A Conversation: Emma and Lucy Talk Climate Change

The ION light-rail train. Photo by Fatima Khan.

Lucy: Hey Emma, not to be the bearer of bad news, but did you hear? Apparently we only have 10 years to stop climate change.

Emma: What?! Only 10? I swear I heard we had 12?

Lucy: It was 12, but that study came out in 2018. 

Emma: Well, with companies like Amazon alone releasing 51 million metric tons of carbon dioxide globally in 2019 that doesn’t really surprise me.

Lucy: No way, really? They contribute that much? Have they done anything at all to try and reduce their effects on climate change?

Emma: Yeah, they do. It’s really unfortunate that big companies like Amazon don’t try harder to be more sustainable. I mean, they’ve set goals to power global infrastructure with 100% renewable energy but they still had a 15% increase of carbon dioxide emissions this year. 

Lucy: Huh, seems like they’re hard to rely on. 

Emma: Yeah, no kidding. That’s why it’s more effective if individual countries take initiative to keep carbon emissions under control. In fact, one of the biggest goals of the United Nations is to take climate action worldwide!

Lucy: Sick! What’s their plan?

Emma: The Paris Agreement is one thing that’s helped countries intensify their actions towards combating climate change. It’s really cool – essentially, it’s an agreement that every country has signed ensuring that they reduce climate change and keep the global temperature rise below 2℃. 

Lucy: Oh yeah, I heard about that. Wow, every country! That’s a solid start.

Emma: Totally, it’s great! Other countries who contribute to higher emissions of greenhouse gases are working towards limiting further deforestation, and increasing their use of renewable energy rather than burning fossil fuels. The UN also curated the Kyoto Protocol which set a lot of ambitious goals for countries. 

Lucy: I’ve never heard of that, what is it?

Emma: It’s like a promise to regulate carbon emissions by a very significant amount. It recognizes that most effects of climate change are caused by humans so they’re putting the responsibility to reduce it back onto us. The emission reduction targets proved to be successful in 36 countries – even if they didn’t completely reach their goal. They are implementing the new commitment period on December 31st with many countries signing again. 

Lucy: It’s good that we’re all globally putting in an effort to fight climate change.

Emma: Yeah, it’s really important that we keep the fight going, though. Sometimes I find it super hard to keep up the conversation.

Lucy: It really can be easy to feel disconnected from the real effects of climate change. It’s such a serious global issue, but sometimes it seems like it’s only a global issue. Climate change affects everyone everywhere, even here in Waterloo.

Emma: But how? I don’t really see any effects here?

Lucy: We’re seeing it right now, we’re literally living it. Climate change doesn’t just cause forest fires and melting ice, it affects our health directly. Predictions include changes to the range and transmission of infectious disease. Remind you of anything?

Emma: You mean COVID-19 was caused by global warming?

Lucy: It’s a lot more complicated than that, but potentially. The effects of a changing climate start small and add up over time. Seven years ago, we had two massive thunderstorms in the summer. I remember them being the biggest I’d ever seen. They were unprecedented in Waterloo. This past summer, we had so many house-shaking thunderstorms I don’t even remember half of them. Our summers have gotten hotter, and our winters increasingly unpredictable. In my own memory, I remember watching the heat record increase year after year. CTV found that an increase in “smog” days in Ontario since 2009 has resulted in 2,000 hospitalizations and over 600 deaths. The same article exposes our region’s biggest polluters.

Emma: Wait, really? Who are they?

Lucy: The top two produce more harmful emissions than the next eight combined. In Breslau, 20 minutes from school, the Toyota factory produces over 800 tonnes of pollutants every year, and Safety-Kleen, a company that cleans old engine oil for reuse, produces over 500.

Emma: Wait what, that’s so much!

Lucy: I know, and in Canada, 44% of greenhouse gas emissions come from municipalities and their infrastructure. Waterloo currently produces just over 4 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. A small number compared to Canada’s total 729 megatonnes in 2018.

Emma: Sometimes it all feels so hopeless, you know? Like, it’s such a fight to get local governments to care.

Lucy: Right?! I totally feel that. It’s not all hopeless, though.

Emma: It’s not?
Lucy: No! In fact, Waterloo has a ton of initiatives going already; we’re even part of the Partners for Climate Protection program, a program for municipalities to get help fighting climate change. We have Canada’s first Zero Carbon, Net Positive building. The evolv1 office building is a huge deal for our up-and-coming “IdeaQuarter.” Our ION light-rail train was installed to cut down vehicle emissions, which make up half of our carbon dioxide emissions per year. The University of Waterloo created the Interdisciplinary Centre for Climate Change! Half the Waterloo statistics come from an organization pushing for an 80% reduction in our emissions by 2050. Climate Action Waterloo Region detailed an entire 72-page Climate Action Plan for how we can accomplish this. They outline two major goals: a 6% emission reduction from 2010 to 2020, and their 80% reduction goal.

The evolv1 building on West Graham Way in Waterloo’s IdeaQuarter. Photo by Fatima Khan.

Emma: Woah, I didn’t know any of that. 80%, definitely seems doable.

Lucy: Did you know that they checked in on Waterloo’s progress in 2015. In those five years, our emissions dropped 5.2%.

Emma: No way! That’s awesome – almost the entire goal!

Lucy: They’ve had great success so far, and there are so many local groups, like Sustainable Waterloo Region and the Reep Green Solutions group, that use volunteers to help Waterloo residents implement change and work hard to help our community meet our climate goals. Reep Green Solutions is committed to achieving sustainability goals with programs to help energy efficiency, water reduction, tree planting, and so many more. Climate change affects all of us, and while personal lifestyle changes are great, we need big action from people in power to make the lasting changes needed to save our planet.