Billings, Central Manitoulin residents asked to consider climate action in upcoming survey


KAGAWONG – Residents of Billings Township and Central Manitoulin will be asked in upcoming surveys to share what most concerns them about climate change in their communities, what actions they are willing to take and how their municipalities should prioritize climate action. Both municipalities have accepted a proposal from Vancouver-based consultant Ethelo to proceed with the climate change engagement surveys. 

Ethelo uses proprietary technology to help organizations with citizen participation leading to improved decision making and has worked with many other municipalities on climate change engagement. Surveys are developed specific to each municipality and gather residents’ experiences and knowledge as well as gauge community priorities.

Billings climate change co-ordinator Kim Neale is drafting the content with assistance from the Climate Action Committee and Ethelo will format the survey and prepare summary reports. Ms. Neale prepared an initial draft for discussion at Billings Climate Action Committee’s December 9 meeting. “I’m trying to take two years of research and make it as user friendly and engaging as possible,” said Ms. Neale. “We want to get people thinking about the changes that are upon us and which ones they think will impact them the most.”

The survey will be divided into community emissions and corporate emissions, with shared spaces or natural assets, waste reduction, residential and transportation emissions under community while encouraging climate action through public policy, funding of climate action in Billings and the township’s asset management plan will be considered under the corporate side. 

Under the topic of drought, for example, the platform will explain that drought is expected to increase by X amount which means more fire bans, potential water shortages and being unable to cut down a tree because of a risk of sparks, Ms. Neale explained. It will also list actions that can be taken to mitigate drought. “We are going to ask, out of these impacts, which is more important to you? Which actions would you be willing to do? Rate that action as hard or easy to do. What actions do you want the municipality to prioritize?”

The actual questions and scenarios are still in draft format. The committees will meet again in January to finalize the survey for review by municipal staff and approval by council. The survey is also intended to show how much a particular action will contribute to increasing equity and health and wellness in the community as well as reducing operational costs, said Ms. Neale. “We don’t just make decisions in a bubble because they reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

“It gives our community a summary of a climate risks study that’s been completed so that we can be aware of the effects of climate change and how it impacts the municipality and what the people or residents of the municipality are expecting to see,” said Bryan Barker, councillor for Billings and deputy mayor. “It gives us local knowledge from the residents about the impacts climate change is already having on the community. For example, we experienced high water levels this year and last year too. We had a little bit of flooding around the town hall and where our small craft basin is now, we’ve to shore up the shoreline, increase the breakwall and that sort of thing. Then back to the summer of 2018, we were pretty much in drought conditions with very little rain in the spring and summer so we want to see the impacts of that. It also gives residents the opportunity to choose the actions they’d like to see the township take and prioritizing these actions. It gives us an overall idea what the community is looking for and what they’re expecting and what they’ve already experienced as far as climate change.”

Billings is considering a telephone survey, said Mr. Barker. “We hope to reach different people within the community for a good cross section of the demographics of the community makeup.” Because of the makeup of the municipality, Billings has a large number of seasonal residents and their input is wanted as well. He thinks a telephone survey may allow the municipality to gather better data and a variety of concerns but how the community will be engaged has not been finalized. 

Central Manitoulin councillor and Climate Action Committee member Dale Scott noted that Ethelo has prior experience working with municipalities to develop community climate engagement and he is confident that with their help, Ms. Neale and the committee will develop a user-friendly survey that will attract attention to the climate issue and that residents will want to participate.

“The survey pretty well takes care of all the sectors that emit,” said Mr. Scott. “We have a greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory and our commercial and our infrastructure buildings take a certain percent. Our municipal fleet is a certain percent, but the two main emissions from our municipality are private transportation and individual residences. I’m hoping that we can narrow the survey down so we get some good information back. I think the most important is just to get the communication out and get people thinking about climate and what you can do yourself that’s not going to cost a huge amount of money. Maybe it’s something like composting at home,” he suggested. Landfilling food waste creates methane emissions which are much stronger than carbon dioxide. 

Mr. Scott is hopeful for Ontario to have incentives in the future for things like landfill diversion. “They obviously have a new blue box program but it’s not in effect until 2025. Something simple like bring back the insulation incentive for your home would be good. The money you put into insulation in retrofitting an older home pays back in energy savings and directly relates to emissions. I’m looking forward to the survey and need to get that message out to the residents.” 

“We have a huge advantage here on Manitoulin because we still have a lot of forest cover and grass cover so the carbon sequestration is significant,” he said. “I’m sure it’s zero net, that what’s sequestered likely is more than what we emit but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take measures.”

He thinks people should consider a more fuel efficient or hybrid vehicle the next time they’re in the market, and should support local farmers’ markets as well. “There’s an impact on greenhouse gas emissions every time we go to the grocery store,” he explained. “There’s packaging on just about everything we buy; hopefully people do recycle at home. It should be easy in Central Manitoulin because we have a pickup every week. All this packaging is creating manufacturing emissions and we have to deal with it as a municipality. Right now, we have to landfill it.”

The climate action plan that this survey will inform is going to be a communication tool and provide an education for our residents, Mr. Scott said. “Hopefully a percentage of them might consider making even small changes that will benefit the whole community. If they can see a return on investment that will be huge.” 

He doesn’t believe in pushing too hard for people to adopt “a gold standard of solar panels and a heat pump that costs several thousand dollars in the beginning” as they may not react well. “That was the biggest reason why the municipality did not declare the state of the climate emergency. We felt it was going to scare our residents. They need a soft approach of communications and education right now.”

Central Manitoulin resident and teacher Cori Davy is a member of the Climate Action Committee. She got involved because she works with youth in the community. “I see that they have some concerns,” she said. “I like to be involved and help them understand what’s going on and how they can make a difference right here in their own lives and help from a local perspective. I feel that by being part of the committee, I can bring some input from the students, their perspective, as well as go back and share what locally we’re going to do and hopefully they can do at home and get the word out more.”

She describes herself as passionate about the earth and the environment. She feels that business is important but at the same time, “we should ask how can we do business in the least intrusive way to the Earth. It’s important that we don’t leave it a mess for future generations. I’d like to leave it better than we got it when our turn is done.”

“All we want is to ask the residents what actions are you willing to do without changing and altering your whole life in order to make a little difference to help reach our goals,” said Ms. Davy. “Little changes will make a difference and if we all take little steps like carpooling or composting or walking to the store, it will make a difference for the future.”

The expected date for the survey launch in both communities is late January or early February.