Sarnia declares climate emergency

Sarnia St. Patrick's High School students (left to right) Isabela Gorgonio, Katire pitcher, Charlie McAllister and Madelaine Boucher gather outside Sarnia council chambers after council voted to declare a climate emergency. June 17, 2019 Photo by Melanie Irwin

The City of Sarnia has joined a growing list of Canadian municipalities to declare a climate emergency.

In a 7-2 recorded vote, city council endorsed Councillor Brian White’s motion to position the city as a leader by acknowledging the threat of climate change and pledging to reduce its carbon footprint.

Councillor Nathan Colquhoun called the declaration a “symbolic first step” in restoring a relationship with Mother Earth.

“The earth is our mother, and my love for humanity and my gratitude for life makes it impossible for me to not support this motion,” said Colquhoun. “The pressure has been on the individual, for a long time, to change their habits in order to fix things, and while that was an important step in our consciousness it’s time for organizations to start making systemic changes that nudge individuals in the right direction.”

Councillors Margaret Bird and Bill Dennis voted against the declaration.

“The words I want to hear are environmental protection and environmental compliance,” said Bird. “Climate change is something that happens every day and is just one small part of the whole picture and it is an end result. We have to focus on the source and be proactive, not reactive.”

She said a “ground-up” approach should be adopted instead.

“We need to control the input and output of every human and industrial action. You can not change the climate, but you can change how you treat the land and water and what eventually rises into the atmosphere,” said Bird.

Councillor Dennis said he felt the declaration was extreme and potentially disrespectful to people working in area refineries and building trades.

St. Patrick’s High School student Madelaine Boucher, who was among four students calling on council to take action, was pleased with the outcome.

“Although the word ’emergency’ does have some negative connotations, without declaring it, it would have a lot of negative consequences,” said Boucher. “It just empowers the youth, they feel heard and it empowers older generations and younger generations to actually go out and act. They’re like, ‘oh, wow! This is an emergency!”