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‘Emergency’ is a scary word

Geoff Helisma |

Last Friday the White House released the US Government’s latest National Climate Assessment – its findings are damning.

On the economic front it warned: “The potential for losses in some sectors could reach hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of this century.”

On Climate change: “Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities”, and “the assumption that current and future climate conditions will resemble the recent past is no longer valid”.

Meanwhile, at last week’s November 20 Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting, councillors were split on whether or not it was in CVC’s best interests to declare a climate emergency.

Councillors were considering a resolution of CVC’s Climate Change Advisory Committee, “to declare a Climate Emergency and push for greater action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions”.

At the previous week’s Corporate, Governance & Works Committee (CG&WC) meeting, the mayor, Jim Simmons, and Cr Arthur Lysaught voted to bury the report, or, in governance parlance, “note the minutes of the Climate Change Advisory Committee dated 22 June 2018”.

However, their motion was defeated, with councillors Karen Toms, Peter Ellem and Jason Kingsley voting to “declare a Climate Emergency so that all of Council’s actions and decisions are examined against the urgency to address and minimise the effects of climate change”.

At last week’s meeting, councillors Debrah Novak and Greg Clancy supported the CG&WC’s recommendation, however, Cr Kingsley and Cr Andrew Baker won the support of councillors Richie Williamson, Lysaught and Simmons to defer a final decision until April 2019.

Those in the public gallery were less than impressed with the final vote, some feeling that Cr Kinsgley had back-flipped on his previous week’s stance.

During debate, Cr Toms said she was disappointed that “a member of the climate change advisory committee [Cr Kingsley]” would move to defer the recommendation.

“We should support the … committee …; to defer is a shame,” she said.

Having chosen to not speak to his motion, in his right of reply Cr Kingsley reasoned: “Climate change is real, no doubt; anyone who does not believe … has their head in sand and rear end in the air and have a distorted view of the world.”

He said he thought the word “‘emergency’ had scared staff and councillors”.

He “expected” taking time to give the issue a “good hearing … will alleviate some concerns staff and councillors might have”.

“I want to reiterate, this motion is not about not supporting the committee’s recommendation, but to ensure that we do our due diligence and find out what the impact might be and placate those scared by the word ‘emergency’.”

During questions, Cr Clancy asked general manager Ashley Lindsay: “Is it true that you gave your opinion that we should not approve and therefore influenced the decision?”

Mr Lindsay: “I might have made some comments but councillors [have their] own ideas; I don’t make the decision.”

Cr Clancy: “But giving your opinion without being asked, does that influence councillors?”
Mr Lindsay: “You’ll have to ask the councillors.”

Cr Clancy started the debate, describing the motion to defer as “outrageous”.

Outmanoeuvred by Cr Kingsley’s motion to defer, Cr Clancy said he had “a lot to say [about the committee’s decision], but cannot speak to this [motion]”.

Cr Baker argued that CVC did “not have the power to do what was [recommended]”.

“[By deferring] we will get advice on the business of declaring an emergency,” he said, “then we will know if there is an emergency.

“…If we find an emergency in the mean time, we’ll bring [the issue] forward to March [2019].”

Cr Toms said she “hoped the general manager” would look into the science and stated that “we are in a [climate] emergency”.

“It might sound alarmist, but look at the California fires,” she said.

Mayor Simmons said the word “‘emergency’ might be the sticking point for a few councillors”.

He wanted CVC’s final decision to include “actions” if a climate emergency is declared, rather than a declaration based on “theories”.

Cr Peter Ellem admitted he, too, had “a little problem with the word ‘emergency’, but if you accept the science you accept the globe is in emergency”.

He said it was “a shame that staff did not provide input [into the report to council]; it should have had more flesh on the bones to make for a more informed decision”.

“I cannot support deferral, but I am open to making changes,” he said; however, with the deferral successful, there was no opportunity to do so.

Cr Novak said there was enough information “for us to debate this now”.

In his right of reply, Cr Kingsley said he “believed a deferment will give the general manager and staff the opportunity” to consider the committee’s report, which he said was “lacking”.

“If the committee recommendation [to declare a climate emergency] is moved [today] it will be lost, I assure you of that; you need five votes,” he told councillors.