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  • Gayle Baker

Up Close and Personal - Climate Actions for Everyone

August 28

Fifteen attended this ASK Salt Spring gathering on a perfect summer Friday to welcome Darryl Martin and Elisa Rathje, hard-working authors of our soon-to-be-released Climate Action Plan 2.0. Darryl, the chair of this audacious effort, began by acknowledging the many others (about 25) who have spent countless hours writing this plan of the action needed on Salt Spring to mitigate and adapt to the devastating effects of climate change.

This plan has already been reviewed by most organizations to get their feedback, so the focus of the conversation at this ASK Salt Spring gathering was not upon governmental responsibility but upon what we as individuals can do to address our climate challenges.

In answer to the first question about indigenous involvement in the development of the plan, Darryl told us that, although no indigenous representatives had participated on the writing and research teams, all 13 First Nations with an interest in Salt Spring were provided a draft and invited to provide comments. Responses have been minimal, possibly an unspoken acknowledgment that, as we had created the problem, it was on us to address it. The plan is a living document so there will be opportunities to incorporate additional comments when they are received. Darryl did acknowledge Adam Olsen’s enthusiastic support of our Climate Action Plan.

We were reminded by a participant that the Agricultural Alliance has contributed a great deal of valuable input about food security to this plan.

It was asked whether the plan considered a cap on cars on Salt Spring? We learned that there were approximately 9,500 registered vehicles on Salt Spring in 2019 - with an estimated population (including children) of 10,800. We were also told that in 2017 the average household made 5.5 trips a day.

Elisa’s response is that the plan emphasizes that we can all do better by riding bicycles, doing errands for others when doing our own, and - easier in times without COVID fears - ride sharing and hitchhiking. She shared that her family - with two teens - is a cycling family with no car ownership and only occasional local rental of a hybrid or pick-up for farm needs. While it can sometimes take some strategizing and planning, she enthusiastically lauded the advantages of cycling rather than driving in health, economies, and simply feeling good about doing the right thing. She did note that slower speed limits and safer cycling lanes, such as the proposed Salish Sea Trail, were really, really important to a huge majority of local respondents. This was documented in the Climate Action Plan’s community engagement survey in which a vast majority of the respondents said that they would choose to cycle instead of driving if they felt safer doing so.

The connection between the success of affordable housing projects on Drake Road and the condition of this narrow road was introduced. Could we find a suitable alternate to accommodating as many as several cars per household for the proposed Dragonfly Project?

- What about an electric shuttle?

- What about an electric bike with each home?

- What about safe walking and cycling paths along Drake?

It was noted that large parking lots at housing developments are expensive to build; create large, environmentally-damaging areas of impermeable asphalt; and add costs to owners/renters who need housing to remain affordable. And, these costs do not even take into account the increased expense of owning cars compared to cycling and/or taking the bus.

It was proposed that we create our own local electric shuttle service so that fewer would be able to say that they cannot take the bus because it does not go to their neighbourhood. A good idea, but one participant spoke of similar shuttle systems in other countries: While efficient and economical, he reminded us that rural systems are often designed on an as needed basis in which riders simply wait as long as it takes until enough folks have gathered for a shuttle to collect them.

Some of the ideas from the soon-to-be-released Climate Action Plan were discussed:

- What about using our POD system to arrange car pooling and ride-sharing?

- What about using technology to create a system in which anyone could announce where they were going and others could message their desire to share the ride - something like our own very local Lyft system?

- What about making golf cart-like vehicles legal in a slower-speed limited area of our core village?

- What about a “Drive to Five” plan? Drive your car, but park five minutes from your destination, walking the rest of the way. No only will you never worry about finding an in-town parking space, you will be in better shape, save gas, enjoy nature, and you may even get to meet some fascinating folks along the way.

When asked how the Climate Action Plan will be implemented, we were told that the plan includes a strategy for implementation and encourages all levels of government to do their part.

It is envisioned that Transition Salt Spring will become the “holder of the plan,” not expected to implement it, but, rather, responsible for the collaboration and outreach needed for its implementation. It is expected that there will be some funding from CRD for Transitions Salt Spring as well as volunteer funding efforts to support the collaboration needed to implement projects.

We were asked about our personal climate action priorities. Answers ranged from taking the bus; growing one’s own organic, regenerative food; having central affordable housing so that Ganges workers do not have to drive; buying an electric vehicle; and less/more efficient burning - both for heat as well as to get rid of garden debris.

