Vancouver council sets example in tackling climate change—but what about family size, meat consumption, and wealth?

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      This week, many Vancouverites were thrilled that council unanimously passed a motion recognizing that we're in a "global state of climate emergency".

      It was refreshing to see council vote to direct staff to establish a remaining carbon budget for corporate and community emissions. It would be commensurate with limiting warming to 1.5° C above pre-industrial times, based on Vancouver's share of global emissions and population.

      In Canada, it's unheard-of to hear governments take carbon budgets seriously. This is true even as they devote untold attention to fiscal budgets.

      So this motion, introduced by OneCity councillor Christine Boyle, was a major step forward in this regard.

      She noted that almost all governments have failed to meet targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.

      Yet the City of Vancouver has long been a leader in addressing climate change and trying to reduce emissions.

      That's clear from the tweets below by Vancouver's former director of planning, Brent Toderian.

      But as Boyle's motion pointed out, the City of Vancouver hasn't come close to meeting the overall objective of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 33 percent below 2007 levels.

      In fact, the decrease has only been seven percent.

      The motion also talks about incorporating a gendered intersectional lens into climate actions and the city's climate adaptation strategy.

      It highlights the need to encourage residents, businesses, and visitors to move toward carbon-free transportation modes.

      And it includes a call to explore ways to reduce the cost of public parking for electric vehicles.

      These are all positive things.

      That's because there's no denying we are in a climate emergency.

      At current rates of greenhouse gas emissions, the average global temperature could increase by 5° C above pre-industrial times by the end of the century, if climate feedback loops are taken into account.

      That would doom humanity on Earth.

      The melting of Arctic and Antarctic ice would result in more heat being absorbed by oceans.

      The loss of ice in Greenland would flood coastal cities.

      At current rates of emissions, massive amounts of carbon could be released from oceans, accelerating warming.

      And there's a chance that enormous quantities of methane could escape from around the Arctic Circle. That would sharply increasing the atmosphere's capacity for storing heat.

      So it's good to see that Boyle's motion passed unanimously.

      But the reality is that human beings will have to take far greater steps to avoid Climate Armageddon. And some of those measures are not going to be popular for people to hear.

      For instance, a Swedish study reported that having one less child per family will save approximately 58.6 tonnes of carbon annually.

      If the city is going to have to adhere to a carbon budget, then a logical corollary is that families will also eventually have to remain within a carbon budget.

      That's going to inevitably lead to discussions about limiting the number of children being born.

      Then there's the issue of meat-eating as a contributor to rising greenhouse gas emissions. 

      "Livestock production accounts for 70 per cent of all agricultural land use, occupies 30 per cent of the planet’s land surface and is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide," the David Suzuki Foundation states on its website.

      Sooner or later, the public must accept that if there are going to be carbon budgets, they should also take into account the amount of meat that's being consumed. That might have to be regulated.

      Finally, there's the issue of wealth. The richest people are responsible for the greatest carbon emissions, according to Oxfam.

      It reported in 2015 that the poorest half of the global population only accounted for 10 percent of all emissions.

      The richest 10 percent were responsible for 50 percent of emissions—a carbon footprint 11 times as high as the poorest half of the world's population.

      There's nothing in Boyle's motion addressing the impact of family size, meat consumption, and wealth on putting the future of humanity in peril.

      No doubt, governments will have to start addressing these issues as New York, Bangkok, Mumbai, Miami, London, Hong Kong, and other major cities are increasingly inundated by floods, storm surges, hurricanes, and typhoons.

      Boyle's motion is helpful to get the conversation started on how to address the globe's greatest crisis. But it's only the beginning.