it's important that we put reconciliation in its proper place at the forefront of the work that we do to protect the environment.
KLASZUS: And doing this work, Tony, do you have a sense of optimism? I'm curious.
SNOW: I do. I do because that's the teaching of our elders. And the the idea that—and many people have said this in other areas—we are not, as human beings, the only concerning organisms on this planet. The world can get along quite nicely without us. It is we who have to learn to live in balance. We have to learn our place in creation, in alongside the animals, the birds, the other elements. And to try to find a way to live in harmony means that we must understand our space, understand our impact, understand our trajectory and history. So that we are living along that continuum for the next generations that come, so that we are not leaving them to a a burdened environment, a burdened world, but that we can find solutions today that will help build a better future tomorrow.
KLASZUS: Well, thanks very much for your time and insight, Tony, I appreciate it.
SNOW: Thank you, too. I appreciate this time to be able to share.
The world can get along quite nicely without us. It is we who have to learn to live in balance.
'It is a significant first step': A conversation with Christine Laing
KLASZUS: I also spoke with Christine Laing. She’s the Executive Director of the Public Interest Law Clinic at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Law. She’s also co-chair of the Environment Research Action Team at the Calgary Alliance for the Common Good. And we talked about what this strategy means so far - and what needs to happen next.
Christine, welcome to Sprawlcast.
LAING: Thank you for having me.
KLASZUS: So let's get into this climate plan. Calgary has passed strategies and plans like this before, climate and growth planst hat set targets. But the city has not always followed through with that. And actually the track record isn't hat good. So where would you situate this strategy in that context?
LAING: At the moment, I don't think we can situate it outside of its existing context, in that a lot of good planning has gone into it, a lot of good thinking. There are parts of the strategy that significantly evolve where city focus would go—assisting people that are the most vulnerable, to concerns about equity. And bringing some of those pieces together. But until the city both passes the strategy, and then makes some hard decisions about how to fund the strategy, set rules around the strategy, and actually develop programs, there's nothing yet to distinguish this strategy from any of the other strategies that have come before.
The difference that we would see, this time around, has to come from the people of Calgary. If they're going to see a strategy both enacted and then also acted upon, it is only going to come because citizens consistently keep demanding it, and ask their councillors to do exactly what they want them to do. So it is, on the one hand, a very important development, it is a significant first step. It could distinguish itself from the failed strategies and inactions of the past. But that hasn't been realized yet and will only be realized by the citizens of Calgary.
KLASZUS: it was interesting at the public hearing, because pretty much everyone that got up to speak was in favour of the plan, at least on paper. And I thought that was interesting, because in the past, when stuff like this has come up, you have people taking issue with it or speaking against it. Is that a good sign—that most everybody's in agreement with this? Or, you know, part of me wonders is that concerning. Like, is this so benign that everybody can get behind it?
LAING: I don't take the 100% approval for the climate strategy in the committee stage as a sign that there is no conflict coming over it. I think it's rather more of a sign that the folks that are organizing against it have chosen not to use that venue, and are picking a fight for a different venue down the road. And certainly, you're seeing a lot of that with the issue of misinformation over $87 billion dollars, a variety of numbers that are just making their way through the general population to be repeated back to councillors. And that's just a different strategy for organizing against it than going to council and speaking for it.
KLASZUS: That 87 billion—there's kind of a lot to unpack there. That's been kind of seized upon and portrayed as though the city is going to have to pay $87 billion in order to enact this plan, similar to any other city expenditure. But it's a lot more nuanced and complex than that. That's not all city expenditure, it's spread out over time, etc.
LAING: Correct. Some numbers are unknowable so far. The enactment of the strategy itself brings funding to the table that wouldn't otherwise be there. But since you can't show a check in hand, yet, it's precursor. The 87 billion covers that. It also does things like assume that if you buy an electric car, the whole cost should go towards the $87 billion. But if you just have to replace your gas vehicle, it doesn't go anywhere. It doesn't count towards that number.
So there's a variety of ways there that the number has just been cooked for a very for the very explicit purpose of killing the strategy while it's in the cradle, so it doesn't become a competing budgetary issue down the road. And I think what people that are concerned about this need to do is take responsibility for digging into the strategy, take responsibility for speaking back to it, join some of the groups that are actually working to find the right information and put that information in front of your councillors.
KLASZUS: And when you look at the plan, what kind of information or elements would you want to bring to the forefront for the public?
There is still a very large risk that this is a signal alone. But I think that without that signal being made, we don’t get the next seven steps.
LAING: We would like to highlight the aspects of the plan that are trying to put focus on developing areas of the city, providing urban canopy and greening areas of the city that have relatively fewer green spaces and resources. We would like to see the plan focus on aspects of public buildings where we actually can build buildings in a way that save money, provide community spaces and have multiple benefits across the community.
I think that's one thing that the strategy itself as a standalone, siloed, environmental issue document—if you conceive it as that, you kind of miss the aspects of the strategy that are recognizing the community enhancements, the savings we have across the board for people of low income. The value of a city that has more robust transit isn't in GHG emissions alone, but in all of the other economic and societal benefits that come along with that.