We were told that Salt Springers have expressed the need to reduce their footprint but are confused about where to begin. The plan will include an illustrated chapter dedicated to achieving significant household climate action results. Darryl began his own journey by calculating the amount of CO2 his household is generating every year. The tonnes he is adding to our climate crises spurred him to action: He bought an electric car and began limiting his travel - both out of province as well as the too-frequent trips one makes each day.

When one participant asked whether it was smart to get rid of his seldom-used truck, the answers were complex. One could look at the question from simply an economic perspective, calculating the miles driven each year. Theoretically, if one drove seldom, it may be more climate-sensitive to keep the gas-burning truck rather than adding to waste by junking it and buying an electric vehicle - which, despite its on-going environmental advantage, also takes energy to produce. Of course, if one drove a lot, the economies of acquiring an electric car are clear.

From another perspective, wouldn’t it be better to buy a small electric car and share or rent a truck on those rare times when you need one? Or - what about renting a trailer when you need extra hauling capacity? Our own David Elderton makes an electric trailer than can carry 300 lbs, towed by a regular bike.

We were directed to the website:, offering us 52 (one for each week) actions for climate change. We also learned that it is important that we each do a carbon budget. There are many websites that guide us through this process.

With over 250 recommendations for action in the Climate Action Plan, it was suggested that rather than expecting most of us to read the entire plan, a flyer outlining key points and distributed to all might be an effective compromise. As Gary Holman had just arrived, it was suggested that CRD might be able to pay for a mailer to each household. It was also suggested that a flyer given to all who buy at Thrifty Foods and Country Grocer might be just as effective and would save some CRD funds :) What about including the school and handing an age-specific checklist to all students to get them involved as well?

It was suggested that it may be a good idea to offer a series of workshops to help Salt Springers personalize their own climate action plan. Or, maybe even personalized outreach to work with members of our community on an individual basis to reduce their footprint? Participants were pleased to learn that this soon-to-be-released plan recommends just such an advocacy effort

As 1:00 approached, the conversation shifted to combustion. Any combustion puts carbon into the air, but open burning is far worse than home heating fires. Not only does open burning fail to provide any heating value - only smoke and getting rid of waste - but it also adds all sorts of other noxious chemicals into the environment. We were warned that it may not be too long before open burning will be banned here year-round. More climate-friendly options need to be identified and utilized.The Climate Action Plan supports a community chipping program to turn fire hazardous waste into a useful material that improves our soils. The Fire Department’s Chipping Program has been very well-received, and it is hoped that it will both continue as well as expanding.

But, chipping cannot handle blackberry vines nor very small twigs. Rocket stoves were described as an option for small sticks, but we were warned that they are not yet legal indoors. Also biochar kilns were lauded as a wonderful alternative to burning, as well as other systems, like hugelkultur (look it up!), and simply piling up yard waste and covering it until it decays.

Fires for home heat can be done correctly, producing less carbon and creosote. The key here is to burn very dry wood very hot rather than burning damp wood and other waste like paper. We were told that there was possibility of a wood stove exchange program to get inefficient wood stoves out of circulation, but a volunteer group would have to take on responsibility for this exchange program. (There is funding available, but the funding for this year has just closed.)

It was noted that there are a plethora of environmentally-focused rebate programs - possibly too many to fully utilize. It was suggested that a group could become the clearing house for rebate programs so that this information is more systematically-shared.

And, too soon, 1:00 was upon us, and we said a fond farewell to Darryl and Elisa, thanking them for taking their time to share their enthusiasm for the many creative - but very doable - climate actions available to every one of us.

As we were packing up chairs and gathering into small groups to further explore issues raised in our lively discussion, we were reminded that the time Darryl and Elisha had spent with us was a minuscule portion of the countless hours they have spent making this Climate Action Plan such a valuable roadmap for Salt Spring’s environmental future. Want to get a copy as soon as it is released? If you sign up for the Transition Salt Spring newsletter (you will also become a member by doing this), you will be on the list to get our Climate Action Plan 2.0 as soon as it is available:

Interested in participating? Come to the next ASK Salt Spring gathering this coming Friday, September 4, from 11-1 in the United Church Meadow to welcome David Norget and his team to discuss mental health services and issues on Salt Spring. (If it rains, we will gather in the Portlock Picnic Pavilion.)

All are welcome to ask questions, listen to those of others, and participate in lively conversations.

Socially-distanced chairs and safely-made chocolate chip cookies provided; Bring your favourite beverage, curiosity, and a smile.

No time to sit in the Meadow? Any question, anytime:

Want to see reports from all the ASK Salt Spring gatherings?

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