Sustainable Orillia: Climate Change Is Here. What’s Next?

By Fred Larsen – Special to SUNonline/Orillia

It’s official. Climate change is underway.

If there was any doubt, the latest report from the International Panel on Climate Change has confirmed that the world is dangerously close to a climate-chaos tipping point and that human activities – primarily burning fossil fuels and deforestation – are to blame. The report emphasizes that climate change is proceeding at a faster pace and producing widespread effects that are “unequivocally” the result of human influence and activities.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations has called the landmark study a “code red for humanity.” Its dramatic effects are now evident in every part of the world: higher temperatures, intense rainfall, extreme drought, rising sea levels, ravaging floods, runaway wildfires and thawing permafrost.

Swedish teen Greta Thunberg called the report a “wake-up call” and noted:

“This report doesn’t tell us what to do. It doesn’t say you have to do this, and then you have to do this. It doesn’t provide us with such solutions . . . That’s up to us. We are the ones who need to take the decisions, and weare the ones who need to be brave and ask the difficult questions to ourselves, like: What do we value? Are we ready to take action to ensure future and present living conditions?”

Humans are the primary cause of this crisis—and only humans can reverse it.

How? By reducing our carbon pollution – by removing oil, coal and gas as the central energy sources powering our economy. Changing course is still within our power. Experts tell us that the severity of climate change effects will be determined by the choices we make now – every country, every sector, every community, and every individual.

It’s fitting and timely then, for Orillia’s Mayor Clarke to declare September as Sustainable Orillia Month.  Announcing the month, Mayor Clarke said, “This latest IPCC report is a wake-up call to action. Orillia’s Climate Change Action Plan is underway, and it can’t come too soon. As a city, we all have serious work to do to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. Sustainable Orillia Month will help us move down the road to becoming a net-zero city.”

As the Mayor said, the City of Orillia is currently developing its Climate Change Action Plan. The plan will chart the course for the municipality to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and enhance the community’s resilience to future changes in climate. Development of the plan is led by Renee Recoskie, manager of property and environmental sustainability for the City. Stakeholder groups have met and more groups will be contacted for their input over the next two months.

What needs to be the focus of attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions? Four areas account for most of the city’s emissions:

  • 50.4% – Manufacturing Industries and Construction
  • 27.3% – Transportation (on-road transportation accounts for 82.4% of this total)
  • 11.7% – Residential buildings
  •   7.7% – Commercial /Institutional buildings and facilities

All of these areas will need to find ways to reduce their emission over the coming months and years.

Sustainable Orillia’s goal for September, 2021 is to focus on what community members can do, with the hope, given the urgency, actions to reduce emissions will start immediately, if they haven’t already done so. SO has noted in previous articles some local businesses and individuals have already taken action to reduce CO2 emissions and waste. What is needed now, however, is concerted action across our community.

Step One. Orillians need to focus on driving less and/or driving zero-emission vehicles. If you can walk or cycle or take local transit to get to your destination, try to develop the habit of doing so. As more people make the switch to transit, transit schedules and routes will likely improve service at the same time.

We realize not everyone can afford to buy an Electric Vehicle at this time, but prices of these vehicles are dropping quickly and will do so even faster in the years ahead as various automotive manufacturers roll out more product lines. The Government of Canada is now offering a $5,000 rebate to purchasers, as well, and other incentives may be coming. Come out to the Orillia Square Mall to Sustainable Orillia’s EV DEMO SHOW on September 11-12 to see current models and speak to their owners.

Step Two. Homeowners and landlords must make our homes energy-efficient. This means improving the building’s envelope with extra insulation and better insulating windows to avoid energy loss. In addition, more efficient water heating and space heating are now available. Where possible, we must replace oil and gas heating with electricity generated from renewable sources. Eventually we will need to eliminate heating with oil and gas. Passive or zero-carbon housing designs are now available which result in extremely low or zero emissions from such houses. Replacing all lighting in the house with LED lighting can in one action reduce both energy use and energy bills.

(Photo by – Jason Lawrence, New York, CC BY 2.0)

Step Three. Businesses and manufacturers must move to reduce energy use, and eventually move away from oil and gas as sources of energy. Business fleets need to be electrified. The City of Orillia must phase out its diesel buses and replace them with electric or hydrogen powered buses which are now available. Orillia has a good chance of becoming a green hydrogen hub because of its available renewable energy.

While some changes bring immediate cost savings, some can be costly to make. Sustainable Orillia and the City of Orillia will be looking at loan programs which can be used to help homeowners and businesses make those changes in the short term and pay back such loans over a longer period of time in order to ease the cost burden of these changes. It must be kept in mind that all such changes result in reduced energy costs for homeowners, landlords and business owners.  What is good for the environment can also be good for your bank balance over time.

This process of change also has the potential to create hundreds of jobs.

Waiting to make these reductions will mean more emissions being released and having more emissions to be reduced. Putting off action is going to actually make the process more difficult and less effective. Time, as they say, is of the essence!

Are these actions we all need to try to do? No. They are things we all must do if we are to prevent climate change from creating a more hostile world in future.

Greta Thunberg has said that we have to be “brave” enough to take action for future generations. Sustainable Orillia believes we are brave enough to do so and the time to really take action starts now, in 2021, with the City’s Community Climate Change Action Plan and Sustainable Orillia Month.

(Images Supplied)


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