And so the strategy does go some of the way to trying to start bridging those things. And I think where we're going to see evolve in the next few years, or certainly through the next budget cycle, and the conversations we're having over the next six months, is making good on some of those cross connections. To you're not just building this thing for some sort of vague green virtue to satisfy hand wringing over the environment writ large. You are enacting programs that do have a climate friendly outcome, but also cross over and benefit the citizens of Calgary all the way through the next generation.
KLASZUS: At the public hearing—any number of those elements that folks were talking about, like the tree canopy, in the city, or, or transit. I was thinking: all of this is so interesting. You could dig into each one of these things. And there's so much there.
LAING: Absolutely. And you don't have to dig into them from a technical environmental perspective, although the team at the city that has put the strategy together did that from a technical environmental perspective, and there's a lot there that has merit. But you could take any one of those issues and start from a people first perspective. You could start with a lens of looking at the most vulnerable, and take those issues and trace back the impact this could have on creating a more just city, a place where a variety of property values rise, and you have really closely knit communities benefiting from these kinds of actions.
So you don't even need to take an environmental lens to see the knock on effect on the lives of ordinary Calgarians for taking some of these actions. And all of that is in there in the strategy. What we should try to do is not focus so much on the technical environmental aspect that you miss, that that piece of any one of these issues actually has real world impact on on how people live their lives in Calgary.
KLASZUS: And I mean, some of that stuff comes into very clear focus—thinking about, for example, when there's smoke in Calgary from wildfires. Or when there's a flood: oh, we should be thinking about this stuff. And it's not just a quote-unquote "environmental issue."
LAING: Right. I think it's useful in a very silver lining kind of way to see the way that crises focus people. We've all had the multiplying crises, focus our attention on environment in a way that we haven't before. That is now bedrock. It's just part of lived existence in Calgary in Canada, and the world. Where some of our focus could go next is to say, Okay, this is happening, what action do we take now? And keeping focus on things as mundane as asking for a better building code. Incentivizing the people that have money, sure. But paying really close attention to low income seniors and people that can't just go out and buy a bunch of solar panels. Or the people that will be impacted by money going out of their pocket or budget spent elsewhere. I think that's where it's harder to make that translation yet between the crises that flare up and we pay attention to, and the conscientious next steps that would actually mitigate those crises and help us adapt to all of them.
And that's where I think we do see some focus shift among citizens saying: "Okay, now what do we do? I know I'm scared. I know, this is this is unprecedented. I've seen it with my own eyes." And now having people pivot and say: what I really want my city to do is build differently, because I know it's going to mitigate the next thing that comes along. I think we're starting to see that shift now.
The value of a city that has more robust transit isn’t in GHG emissions alone, but in all of the other economic and societal benefits.
KLASZUS: A number of council members have emphasized that this strategy sends a signal to the world, it sends a signal to investors. Even Mayor Gondek, when the when the strategy was postponed from the meeting in June here to July, she expressed disappointment because what kind of message does that send that we're postponing this? To what extent do you think there's a danger of it being just a signal? A symbol. Is that is that a risk here?
LAING: Absolutely. There is nothing stopping this strategy from being a bare signal except the citizens of Calgary saying: we want this, and we want you to do it. And that's why we're the only ones that are going to make this real. I wouldn't discount Mayor Gondek's focus aspirationally on the way that the city shows seriousness of thought, the way that it shows that any money coming in from federal provincial governments is going to be well spent and well spent through a strategy. That is all valid. That is an aspirational, very important piece for the city to put together so that it can attract that kind of investment, and it can attract that kind of funding. It cannot be enough—or it cannot be enough on its own to do that.
That is where the danger of turning it into a mere virtue signal is. If you just say, well, we have the strategy, now we'll see what comes. That's a very different thing than saying we have a strategy and we have seriousness within council to actually giving effect to that. And that's going to mean actual advocacy from the city councillors to bring that funding in. Really hard choices about setting guidelines and rules in place. And all of those things are going to come with weighing out and making careful and considered decisions that actually have an impact and an outcome.
So there is still a very large risk that this is a signal alone. But I think that without that signal being made, we don't get the next seven steps. So it is still very critical to have it on the ground, have it in place, but then turn focus to doing it. I think if anyone who is rolling their eyes or cynical about yet another document that's going to be in the wastepaper basket, or we will quietly lament our missed targets in eight years—if you are taking that that view and saying well, there's no point in doing this anyway, you are cutting it off at the knees before it even has the potential to be realized. So there's much danger, I think, in saying: this is just a virtue signal. It could be, unless we do something about that, and actually make it real.
KLASZUS: And later this year, with the four year budget, that'll certainly give an indication at that time, in terms of how serious is this being taken? How much more than just a bare strategy is this? And what's what's actually going to be behind it?
LAING: Absolutely. And councillors are accountable to their constituents. So how seriously they take this document, should they pass it in July, will be dependent on citizens telling them to take it seriously. And citizens being really willing to tell councillors: I want you to spend money on this not that. There are actual choices to make. And I think that's something that certainly Councillor Pootmans has brought up. Councillor Wong has raised concerns about benefit realization and cost-benefit. And these are valid concerns to to raise and they should be listened to carefully by proponents of the strategy and all that follows—and dug into and taken seriously, because it's only the next several steps that's that's going to develop the serious plans and then the serious money behind them to actually bring it about.
Jeremy Klaszus is editor-in-chief of The Sprawl.
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