Invest in Nature
Nature provides the foundation for all that we do.
Ensuring there is a balance in our relationship with nature, that we don’t use more than can be replenished, means that our communities, our economy, our society, can be sustained into the future.
Investing in a healthy environment is leaving a legacy we can be proud of for future generations.
Declare a Climate Emergency
A climate emergency declaration demonstrates the intent of a municipality to move beyond status quo governing and problem solving.
It shows a commitment to ensure future decisions will regard climate appropriately.
Further, a strong declaration will be followed with a strong climate action plan that addresses systemic issues that contribute to carbon emissions (transportation, land use, energy) as well as smaller projects that ensure our communities are greener and healthier.
Protect our Ecosystems
There are many things that need to be done to mitigate climate change, but one of the easiest and most effective things local governments can do is permanently protect our ecosystems from further destruction.
This would allow natural carbon sinks (trees, wetlands) to do their job.
We will need these systems to also regulate flooding, purify the air, keep us cool and provide clean water.
Shift from Grey Infrastructure to Green
A lot of our government money goes towards providing “grey” infrastructure – roads, sewers, bridges, stormwater management etc.
Not only are these things expensive, but also require repairs and maintenance.
As severe storm weather events increase, the grey infrastructure will experience more damage and failures requiring more money to get it working again.
However, if we use “green” infrastructure, meaning wetlands, forests, bioswales, meadows and agricultural lands that already exist we can save our communities a lot of money. Plus, that green infrastructure will provide other benefits such as recreation, local food, carbon sequestration and beauty.
Again, how much green infrastructure we use is simply a choice.
We can choose to save money and we can choose to invest in solutions that provide us with other benefits.
Support and Expand Greenbelts
The Greenbelt is 2 million acres of protected green space in Ontario. It stretches up the Niagara Escarpment, envelopes the Oak Ridges Moraine and wraps around to Niagara.
The Greenbelt also has the most stringent policies in place to keep those spaces green and free from overdevelopment and new aggregate operations.
Unfortunately, not all of Ontario’s most sensitive and ecologically important places were included in the Greenbelt.
Simcoe County is just one place where the Greenbelt policies haven’t been expanded to protect our sensitive forests, internationally significant wetlands (we have 3 by the way), river valleys and habitat of endangered species.
Luckily, our municipal governments can have the policy protection extended to our local forests, rivers and habitats – we just have to ask!
Yes, that’s right municipalities just have to request to have significant local lands added to the Greenbelt.
Not only is this a good thing for climate action, it ensures future generations will have access to our plethora of forests, rivers and wetlands for the long term.
Understand and Support the Value of Ecosystems
Ontario is blessed with a wealth of green spaces, wild spaces and wetlands, but this amount is dropping rapidly.
Most of this is due to urbanization and infrastructure.
Municipalities, with financial support of the federal and the provincial government, should make a strong effort to understand the lands that we have that need protecting.
Some of these are likely provincially significant wetlands, but have never been studied to give it that level of protection.
What that means is currently, we are destroying and sacrificing green spaces that we really don’t understand or appreciate their significance.
Further, these spaces provide us with free services and are assets to our community. For example, the Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority calculated that Lake Simcoe provides almost $1 billion per year ($922M) in eco-system services!
If the health of the lake and its ecosystem declines where it can no longer provide such services, then we will have to pay for systems to be built that will do what the Lake does for free.
Protect our Groundwater
Most of the residents in Simcoe County rely on groundwater for their water.
Our groundwater resources are finite and depend entirely on what we do with the land that comprises these groundwater systems – the aquifers where the water comes from, and the recharge areas which allows new water to enter the aquifer to replace water that was taken out of the system.
Unbelievably, there is little protection for these unique land systems which influence our groundwater resources.
For example, aggregate operations and urbanization have a large impact on our aquifers and our recharge areas, but there are no restrictions that stop such activities from our most sensitive groundwater areas. Source water protection committees have mapped all of the Highly Vulnerable Aquifers and Significant Groundwater Recharge Areas.
We strongly believe that those lands should be exempt from site alteration so that we can ensure our residents have access to clean and plentiful groundwater, especially as droughts will become more commonplace due to a changing climate.
Provide Equal Access to Nature
Access to nature is not equal amongst all of our community members.
For some, access to nature is a privilege and not a right.
This is most greatly felt in marginalized and racialized communities. Studies in the US have shown that how much access you have to green space is highly correlated to your income and education.
Simply, the more green space you provide, the more green space people can access.
This class and racial divide is present in Canada too.
Further, elderly and those with mobility issues also struggle to be able to access nature for exercise, leisure and mental health.
This recommendation acknowledges and supports the principle that we must ensure all communities have safe access to green spaces including proper lighting for safety, proper access via transit routes, available bike racks and absence entrance fees.
Ideally these green spaces will be close to where people live.
To address mobility and other access issues this includes ramps, paved or structural walkways where environmentally appropriate, benches well dispersed, access to sanitation, allowed access for guide dogs and signage in various language including braille.
Finally, green space is more than playgrounds which are only utilized for a short span in a child’s life.
We want green spaces that are appropriate for all ages and stages including open space, natural spaces, places to gather, benches, beautiful places and safe places.