Code Red: Driving into Calgary’s future

As a ‘climate change-provoking machine,’ candidates in the upcoming municipal election must decide how to pivot the course of the city to lower carbon emissions.

By Noel Harper | August 30, 2021 |7:00 am

One of Tesla supercharger stations in Calgary.

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Wildfire smoke enveloped Calgary and temperatures broke records this summer. During the same time, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a ‘code red for humanity’ in its latest report on the state of the global climate.

The report stated that human activity is ‘unequivocally’ responsible for a warming climate and more extreme weather events worldwide. For its part, Canada stands to be affected through exceedingly warmer temperatures, increased flooding, and a greater number of wildfire events. Canada also stands as one of the world’s top ten largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

Calgary can be viewed as the centre of climate change’s impact on Canada, due to its summer heatwaves, the blanket of smoke from hundreds of nearby forest fires, along with being a hub for the country’s oil and gas sector which continues to push CO2 emissions. 

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“We are absolutely right in the middle of it,” says Ward 9 councillor Gian-Carlo Carra. “I always view Calgary as the battlefront … this is where we will decide the fate of North America, in the directions that cities like Calgary choose to go.”

For Carra, the IPCC’s new findings represent a shift from implicit to explicit conversations around climate mitigation and adaptation for Canadian cities. He adds that the most important thing for Calgary to decide in the short term is whether it wants to continue as an automobile-focused city, or convert to a walkable and transit-oriented neighbourhoods.

“Calgary is the shining example of taking the drivable city all the way to its limits,” Carra says. “I’ve said for years that if the next million Calgarians drive as much as the current million, we’re doomed.”

Voting for the long-term

The city plans to expand its spaces for electric vehicles and introduce electric buses to the Calgary Transit fleet in order to reduce emissions, according to a recent report from Calgary Economic Development.

Celia Lee, executive director of Sustainable Calgary, wants to push the conversation beyond adapting the practice of driving. With the municipal election quickly approaching, she hopes to see candidates pushing for comprehensive climate solutions within their platforms.

“I would really like to see them talking about low carbon. I’ve seen a lot of talk about electric vehicles … but if we really want to take climate action seriously, it needs to be about low carbon solutions like transit and active transportation,” she says.

For Lee, climate action in a municipal sense means improving upon the city’s largest carbon footprints — housing and transportation.

“I think we have so much opportunity to shift our transportation infrastructure and to move that towards low carbon emissions, and I actually think that’s some of the lowest hanging fruits … we’re looking at solutions that look and feel great for everyone,” says Lee 

Zoning is another important topic of discussion for Lee. “I know it’s a touchy subject here in Calgary, but we can’t keep doing single-family zoning … it’s contributing directly to the problem.” 

Changing the status quo

Carra, who is running for re-election on council, is looking ahead to the possibility of a more sustainable future for Calgary, while understanding the patience this will require to see through.

“We’ve spent the last seven decades building a city that is inherently a climate change-provoking machine … Calgary is a very big ship that’s taken seven-plus decades to build out to what it is today, and turning that ship around is going to take a long time,” he says.

“I’m certainly stepping forward to continue to provide leadership for East Calgary and for the City of Calgary to achieve these outcomes.”

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Noel Harper

Reporter at Calgary Citizen

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