For most of us, local government is where the rubber hits the road on climate change. City councils decide whether we live in compact, livable communities or whether we live in urban sprawl with no choice but to drive everywhere. Climate impacts also hit us locally, from floods to droughts to fires.
There is a movement across Canada and around the world to have municipal elected councils declare a "climate emergency" and to direct their staff to bring them options for stepping up their local climate action. Dozens of cities have already done this, although the devil will be in the details and in the commitment to follow through. More recently, teams in the For Our Kids network have campaigned their cities to pass the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (FFNPT).
As parents and grandparents, we can play a constructive part in these movements. City councils are often more responsive than provincial or federal governments, so a little intervention can go a long way! Here's some tips on how to get started:
1) Do some research. Has your local government already declared a "climate emergency" or considered the Treaty? Are there other local groups already working on this who you can collaborate with? Find out where in the process your city government is and what is the most appropriate 'ask' to make of it. Even if they have already declared an emergency, there is still work to do on implementation (see no. 5 below).
2) Meet some councilors. City councilors are usually quite approachable. You may have a 'ward' system where you have one councilor for your area, or you may have an 'at large' system where you vote for multiple councilors at once. Figure out which one to talk to, also looking at whether there are relevant committees (like environment) and committee chairs to reach out to. Ask them for the lay of the land. Ultimately, you will need one of them to put forward a motion at committee or at council, and others to vote for it.
3) Build alliances. Even if there aren't already other local groups working on this yet, there are still groups who will be interested. Reach out to churches, businesses, unions, and service clubs. Maybe circulate a sign on letter to city council and ask for signatures. You may also want to run a public petition to build support (and we can help you do this via this website if you like - drop us a line).
4) Alert the media. Local media usually cover city hall - and this is relevant! When the time is right, tell local media what you are up to and ask them to do a story. Media are driven by events so will cover things like submitting a sign on letter or petition, as well as specific committee or council discussions or votes.
5) Persist. Getting an emergency declaration or the FFNPT to pass can take at least a few months. Then, it's not over! City staff may be asked to present a report back to council, and this is where things get real. Will the council actually vote for specific new climate measures, particularly if it means a significant change to business as usual? Watch this and keep the pressure on.