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Free Climate Change event moves to online format with viral keynote speaker

With most of the world’s attention focused on COVID-19 over the past year, climate change has been relegated to the sidelines of most media attention. However, the challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions remains, and the impacts of climate change continue to be felt worldwide, including the Greater Hamilton and Burlington area.

Maintaining the conversation on climate change action is one of the goals of the Bay Area Climate Change Council’s (BACCC) 2021 Climate Change Forum, which takes place on Tuesday, March 9th, 2021.

A collective of local organizations working together to advance climate action in Hamilton and Burlington, BACCC has a vision of a thriving, zero carbon community by 2050. They have hosted a climate change forum each year, but with the COVID-19 pandemic showing no signs of slowing down, the event has gone online in 2021.

This year’s forum, titled “Around the Kitchen Table: Discussing Climate Change with Others”, focuses on effective ways to communicate climate change issues and solutions with others. The Forum’s keynote speaker this year is climate scientist Katharine Heyhoe, whose viral TED talks have garnered millions of views around the world. She was named one of Time Magazine’s Most 100 Influential People.

“We’re very excited about having Katharine join us,” says Bianca Caramento, Manager of BACCC. “She has a unique ability to teach how to share climate change science and what needs to be done about it with skeptical audiences. We can all think of times when we’ve had an awkward conversation with folks who do not see eye to eye on this issue, or who maybe they have different ideas about what we need to do. Katharine provides that expertise on how to have those conversations so they’re friendly, cordial, and productive.”

This year’s panel features Dr. Dan Longboat, Julie Leach, and Teika Newton, each of whom bring unique local perspectives to the broader issues that Heyhoe raises in her keynote.

A Turtle Clan member of the Mohawk Nation and Associate Professor at Trent University’s Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies (among numerous distinctions), Dr. Longboat specializes in finding links between traditional teachings and climate science.

Leach, the manager of The Atmospheric Fund’ communication strategy, will share her expertise around community-based renewable energy, fundraising, and writing.

Newton, the Membership and Domestic Policy Manager for Climate Action Network Canada, has an extensive background in climate policy development and advocacy.

Achieving the goal of a zero carbon Hamilton and Burlington area in 2050 is an ambitious undertaking, but one that Caramento believes is within reach. “We need to tackle the top three sectors,” she says. “95% of our region’s emissions are from buildings, transportation, and industry, with most of the remaining 5% in waste and agriculture. If we’re going to reach our net zero, we know it’s those three industries where we’re going to have to see the biggest shift in emissions.”

When asked about why ordinary citizens in Hamilton and Burlington should care about local climate goals, especially in the midst of the ongoing disruptions from the pandemic, Caramento notes that the issues are not mutually-exclusive. “Many folks recognize that both climate change and COVID are existential threats to humanity. They know that once we deal with the virus, the next thing on our plates for humanity as a whole is climate action.” She goes on to say that one way to mitigate the economic impact of the pandemic is through green spending initiatives such as retrofits, transit, and storm water management, all of which create jobs and stimulate the economy.

“It comes down to what degree we care about our future generations,” says Caramento. “I haven’t met a single person personally that doesn’t want a clean, safe environment for today’s youth. Finding ways to make ends meet and paying day to day bills is part of looking after our families and future generations. By the same token, that’s what climate action is about: an extension of that care. This is also where Katharine Heyhoe’s message becomes very important. We need to better communicate climate action in those terms.”

Key to BACCC’s vision is social justice, ensuring that climate action becomes an equity-creating tool that improves the circumstances of disadvantaged individuals and groups in society.

“For example,” says Caramento, “something like a carbon price, by design, will make certain goods more expensive. To avoid those price jumps making life more difficult for low-income individuals and families, adopting revenue neutrality ensures they get some of money back as a credit from the government to compensate for the price hike. The less money you earn, the more you get back.”

BACCC seeks to work with local industry to lower their emissions and keep jobs here. Caramento cites their retrofit program design project, which aims to help homeowners, regardless of income, to retrofit their houses, reducing greenhouse gas emissions and lowering their utility bills in the process.

“To meet our 2050 targets,” she says, “we’d need to see 95% of homes built before 2017 to be retrofitted to at least 50% reduction. Many people are just getting by, let alone being able to pay for a retrofit or switch to a heat pump. Our question is how can we make that possible for the everyday person?”

As civic leaders, businesses, and ordinary citizens in the Hamilton and Burlington areas look to the future of the region, events such as the 2021 Climate Change Forum will help keep the conversation on climate action at top of mind.

Registration for BACCC’s 2021 Climate Change Forum is free. The event takes place on Tuesday, March 9th, from 6:30pm to 8:00pm.  Learn more by clicking this link.

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